Porch Light for artists trying to make Kensington brighter in every way

- We spend too much time reporting on drugs and violence in Kensington, but something good is happening -- right on the main shopping strip.

FOX 29’s Bill Anderson found a new storefront community facility, focusing on art, is offering programs to literally brighten the neighborhood, For Goodness Sake.

“Art has changed my life. I was once on drugs, I was once a gang member, and art had a profound effect,” said Alvin Tull.

It worked for him and many others, but can opening such a facility improve Kensington?

Sam Thomas of the New Kensington Community Development Corporation thinks so.

“It’s all about perception,” Thomas explained. “When you get off the El, the first thing you see -- if it’s a vacant storefront -- you’re gonna make an immediate judgment call about the community. If it’s an amazing mural arts space with artists and people in it, you’re gonna think maybe this community is something I didn’t think it was.”

It’s the unfortunate reality that most stories on Kensington are related to drug use or violence. But a Mural Arts of Philadelphia program called the Porch Light just opened a hub on Kensington Avenue, and it’s trying to change the stereotypical view of the neighborhood.

“We’re gonna be creating murals out of this space and other public art projects,” Laure Biron of Mural Arts Philadelphia predicts. “We’re gonna have ongoing pretty rigorous art programs here … We’re also gonna be providing social services, behavioral health services and other types of programming.”

The newest hub opened after the New Kensington CDC applied, and the owner of the building who runs a market next door, offered up the space. They wanted something else positive on the block.

Bill challenged artist Tull, one of the artists who will be teaching, to show his skills. He also challenged the belief that bringing access to art will change a neighborhood.

 “In this neighborhood, a lot of people call it a forgotten neighborhood. A lot of people are not putting resources in this area,” Tull said.

So Bill asked, why do all of this here?”

“It’s easy to go into a community that’s already established. It’s easy to go into a community that’s already beautiful, but to come into a community of this, this is why we’re here. To beautify. To heal,” Tull explained.

And Bill says it’s obvious talking to everyone involved with the Porch Light hub they believe in Kensington and the residents in a way we don’t often see -- and they want to change the storyline.

“There are folks that are doing such great work on their block – neighbor-to-neighbor, everyday kind of shifting the story,” said Joanna Winchester of NKCDC.

As Tull continued with the challenge to show Bill the neighborhood through his eyes and our segment theme, Bill went outside and briefly saw both sides of what inspired the hub. Five seconds out the door, he was approached by an older woman asking for food that she clearly needed. But a minute later, she also showed the appreciation that came from someone listening and offering even temporary help.

These are the people the Kensington Porch Light hub hopes to inspire.

According to Tull, “Those that feel as though they’re useless, worthless -- we make that change inside a person, one person at a time, one mural at a time and one community at a time.”

Bill says it remains to be seen if a mural arts hub filled with art classes and supportive services can inspire change in a neighborhood that wants and needs it. But what was clear is this group and these organizations are not buying the negative stereotype of a defeated neighborhood.

As Tull’s drawing revealed, they still see more for Kensington.

For Goodness Sake, I’m Bill Anderson.

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