The art of the neighborhood

John JH Phillips’ interactive sound and video, “Night Ferry,” debuts June 30 at 8 p.m. at Schuylkill Banks Crescent Park.

Tasked with creating a public art project in the Grays Ferry, Point Breeze and South of South Street neighborhoods, John JH Phillips soon discovered that the job was even bigger than it sounded.

“As everyone in Philadelphia knows, that community is not just three neighborhoods — it’s dozens,” says Phillips, a sound and video artist and UArts professor. “It changes almost block by block.”

The Commotion project was developed as a partnership between UArts, PECO and the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s long-running Percent for Art program. As part of the utility’s project to build an electric substation in Grays Ferry, it funded the development of a public art program.

Through a six-month process of community engagement, Phillips and another half-dozen artists came up with the Commotion Festival, a series of site-specific work that grew out of the artists’ experiences in those neighborhoods.

“We tried to have these artists do the very best work they can do to show respect for the neighbors,” Phillips explains. “Rather than just plonk that down in somebody’s neighborhood, we thought about how we could get people involved in contributing to, participating in and becoming part of each one of these final festival projects.”

Pieces running this week in the festival include Ed Shockley’s play “The Greatest Life That Never Was,” inspired by personal narratives from local residents; dance performances by Subcircle and Team Sunshine at Shiloh Baptist Church; and the raising of Jebney Lewis’ 20-foot sculpture and Phillips’ own maze of interactive video screens at Crescent Park.

If you go
Commotion Festival
Through June 30
Grays Ferry, Point Breeze and South of South Street
Various locations
All events free


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