The city of Wilmington and CityFest Inc. showed off their new Urban Artist Exchange and the work of its 21 teen summer apprentice artists at an open house last weekend.
The event coincided with Wilmington Open Streets and featured storytelling as well as a drumming and dance performance at the nearby amphitheater.
“Because we had a critical mass of people there, we decided we would give them an opportunity to see what we envision happening on that site,” said Tina Betz, director of cultural affairs and fund development for the city.
The Urban Artist Exchange at 1500 Walnut Street in Wilmington’s East Side Historic District is designed to be a creative placemaking project that engages the community. It’s near the Clifford Brown Listening Garden at 16th Street and Clifford Brown Walk
Turning stables into studios
The exchange was carved out of the former Wilmington Police Department Mounted Patrol Stables, a project that’s been in the works for more than a decade.
The open streets program regularly closes a city street during summer to encourage the community to socialize and use the streets for recreation.
Activities provided that day included bike repairs and free bike rentals, as well as booths for community agencies and a prize raffle.
Traffic planners also let people learn more about a temporarily painted traffic circle at the intersection of 16th Street, Jessup Street and Pine Street, where traffic issues are common.
The temporary circle was designed to allow the neighborhood to see if the idea works, and Wilmapco representatives were there to hear feedback.
In addition, the streets program offered cans of spray paint and bibs/aprons on site. Kids and adults were invited to grab a can and contribute artwork to help fill in the circle.
Betz said the Artist Exchange open house date was chosen to coincide with the open street so more people would have an opportunity to see the work of the young artist. They are paid by Cityfest’s Arts Work program, which hires city youth for the summer.
Cityfest is a nonprofit that seeks sponsorships, grants and donations to help subsidize the city’s financial and staffing contributions. One of its focuses is improving the quality of life for citizens of Wilmington, primarily through cultural and arts programming.
When Betz and other city officials became interested in converting the stables, the Urban Bike Project was working out of one building on the property and had already done a capital campaign to renovate their building.
The city leased that building to the bike project and the stables and rest of the property to Cityfest. The stables project was phase one. Phase two will include the construction of the nearby amphitheater and its performance platform, as well as stormwater management.
“When we entered into the agreement five years ago that created the Urban Artist Exchange,” said Mayor Purzycki, “Tina and I envisioned a distinctive destination known for welcoming creative people and using the arts to transform the East Side physically, socially, and culturally.
“This beautiful space has already exceeded all expectations, and we are just getting started. I encourage everyone to take a minute to visit this incredible space to see what we can accomplish when we work together towards a common goal.”
The teen apprentices each specialize in a form of visual arts: painting, ceramics, textiles and fashion.
Kaira Brown and Taylor Spicer Pulliam are lead apprentices.
Working with Kim Canfield in ceramics are Ololade Olubowale, Joshua Prince-Ademusi and Omari Senior.
Working with Julie Hazzard in textiles and dyes are A’yair Gillis, Arica Johnson, Sadie Johnson, Tasnim Williams and Anele York-James.
Working Sa-Kreea Jackson in fashion are Leia Jackson, Amera Midgette, Zah’miera Owens, Morgan Simis and Shaneyce Watson.
Working with Rhonda Schone in painting are Tauson Biggs, JaKayla Cooper Moore, Nia Coverdale, Imari Howard and Jason Moore.
Visitors will be able to go into the building and see their work, but shouldn’t expect to be crammed into a small space. Each of the xxx stables is 18 feet by 18 feet, Betz said.
The stables also are rented out to a choreographer and a dancer who comes in to offer lessons. Small craft artists can rent a studio by the month. Three of the stables were combined into an open community space, which was used last weekend for the final performance of the Wilmington Black Storytelling Residency, also sponsored by the city.
Saturday night’s program included storytelling by Wilmington’s TAHIRA and internationally known storyteller Charlotte Blake Alston on the stage adjacent to the Clifford Brown Listening Garden. Their family-friendly performance consisted of original stories rooted in the craft of Black Storytelling and the oral tradition.
Their acts were accompanied by African drumming and dance performance by Pieces of a Dream Inc.
Betsy Price is a Wilmington freelance writer who has 40 years of experience, including 15 at The News Journal in Delaware.
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