ON THE GORGEOUS DAY that was Sunday, about 15 people showed up at the Mount Airy Art Garage for a panel discussion on the intersection of art and urban renewal. To wit: Can art solve social problems? Can it spur economic development?
At the least, it can clean up a sidewalk. Artists Andy Walker and Andy Heiser proved that with their “Renewed Urban Studio Tent,” a Quonset-hut-like structure that’s been built in several iterations out of recycled and found materials. The artists are making a point: “You can build a house using what we all throw away,” said Walker. Passersby created collages for the walls, often using materials lying around the project’s site — broken earbuds, plastic bottles — so that, as Heiser noted, the process cleans the space.
Other panelists included artist Dre Urhahn and Mural Arts’ Shari Hersh, who are working on a project called Philly Painting. The project, painting bright stripes of color on buildings along Germantown Avenue, has employed about a dozen local people and created a sense of possibility. But what about its larger hope of economic stimulation? Hersh suggested a difference might be noticeable on the corridor “five years from now.” So far, it has prompted the creation of a business association.
Audience members were sympathetic, offering other ways art can have civic impacts. Gary Steuer, the city’s chief cultural officer, noted increased rates of college graduates staying in the city — although the direct connection to art wasn’t clear.
“The hope is,” said Hersh of Philly Painting, “it will create other transformations.”