Picture a neighborhood, revitalized and colorful. Picture a neighborhood that highlights its past, while looking toward the future. And picture a neighborhood that makes use of its barren landscapes as canvases.
For Councilwoman Maria Quinones-Sanchez, D-7th, this image of a revitalized and bustling neighborhood was at the forefront of a project she helped to initiate a few years ago. Imagining Frankford, a two-year project consisting of a collection of murals along the Frankford Avenue corridor, was a vision to help inform the residents of Frankford about the neighborhood’s past.
Imagining Frankford is a collaborative project between the Frankford community and the city’s Mural Arts Program. And as Netanel Portier said, Sanchez wanted to bring the Mural Arts Program to the Frankford corridor as a part of the other corridor revitalization initiatives in the neighborhood.
Portier, project manager for Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates, said the project was a lengthy process that required a tremendous amount of foot work to survey the community and get residents’ input in what they wanted to see on the avenue.
“We spent the past two years coming to community meetings here, organizing specific community meetings about this mural project and selecting four sites along the corridor that would be best suited for some large-scale murals incorporating individuals from the community,” Portier said. “We wanted people who represent the pride of the community, the potential, the hopes for the future and people who are important to the past of Frankford, as well as those who were apart of making Frankford what it is today and what it will be in the future.”
The project commissioned muralist Cesar Viveros to help by going out into the community, gathering what people thought of Frankford and what they most wanted to see, and then putting all of this together on large-scale canvases in the neighborhood.
The first three murals of Imagining Frankford, which are completed, are where Kensington and Frankford Avenue meet, what Portier said she believes is the gateway or entrance to Frankford.
The first mural, which is along Kensington Avenue, is a series of panels depicting the pre-independence and independence-related history in Frankford. The next two, which as Portier said form almost a diptych on either side of Frankford Avenue, depict the idea of pride.
Several other Frankford residents are incorporated in the second and third mural.
These include Christopher Spence, Nidia Mezalick and Lydia Darragh to name a few. Spence was, as Portier said, a tremendous athlete at Frankford High School. He played football and went on to college, but was fatally shot in 2011 after a scuffle inside a now-shuttered bar.
Mezalick is a stained glass artist who is based in Frankford and does work that can be seen around the world. And Darragh helped inform General Washington’s army of the British army’s plan in Philadelphia during the Revolutionary War.
For Portier, highlighting prominent individuals of the past in Frankford’s history is important.
“It allows us to show residents where this neighborhood has been and hopefully it can instill a vision in someone’s mind where they think that’s what they can be,” Portier said.
Portier said including pride in one of the murals was eventually split into two ideas. Both involved the community, but in two slightly different visions. The first involved the artist and the groundwork he had to do to find the inspiration for his murals.
“Cesar [Viveros] worked really hard through the community meeting process to identify who these key people were, who was really important and who people really looked to as inspiration and hope in the neighborhood,” Portier said.
The second idea involved the once-bustling Frankford Avenue. “One idea that came up in our meetings was that Frankford lives on the streets,” Portier said. “It doesn’t sound very positive at first, but it came from a positive idea of how everyone wanted Frankford Avenue to again be the place where people live, where they can work and where they can shop and have fun,” Portier said.
The final mural is expected to be completed and dedicated by the end of June. It is going up on a wall beside St. Mark’s Church on the 4400-block of Frankford Avenue.