CHELTENHAM >> Arcadia University, in collaboration with SEPTA and Cheltenham Township, is developing a public art project.
The project will occur at the Glenside Train Station underpass, which connects the two halves of Glenside in Abington and Cheltenham townships, while Arcadia officals say they hope the collaboration effort can serve as a way to bridge the gap between students and the community at large.
Laura Baldwin, Arcadia’s chief marketing and communications officer, said she believes having art at this location can have a lasting impact on everyone in the community.
“People use that underpass as a conduit to get to work, to get to the city,” Baldwin said. “It connects us to the world with the Philadelphia International Airport.”
Baldwin said she believes the artwork could make Glenside Train Station a destination point that commuters want to stop through and see, adding identity to the town.
This idea came about nearly two years ago at a Downtown Glenside Community Partnership meeting, which Baldwin attended. The idea for a public art project was brought up, and Baldwin asked if Arcadia would could take part.
Arcadia then began hosting meetings of its own, inviting commissioners and township managers to discuss ideas on how Arcadia could play a role.
“We hadn’t in the recent past done anything like this,” said Baldwin. “So for us it was really part of bringing Arcadia down and getting involved in our local community, in particular the Glenside Train Station.”
Philadelphia-based muralist David Guinn was hired to lead the mural production on this project. His most recent mural in Philadelphia, called “Electric Street,” located at Ninth and Wharton streets, is a collaboration project between Guinn and lighting designer Drew Billiau, which “uses a lighting device that combines the variability of LEDs with the look of neon,” says Richard Torchia, director of Arcadia’s art gallery. This project served as a way to combat crime in this South Philadelphia area.
“A lot of his work has a level of abstraction in them,” said Torchia. “Dave is very adept in creating images that are open to all kinds of interpretation,” which Torchia feels will be beneficial to how community members personalize the artwork through their own experiences.
Arcadia’s close connection with printmaker Benton Spruance, who was the chairman of Arcadia’s art department from 1934 through 1967, played an important role in much of the public art seen in Philadelphia today.
Spruance among others began “crafting policies that made Philadelphia the first U.S. city to adopt an influential initiative that requires 1 percent of new construction to be set aside for public art,” said Torchia.
Spruance represents a larger history of public art and Arcadia’s commitment to being involved in creating public art within a new context, and Philadelphia rich history, specifically through murals, allows the city to be a leader in public art.
“It’s a learning opportunity and a teaching experience,” said Torchia.
As a precursor to mural production, which will begin around late winter or early spring, Arcadia is currently hosting an event series titled “Exploring Public Art: Legacy, Community, & Innovation” that discusses various topics surrounding public art. The series, which includes topics such as “Public Art in Philadelphia: Origins, Twists, and Trajectories” and “What Makes a Successful Mural?,” allows those in attendance to think about art outside of its beauty, rather through its importance and impact, with four Philadelphia-based artists as guest lecturers.
The final event in the series, titled “The Infrastructure That is People: Public Art and Social Dimensions,” which will take place Nov. 14 at 6:30 p.m. in the University Commons Great Room, will address the function of public art by focusing on relationships that determine community, according to Arcadia’s website.
Arcadia’s Exhibition Program is also currently showcasing an exhibition by Guinn called “David Guinn: Before the Wall, Mural Sketches and Designs” until Jan. 8, 2017. The exhibition focuses on Guinn’s drawings and paintings from his early preparatory stages before mural production, allowing viewers to examine the development process of an artist’s public works.
Guinn also will teach an apprenticeship course in the upcoming spring semester at the university that directly coincides with the art project. Open to students of all majors, the course will allow students to lead community forums, gathering information and ideas for what community members would like to see the artwork become. For students, this will be an educational experience on how to develop and create a public work of art.
“A work of public art isn’t just taking a brush to a wall,” said Baldwin. “It’s really about learning every step that’s involved in public art and involving the community is a very important aspect of that.”
Although the content of the mural has yet to be determined, Torchia said he believes whatever form the work takes will emerge from the community.
“We don’t know,” says Torchia. “These are the kind of community discussions to come that will determine what the artwork will have.”
The artwork is scheduled to be completed by summer 2017.