NLArts Big Belly Beautification Project…

NLArts Big BelliesOne person’s trash is another one’s canvas!

Trash cans in North­ern Liber­ties are look­ing a whole lot bright­er thanks to
chil­dren at NLArts.

NLArts, a youth-in­spired com­munity art group centered in North­ern Liber­ties, re­cently com­pleted its trash­can re­design pro­ject.

Chil­dren ages five to 15 con­trib­uted sketches that were ap­plied to the Big­Belly trash cans throughout the com­munity.

The pro­ject ad­ded not only an aes­thet­ic value to the sol­ar-powered trash com­pact­ors, but also helped foster artist­ic growth and com­munity in­volve­ment in the youth.

“NLArts is really de­signed to help bridge the spir­it of the com­munity and art to the kids,” said Monika Kreidie, one of the found­ing mem­bers and cur­rent sec­ret­ary of NLArts.

Foun­ded in 2003, NLArts was es­tab­lished by a group of moth­ers in the neigh­bor­hood who were con­cerned about their chil­dren’s edu­ca­tion­al pro­spects. After get­ting over 100 fam­il­ies in­volved, the group was well on its way to start­ing its own arts-centered charter school.

In the end, due to dis­crep­an­cies between the group and the School Re­form Com­mis­sion, the school nev­er came to fruition.

In 2006, while the idea of the charter school had dis­solved, the group real­ized that they still had money from the state and more im­port­antly, a lot of en­thu­si­asm.

“We thought, ‘what do we do? Let’s just turn this neg­at­ive in­to a pos­it­ive,’ ” Kreidie said. “ ‘Let’s do what we wanted to do in work­shops in a com­munity arts pro­gram.’ ”

The group began util­iz­ing the North­ern Liber­ties Com­munity Cen­ter, 700 N. Third St., to provide the youth with a much-needed artist­ic ex­per­i­ence.

“The cre­at­ive spir­it that art teaches the kids could be used in any­thing that you do,” Kreidie said. “It’s about think­ing out­side the box

The idea for the trash can re­design pro­ject star­ted brew­ing about five years ago when Kreidie and fel­low neigh­bors found in­spir­a­tion in the funky, artist­ic trash cans that line South Street.

With Robert Wood­word, the artist who com­pleted the afore­men­tioned pro­ject, be­ing an ac­quaint­ance of Kreidie and his own child be­ing part of NLArts, Kreidie saw the per­fect op­por­tun­ity to be­gin de­vel­op­ing the pro­ject.

In or­der to fund the pro­ject, NLArts turned to the Penn Treaty Spe­cial Ser­vices Dis­trict (PTSSD).

In 2013, NLArts was awar­ded a $12,000 grant to com­plete the pro­ject, ac­cord­ing to Kat­rina Mans­field, ad­min­is­trat­ive sec­ret­ary of PTSSD.

“Art is a really im­port­ant av­en­ue for kids and by pair­ing it with the idea of civic re­spons­ib­il­ity, it’s just a great thing to teach kids,” said Rick An­geli, chair­man of the board at PTSSD and long-time North­ern Liber­ties res­id­ent.

After eval­u­at­ing the be­ne­fits of the pro­ject and its value to the com­munity, PTSSD de­cided to award NLArts the grant for both its beau­ti­fic­a­tion po­ten­tial and its im­pact on the com­munity and its youth.

“I just think it’s a slam dunk,” An­geli said. “It’s a really pos­it­ive pro­ject for every­body in­volved.”

The pro­ject lost mo­mentum when lead artist Wood­ward was pulled in an­oth­er dir­ec­tion, leav­ing him un­able to com­plete the pro­ject.

For­tu­nately, Kreidie found loc­al artists Jared Gru­en­wald and Nata­sha Mell-Taylor to pick up where the pro­ject left off. The two artists ad­ded dir­ec­tion to the pro­ject that would even­tu­ally guide it to com­ple­tion.

“We wanted it to be about the idea of col­lab­or­a­tion, but to think about it in a dif­fer­ent con­text.” said Mell-Taylor, Mas­sachu­setts Col­lege of Art and Design gradu­ate and cur­rent Port Rich­mond res­id­ent. “We wanted to ex­pand the kids’ minds with that idea.”

After lead­ing a few more NLArts work­shops and ask­ing kids to sub­mit draw­ings of things that in­spired them in nature, paint  pic­tures of how they saw them­selves as su­per­her­oes, and in­cor­por­ate ab­stract visu­als, the pro­ject was back on its feet again.

Each design also in­cludes a “hid­den” trash can.

“Com­munity based or­gan­iz­a­tions like NLArts are really where my heart is and it’s the col­lab­or­a­tion that makes them,” Nell-Taylor said. “It’s really im­port­ant to bring dif­fer­ent types of people to­geth­er and for stu­dents to see this hap­pen.”

The two then began to take the art­work of about 40 and 50 kids and lay­er it so that each trash can would weave mul­tiple draw­ings to­geth­er to tell a story.

Once the art was com­pleted, it made its way to Col­or Re­flec­tions, 475 N. Fifth St., to be prin­ted to scale.

“The whole heart of North­ern Liber­ties, his­tor­ic­ally, is bolstered through artists,” said Eric Ber­ger, founder and pres­id­ent of Col­or Re­flec­tions and a pre­vi­ous long-time res­id­ent of North­ern Liber­ties.

Foun­ded in 1989, Col­or Re­flec­tions is a North­ern Liber­ties-based, fam­ily run print­ing com­pany that pro­duces graph­ics for everything from ban­ners in cen­ter city to the big im­ages that are ap­plied to busses and planes.

Once the im­ages were prin­ted, lam­in­ated, and cut to size, they were ap­plied to the Big­Belly trash cans around the neigh­bor­hood. For some, that means see­ing their art on a daily basis.

“I al­ways liked do­ing art, but I wasn’t ne­ces­sar­ily the best artist,” said Ju­lia Tracht­man, sixth grader at Frank­ford Friends School who has been in­volved in NLArts for about five years.

“Over­all the pro­ject was really fun,” Tracht­man said. “I liked put­ting my designs on something.”

While the stu­dents in­volved may say the pro­grams and work­shops at NLArts a pure form of fun, there are lar­ger forces at work for the lead­er­ship of the or­gan­iz­a­tion.

In light of the lack of fund­ing for the arts at pub­lic schools, the pro­grams offered through NLArts are all the more im­port­ant to provide an av­en­ue for the youth to learn skills crit­ic­al to all as­pects of life.

“It’s a try­ing time,” Kreidie said. “My philo­sophy is, ‘Can you ever have too much art?’ I don’t think so.”

To learn more about NLArts, vis­it nlarts.org

Con­tact Star at star@bsmphilly.com.