Parkside: West Park Cultural Center Strengthens Community Vitality through the Arts
The West Park Cultural Center, since 2001, has become a community-based resource for residents to access local arts, education, and other engaging programs for their enjoyment. The West Park Cultural Center, located at 4021 Parkside Ave. inside the High School of the Future, has created an environment that encourages neighbors to connect through the arts.
“It really came about from seeing a need in the community for programs that just didn’t exist at the time. Our mission really is to build a vibrant community by basing a lot of our programming in arts and then adult development programs,” Executive Director Betty Lindley said.
Throughout the years, the center has provided the Parkside community with a wide range of programs and events that include: adult computer education classes, free GED and basic education classes, an annual arts and crafts festival and after-school art programs for children, ranging from ceramics, music, dance, fiber arts and various visual art classes.
“We also have a four week summer camp, Camp Ginkgo, for children ages 5 to 15. We’re partnered with the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center providing a program based in the arts and nature. They have arts projects, nature projects, and field trips. This year we took them to New York to see a show on Broadway,” Lindley said.
These programs are all in effort to provide opportunities for children who may not have had the access if it had not been for the center.
Lindley, an arts administrator since 1968, is also the development officer for the Arts Sanctuary, a Philadelphia-based arts organization that works with inner city artists.
Lindley’s beliefs in using art as a way to reach the community are displayed in the West Park Cultural Center’s annual West Park Art Fest which takes place every second Saturday of June.
“We hold West Park Art Fest, which is a festival that is on the grounds and inside the School of the Future and is city wide. This past year, the theme was friends across cultures so we had many cultures represented. We had about four different stages indoors and out,” Lindley said. “Thirty different arts and cultural partners including the Please Touch Museum, the Mann Center, the Philadelphia Museum of the Arts and much more were represented. We had a turnout of approximately 1500 people.”
West Park Cultural Center’s relationship with the High School of the Future does not only live within the after-school program. A major component to programs the Center operates at this high school are within the classrooms, bringing English literature and plays to life.
“The Arts for Literacy grant provided funding that allowed us to bring literature and other kinds of readings in student’s English classes to life by having performing artists come in,” the Center’s Arts Program Coordinator Patty Bulack said.
“I’ve worked with many artists in the city that come from professional programs in the city. They work with the teachers to help them accomplish the goals they set.”
Bulack has worked with West Park Cultural Center for three years, principally working on building relationships with parents, students, teachers and artists as well as organizing programs that will help expose children to different facets of culture.
“I think that for particularly the population we work with in the School of the Future where it’s 98 percent African American – many from underserved neighborhoods. Their opportunities to be exposed to cultural experiences are somewhat limited. My drive is to open that up to them, to open Philadelphia to them,” Bulack said.
Bulack, like Lindley, has been surrounded by and involved in art for many years. Her experience with art comes from utilizing art and education while homeschooling her children. Both her daughter and son have participated in Center programing by either helping to teach dance classes or bringing science fiction novels to life to help students better understand it.
“My daughter actually came into a sophomore English class and played the main character from a science fiction piece where there is a lot of time travel. She did a lot of work reading and understanding the book herself before creating the scenario for the students,” Bulack said.
This year, West Park Cultural Center is building a relationship with Independent Rock, an after-school rock music program to offer workshops in music production and performances.
Due to lack of funding the West Park Cultural Center has cut back some of its programs like hip-hop dance, vocal instruction and more.
To learn more about the West Park Cultural Center and how to get involved visit its website, www.westparkcultural.org.