Using art, creativity – and free food and music – to make Frankford a destination

A vacant Frankford storefront will this weekend become a pop-up gallery.

Its first exhibit – art created from trash and other discarded items – is metaphoric for the ongoing adaptive reuse of the neighborhood’s once-thriving, then abandoned industrial buildings, said city planner Ian Litwin. The exhibits of photography and sculpture that will follow are also variations on themes that seem apropos to a community in rediscovery.

Globe Dye Works, the former yarn-dyeing factory turned into a community of art studios and fabricating facilities, is probably the best known of the neighborhood’s old industrial spaces sporting new vibrancy, but it’s just one of four such buildings now being repurposed, Litman said.

The gallery is located at the corner of Frankford Avenue and Paul Street, near the Market-Orthodox el station. Paul Street will be blocked off for a street party opening reception that will feature live music and free Latin food, wings, pizza and cupcakes from local food trucks.

All of it is part of an effort to promote the neighborhood’s growing arts, artisanal industry and creative business economy called Destination Frankford.

Destination Frankford is, as the name suggests, about defining Frankford as a unique place  – a destination.  It is funded by a $335,000 grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of foundations, banks and federal agencies whose mission is creative placemaking across the country. Learn more about Destination Frankford here.

“In case you don’t know, Frankford is at the end of the Market-Frankford El,” Litwin told Philadelphia City Planning Commissioners and attendees at the recent April commission meeting. “This is not Frankford Avenue in Fishtown. This is the Frankford Neighborhood.”

Kimberly Washington, the executive director of Frankford Community Development Corporation, believes more people will learn about Frankford through the Destination Frankford project. “I think my hopes from a community development standpoint is that (Destination Frankford) would spur some attention to the neighborhood, to get people who don’t live in Frankford, or hadn’t thought about coming to Frankford, to come here to shop,” she said.

Enough of that kind of activity could in turn prompt more people to move to the neighborhood or open businesss there, she said. Looking to nearby neighborhoods, such as Northern Liberties and Fishtown, Washington is confident that Frankford is poised for renewal, and that, as in those places, art and creativity will be part of its renaissance, along with other neighborhood assets. 

“Frankford is great for so many reasons. It’s close to the riverfront, it has access to the highway, to The Boulevard, to the El stations  – it’s 20 minutes to Center City on the El, and it’s easy to get over to Jersey. And the housing stock is realy diverse,” she said.

Developers have expressed more interest in retail space in recent months, Washington said, and while she hasn’t seen much pressure on housing prices or an influx of new residents yet, she’s confident it’s happening. Her job is both to encourage that, and to balance growth with the needs of existing neighborhood residents. One of them is her mom: Washington grew up in the neighborhood. Her dad had a Frankford Avenue store that sold ladies shoes, clothes and pocketbooks.

“With any new development, there has to be a conversation about the word no one wants to say – the G-word,” she said. That’s gentrification. “It’s important to attract new businesses and new people, but also important to maintain affordable housing, and equipping residents with the resources they need” to be among those opening any new businesss in the neighborhood.

Frankford CDC also has a Neighborhood Advisory Committee funded by the office of housing and community development, Washington said. Between the two entities, Frankford residents can get help finding housing or starting a business.

The Destination Frankford Gallery will be open each Saturday through July 26. The first exhibit, Reclaim/Dumpster Divers, runs through May 17.  “Seeing the possibilities in trash and other under-utilized resources, they bring a new awareness to the concept of ‘upcycling’ as the transform discarded materials into creative new art forms,” the exhibit description says.

The second exhibit, Rediscover/Photography, runs May 24 through June 21, and features the work of seven local photographers, including Brad Maule, of Philly Skyline fame. Their work will concentrate on “underlying beauty that might be overlooked by the casual viewer.”

The third, Reanimate/Philadelphia Sculptors, runs June 29-July 26.  Members of Philadelphia Sculptors – the organization Litwin said is managing the gallery for Destination Frankford – will address the concept of brining new life back to a place, person or community.

The gallery and block parties are just one aspect of Destination Frankford, Litwin said. Sitting next door to the building is a vacant, city-owned lot that will next summer become a pop-up park, with help from the Design Collaborative, he said.

New gateway signs are in design, and will be placed at neighborhood entry points off of I-95 and The Boulevard and all along the commercial corridor, clustered around the neighborhood’s three el stations.  “We want it to be bold, and to make it look sort of industrial,” Litwin said.

Likewise the Discover Frankford logo shows a classic industrial building with colorful plumes coming from its stacks.

“The idea here is that you need to know that you’ve reached Frankford and it’s a creative place,” Litwin said.

Public art is another place-making component. Next month, the city art commission is expected to review the design for a sculpture by Chicago artist Christine Rojek called Confluence, to be placed within Womrath Park.

The 16-foot-tall central portion of the work includes representations of rushing water and a grist mill.  “The ribbons of water are flowing, but the connections are somewhat systematic, harkening to industry,” Rojek said. The wheel the silvery ribbons hit is a combination of a water wheel and a millstone, representing the literal mills that were part of the community’s history, but also symbolizing the work it took to build Frankford, she said.

Two screens will further tell the story of Frankford, Rojek said. The “history panel”  has images of the Frankford Creek and Native American trail that became Frankford Avenue, mill and industrial buildings and workers, and a fancier building representing homes of the wealthy. 

The “community panel” shows a place of worship, the El and the little shops along the avenue.

Rojek designed the three pieces so that people will want to walk through the grouping.

The original plan was to chose an artist who lives within driving distance of Philadelphia, said Destination Frankford’s public art consultant, Marsha Moss. But Rojek’s proposal “just reflected the area architecture and the history, and also would be relevant tot he future,” she said. “It has staying power.”

Rojek developed the project with much input from community members, Moss said.

Litwin told city planning commissioners about Destination Frankford as part of an implementation update on Philadelphia2035, the city’s comprehensive plan. He was the project manager for the Lower Northeast District Plan – a portion of the plan focused on a cluster of neighborhoods including Frankford, which was adopted in 2012. Destination Frankford fits in with the district plan’s goals for the neighborhood.

Litwin noted other Frankford milestones in his update as well: Progress has been made on the Frankford Creek Greenway.  Planning and Parks and Recreation joining forces for a feasibility study on connecting the Juniata Golf Course to the recently completed Port Richmond Trail. The portion of the greenway that would run along the creek and connect Frankford and Juniata Park is some years off, Litwin said, because it requires property acquisition and easements.

A local historic register nomination for the Worrell-Winter House was accepted. It is the oldest house in Frankford, built in 1717 with stones from the bank of Frankford Creek, Litwin said.

A nomination is in progress for the Frankford War Memorial. The memorial was designed by Paul Cret, who also designed the Benjamin Franklin Parkway and the Benjamin Franklin Bridge.

Litwin discussed parks, trails and historic nominations in other city neighborhoods as well. Watch the video below for more detail. The 2035 update is first, and then Litwin details Destination Frankford.

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