Chester Housing Authority

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Gallery provides art works for Chester public housing- By Colin Ainsworth

 More than 100 guests visited an opening reception Friday evening for a first-of-its-kind collaboration to place art work in public housing.The Nebula Gallery, located at the 602 Avenue of the States – the site of the silent film-era William Penn Theater — unveiled its 150-piece "Art is Home" collection, which will be donated to families moving into Chester Housing Authority units. 

 "I think everybody loved the concept," said gallery owner John Bush. "We're really proud to be working with the housing authority."Students from the Chester Charter School for the Arts donated their time and ability to create a part of the collection over the winter. The project gave current students a chance to add to their portfolio while exposing young children to art work in their homes to foster their own creativity."The presence of art can be an inspiration to a child in development," said CHA Director Steven Fischer. "We're mostly housing families with young children, and they have a lot of talent that can potentially come out."Families moving into CHA properties will receive two pieces of art from the collection.

The first donations went into homes on Monday."In our management of lower-income housing, one of our goals is to give our kids a leg up and access to similar opportunities that children in more affluent communities get," Fischer said. "It's part of the goal of breaking the cycle of poverty."Fischer estimates the first collection can supply new families with art for at least one year. While the details have not been drafted, both parties plan to continue the project when the new art is needed. With the burgeoning arts community in the city's downtown, Fischer is opened to the idea of further art installation in CHA properties."Let's see what kind of a splash we create," he said.

"We'll start with this and see where it goes."The "Art is Home" opening reception also featured performance art with an open mic. Nebula Gallery Program Manager Hannah Guth welcomed fellow Widener University undergraduates for spoken word, music, poetry and comedy inspired by the art collection. Associate Professor Michael Cocchiarale, co-chair of the university's Creative Writing Program, held a creative writing workshop at the start of the reception where students responded to a writing prompt based on the event."Some of the performers got emotional thinking about what we were doing and how you can change people's lives through art," Bush said. "The methods (of the CHA collaboration) resonated well with everybody."The "Art is Home" is the latest of several civic programs the gallery has held since opening in June 2017.

In its first year of operation, the gallery has hosted a pop-up Black History Museum presented by the Yes We Can Achievement and Cultural Center (the successor organization to the city's YWCA) and a workshop by Temple University's bITS (Building Information Technology Skills) program. The bITS program teaches Philadelphia youth about the impact of digital technology on community and economic development.The gallery is one part of Bush's transition from a career in pharmaceutical management to the arts and non-profit fields.

Appointed to the board of the Chester Redevelopment Authority and the city's Board of Health, Bush has also opened an 8,000-square foot urban gardening space in the rear of the Nebula Gallery.A mutual interest in urban gardening brought Guth into the fold at the gallery. "She was doing some soil testing research. I went into Uno's [Chicago Grille on Providence Avenue] for lunch while she was working," Bush said. "She asked 'what were you doing that you're covered in dirt.'"The chance meeting opened up an ongoing collaboration with Widener Professor of Biology and Environmental Professor Bruce Grant, with Bush serving a guest lecturer for an urban ecology class and future plans set for students to work on the gallery's urban garden space.