Summer of events aims to bring visitors, vitality to Camden

Trying to bring positive energy to the nation’s poorest city, Camden officials are kicking off a second year of outdoor cultural events, known as the “Connect the Lots” festival.

This year’s series will include art exhibits, drive-in movies and more than a little hope.

Tatiana Pettiford, a budding poet and a senior in a Camden’s Creative Arts Morgan Village Academy, said she’s thinks the arts could be the salvation of a city whose recent history of crime and dysfunction can overshadow its artistic heritage.

She sees Camden as a “city of misfits” — the final line in an original poem she read at Thursday’s announcement  — but that’s no insult, she said.

“When I said ‘city of misfits,’ it was just meaning a city of people who aren’t what everyone expects,” Pettiford said with a laugh. “They come together and make a beautiful thing.”

She thinks Walt Whitman, the great poet who spent his last years in the city, would be pleased with what he’d see if he came back today.

“I would just tell him that we are in healing, and we’re getting it together. And I think he would be proud, because even though things aren’t what they used to be when he was around, the art is still alive in Camden,” Pettiford said.

Among the events scheduled from May to October: two drive-in movies, which will commemorate Camden’s history as the home of America’s first drive-in.

City officials hope the festival helps bring new life to some of the city’s vacant lots and underused public spaces, bringing residents together while promoting Camden as a good place for anyone seeking affordable housing and access to the region’s jobs.

They’ve issued an open invitation to artists of all kinds to join in this year’s events, which kick off May 1 with an evening of music and food called the Camden Night Gardens, which last year drew an estimated 3,000 visitors.

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