By Alexandria Stryker
Deutschtown’s most unloved and overgrown vacant lots make unlikely canvases, but over the summer, Northside resident artists breathed new life into these abandoned spaces — and created new spaces for community engagement in the process. In an end-of-summer open house called “In the Making,” the Neu Kirche Contemporary Art Center showcased the work of their residents as well as two new gallery spaces on Friday.
Each summer, Neu Kirche hosts the Fallow Grounds for Sculpture program, a public art project designed to stimulate engagement between artists and locals as well as amongst community members. Beginning in June, a new artist creates a sculpture for the month, resulting in several finished pieces at the conclusion of the project.
Aisha White, the events and programs manager at Neu Kirche, said the center enjoyed seeing locals come together for the celebration, calling it “less event-based and more community gathering-based.” It was exciting to see the community’s positive reaction to the projects, she said.
The open house marked the debut of the 2016 Fallow Grounds program’s final piece: a larger-than-life hamburger inspired by Northside’s annual “Sandwich Week” competition. Amy Masters, the artist behind the piece, entitled her sculpture “Roadside Attraction” in the spirit of the uniquely American culture surrounding such large-scale, off-highway phenomenon. The burger features portholes visitors can use to peer into the sculpture and view two scenes created inside the space.
Also created as part of the Fallow Grounds initiative was “Northside Civil Encounters,” a piece completed in July and built around Food City, a community garden. Artists Monique Redmon and Layne Waerea used the venue to advertise and create events involving the trade of goods and services, various workshops, social gatherings and more. The effort was intended to facilitate conversation and interaction between Northside residents, both planned and spontaneous.
The initial project in the residency program was completed in June and entitled “Tripoli Street BakeYard,” consisting of an outdoor kitchen and meeting space. The lot also includes a wood-fired oven built by the artist Michelle Illuminato with the help of several community members. The large table on the site also serves as a place for local gatherings as well as the meeting place for a BakeClub that hosts events every month. A full calendar of BakeClub events can be found here.
In addition to the Fallow Grounds Pieces, the event celebrated the opening of Neu Kirche’s Yinzer House and renovated gallery space in the Great Hall. The Yinzer House will serve as a living space for various resident artists, and its gallery will feature work by local artists with exhibits in place for six weeks at a time. Currently featured is Thomas Waters’ “Doll House,” a photographic display that examines the anatomy of abused or misshapen toy dolls. The exhibit can be viewed by appointment. The Great Hall exhibit space was also on display at the event and introduced by artist Nathan Lorenzo. Formerly a chapel, the room was recently outfitted with a new stage and digital equipment through grant funding and will host various events throughout the year.
Neu Kirche’s celebration marked several points of success for the organization, and these successes pave the way for even more new events and exhibits this year.
The finished projects for Fallow Grounds will remain on site until October 31. Information about specific sculptures and their locations can be found here and also at Neu Kirche’s main gallery located at 1000 Madison Avenue. Application information for artists invested in a Yinzer House exhibition can also be found here.