‘Destination Frankford’ aims to draw artists up the el

As Philadelphia’s demographic and technological landscape continues to shift, many neighborhoods that were traditionally manufacturing hubs have become havens for artists and artisans.

Northern Liberties, Kensington and Fishtown have all enjoyed an influx of young creative types, due in part to the neighborhoods’ industrial building stock and (formerly) low rents.

Now, armed with a $550,000 grant from ArtPlace America, officials with the City Planning Commission hope Frankford can be transformed into the next creative oasis.

City planner Ian Litwin, who wrote the “Destination Frankford” ArtPlace grant, said the project stemmed from the Philadelphia2035 Lower Northeast District Plan.

“Frankford is kind of the original Northeast Philadelphia,” he said.

“It’s got the el. It’s got sort of a really great historic building stock. Then there’s the Globe Dyeworks, which is a reused factory. So our idea with the District Plan was sort of to focus on Frankford’s assets. Rather than come up with some grand vision for Frankford, the idea was almost like targeted intervention. So, take Frankford’s assets and build on those. Take Frankford’s liabilities and turn them into assets.”

The plan calls for creative signage and a pop-up shop in a vacant storefront to showcase the works of local artists.

“The signage is important because, if you get off the el in Frankford and you’re not from Frankford, you pretty much don’t know where to go,” Litwin said.

“The streets are really crooked, mostly one way, so it’s kind of hard to navigate your way around the neighborhood.

“And then the storefront, not only is it going to create an attraction for people to come visit but when we’re done, the building owner is now going to have a space that’s more marketable.”

The Planning Commission has also issued a request for quotation for artists to create an interactive public sculpture in the neighborhood’s central gathering place, Womrath Park.

“We’re trying to shed light on Frankford, and hopefully we can attract more artists and people to move to the neighborhood,” Litwin said.

“Because other than a couple of artists who actually live in Globe Dyeworks, most of them don’t live in Frankford. And we feel like that kind of art scene is moving up the el and it’s sort of the next logical location.”

Litwin said planners are seeking to restore Frankford, once a hub of industrial manufacturing, into a place where products are created.

“Frankford used to make a lot of things,” he said.

“And now it could be a place for industry again, but it’ll be a different scale. That’s sort of what we’re focusing on.

“So it’s not strictly art as much as it’s industrial art, design, creating things. Our web design firm is from Frankford. It’s a place to make all different kinds of things, so that’s what we’re trying to market Frankford as. It’s a little different than your typical artists’ community.”

The project is slated to be finished next fall.

“Destination Frankford” is is supported by a grant from ArtPlace America, a collaboration of leading national and regional foundations, banks and federal agencies accelerating creative placemaking across the US, as well as by funding from the William Penn Foundation.


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