The root of our humanities in action
Our pivot toward a focus in community building through storytelling began here in the oldest city in Pennsylvania—Chester.
Chester Made is a humanities-based initiative to celebrate and promote arts and culture and harness their power as a force for community revitalization. We served as connectors, educators, and leaders, but ultimately the community and local artists had ownership of the entire process. Instead of taking a typical top-down approach steered by urban planning and outside curators, this initiative sought to build the capacity of local leaders, organizations, and artists and to help sustain their efforts beyond the scope of the project. That ensured that the authors of this story are the residents of Chester themselves. This program teaches us all that residents’ stories are a powerful foundation for community building.
We also collaborated with the MJ Freed Theater, with funding from Spring Point Partners and support from people who live, work, and play in Chester, to learn how the humanities can lead to a better future and change perceptions about the community.
Renewal has begun in Chester. Visit the 500 block of Chester’s Avenue of the States today and you’ll also see a vibrant movement led by Chester artists and entrepreneurs to revitalize and beautify the city. A report from Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, found that Chester Made delivered on its mission by:
- Expanding who participates in public process
- Providing a spectrum of cultural values that had not been fully acknowledged
- Revealing that the impact of arts and culture on Chester and its people is profound and multidimensional
- Generating a palpable sense of hope and pride among participants
- Making important connections, improving existing relationships and building new relationships within and across sectors, catalyzing new collaborations, and developing leadership in the community for future efforts
- Collecting insights about what it takes to plan and implement an arts-based and humanities-informed approach to civic planning and community building
Recently, Chester Made has focused on amplifying voices through the Chester Digital Storytelling Project. Storytelling is, has been, and always will be the heart of the Chester Made project. Since its earliest days, Chester Made has used storytelling as a way to bring people together, address challenges, create solutions, and celebrate victories. The emergence of the Chester Digital Storytelling project builds on the strong history of PA Humanities’ mission to find human connections in the humanities. The digital story process is a new way to honor the hopes, dreams, and memories of the extraordinary, everyday people in Chester. Listen to stories and learn more about the project here.
Visit Chester Made’s website for the full story.