A West Center City neighborhood that has seen its share of poverty and crime hopes a beautiful new mosaic wall is a harbinger for a better future.
The Helen Chambers Park now has a gleaming new entrance for visitors — a retaining wall facade filled with individual brightly-colored tiles, thanks to a team of artists at the Creative Vision Factory (CVF). The retaining wall, with pealing and chipped paint, had been an eyesore for years. And yet the wall is an important focal point to a popular and recently refurbished playground and right next door to the William “Hicks” Anderson Community Center.
“I kind of felt that the arts could do more for Wilmington neighborhoods,” said Creative Vision Factory Executive Director Michael Kalmbach. The Creative Vision Factory is a peer-run drop-in art space funded by the state’s Division of Substance Abuse and Mental Health.
One of their goals is to identify communities where a large-scale art project could enhance neighborhood surroundings. Kalmbach said the Helen Chambers Park project was ideally suited to help satisfy their objectives. “For this project, we wanted to employ and train large numbers of underemployed people – people who really need a lot of support – to help us generate ideas, assist with tile production and chip in with labor.”
Projects like the mosaic wall give a chance to CVF artists to show off their creativity and self-expression. And the experience is an empowering one because CVF artists generally exhibit behavioral health disorders, are recovering from substance abuse, or are homeless.
Each colored triangle tile is its own work of art and thousands would be required for the project. So the Creative Vision Factory invited children in its weekly Tuesday morning workshop to design and create many of the tiles. Teenagers from Interfaith Community Housing of Delaware who participate in the the Youth Ambassadors program created approximately 1,000 tiles. The kids carved their own designs and messages into the clay with a technique known as sgraffito, where the top layer of glaze is carved away revealing the base clay color and thus creating a two-color design.
“It really was an excellent way to get the kids to express themselves, and they all had a great time doing it,” said summer workshop coordinator Brenna Smith. “The kids liked being able to do something so creative and genuinely appreciated the opportunity we created for them.”
Fourteen adult CVF artists worked on the wall, installing thousands of individual tiles earning $15/hour this summer. But it was a labor of love for many who live in the community and wanted to participate in something special and uplifting.
“Of course, we’re really pleased that the neighborhood was transformed. But this project was transformational for everybody involved,” said Kalmbach. “These artists now have new friends, new skills and new networks. These are people who are now really satisfied that they had something to do and that the community took notice.”
Many who live nearby the Helen Chambers Park stopped by throughout the summer to praise the artists for work. “So many people told us, ‘Hey, that is super cool,'” said Kalmbach.
The Creative Vision Factory serves artists on the behavioral health spectrum. One-third of their membership at any given time is experiencing homelessness, another 1/3 are active clients of local behavioral health organizations, and the other third have not yet sought professional help and are likely captured in a web of poverty.
“When you have a place with doors open to everybody, you really get to see what happens on a street level in Wilmington,” said Kalmbach. On a daily basis, he sees hundreds of people with seemingly nothing much to do. “The Creative Vision Factory gives people a place to be, a place to connect with others, to make and create.”
Now in its 7th year, the organization touches 300 lives per year and provides peer programing to help substance abusers get back on their feet.