- The Washington Times - Monday, September 9, 2002

PHILADELPHIA For workers at the Village of Arts and Humanities, the abandoned lots they have been turning into brightly decorated community gardens for 16 years have always been works of art.
Now the North Philadelphia project itself has become a work of art. Documentary photographs of the vibrant neighborhood effort are being displayed in museums across the country part of a traveling exhibit called "Indivisible: Stories of American Community."
The show, which includes photographs and audio recordings of those involved with community improvement efforts in 12 American cities, is on view at the Philadelphia Museum of Art through Oct. 6.
Visitors experience several states as they walk through the exhibit. They watch people build democracy at ground level and hear stories about the connectedness of daily life and civic duty. An audio program of interviews with the photo subjects is included.
The journey begins in a Montana forest settlement that is working to protect the woodland area. A pickup truck sits on a plateau surrounded by thin clouds. A white-haired man in a flannel shirt stands among logging equipment. Pine trees scatter on a snow-covered hill.
The journey ends at Philadelphia's Village of Arts and Humanities. An underwater mosaic stands out across the street from several vacant row houses. A boy stands playing a guitar in a living room decorated only in black and white. A child ties a blindfold that says "I can see" on his head.
Then comes the voice of Heidi Warren, the village's managing director: "When I first came up to North Philly, it was around 5:30 in the evening. Things were shutting down, and everything felt really desolate. Then I saw that mural. The whole village is this sort of jewel that's shining in the middle of an otherwise broken area."
The multimedia approach to "Indivisible" makes the exhibit unique, said Katherine Ware, the museum's curator of photographs. At a nearby computer, visitors can record their own video segments describing their communities.
"The exhibit touches back on all of our lives, getting engaged in our communities," she said. "These are things we think about doing but never do."
The show presents geographical and artistic diversity color photos of a San Francisco teen-operated hot line contrast with the adjacent black-and-white photos of a New York midwives' service.
Although the work is a documentary, Ms. Ware says, it is also impressionistic. The photographers have captured their impressions of each community in their work.
"You get an important sense of what it's like to be in that place," she says.
The Village of Arts and Humanities in Philadelphia has converted hundreds of abandoned properties to art parks, community gardens, educational facilities and low-income housing since 1986.
Fatima Phillips, 17, went to the village as a child for help with her homework after school. She returned this summer to be a counselor, reading to the 5- and 6-year-olds and helping them perform talent shows.
The village changed her life, she says. "You can't say you can't here," she says. "They encourage you to do a whole lot."
The exhibit, which began touring in 2000, is the product of a partnership between the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University, Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona and the Philadelphia-based Pew Charitable Trusts.
The collection of photography and recorded interviews focuses on the real-life stories of struggle and change in the communities of North Pacific Coast, Alaska; Ithaca, N.Y.; San Francisco; Delray Beach, Fla.; Navajo Nation in Arizona, Utah and New Mexico; Eau Claire and North Columbia, S.C.; Western North Carolina; Stony Brook, N.Y.; San Juan, Texas; Chicago; Philadelphia; and Yaak Valley, Mont.
The exhibit will be in Anchorage, Alaska, Oct. 28 to Dec. 31, and Tacoma, Wash., Jan. 24 to April 27.

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