Taking the pulse of Northeast culture

Cul­tureB­locks is a new on­line tool that provides in­form­a­tion on loc­al art non­profits, cul­tur­al busi­nesses and pub­lic art­works. 

The art of North­east Philly: A met­al pub­lic art piece called ‘Fire En­gine’ by Har­old Kim­mel­man is loc­ated at 7818 Frank­ford Ave. MARIA POUCH­NIKOVA / TIMES PHOTO

Thanks to a new on­line tool called Cul­tureB­locks, any­one in­ter­ested in the “cul­tur­al as­sets” — art non­profits, cul­tur­al busi­nesses, pub­lic art­works — of a Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hood can get a clear pic­ture of just how much cul­ture is bub­bling up in any part of the city.

Us­ing the data­base at cul­tureb­locks.com to ex­am­ine North­east Philly neigh­bor­hoods showed no art gal­ler­ies lis­ted, but did un­cov­er something else — dozens of cre­at­ive cul­tur­al en­ter­prises that are be­ing run out of homes.

Moira M. Baylson, a Cul­tureB­locks de­veloper, said what sur­prised her about the data was how many for-profit cre­at­ive busi­nesses there are in the North­east.

“A lot of for-profit and non­profit busi­nesses are be­ing run out of people’s homes,” she said. “There are a lot of film and video com­pan­ies, pub­lish­ing com­pan­ies, pho­to­graph­ers, people with em­broid­ery busi­nesses.” 

Baylson, who is deputy cul­tur­al of­ficer for the city’s Of­fice of Arts, Cul­ture and the Cre­at­ive Eco­nomy, said the tool shows the North­east is cul­tur­ally vi­brant in ways that are dif­fer­ent from neigh­bor­hoods like Fishtown or North­ern Liber­ties, which have ex­ploded with art gal­ler­ies and the like in re­cent years. 

“Just be­cause there might not be a ton of ‘artists-in-res­id­ence’ show­ing up here [in the North­east] on the tool, there are a ton of cre­at­ive people,” Baylson con­tin­ued. “If you just try to pick [on Cul­tureB­locks] the ‘form­al’ art and cul­tur­al activ­ity, the North­east might not be a strong area, but there is a dif­fer­ent story hap­pen­ing there.” 

The tool also of­fers data on race, in­come, age and even edu­ca­tion of a neigh­bor­hood’s res­id­ents. Cul­tureB­locks is a ver­it­able one-stop shop for com­pre­hens­ive data about any giv­en neigh­bor­hood, ZIP code or spe­cific­ally defined area in the city.

Joe De­Fe­lice, chair­man of the May­fair Com­munity De­vel­op­ment Cor­por­a­tion, said in an in­ter­view June 7 that he hadn’t used Cul­tureB­locks be­fore the North­east Times asked him about it, but that he very much liked the tool’s concept. 

“The premise is great,” De­Fe­lice said. “It gives us [the CDC] an idea of what kind of re­sources are in and around our neigh­bor­hood.”

De­veloped by sev­er­al city agen­cies, Cul­tureB­locks is grants-sup­por­ted and free to the pub­lic. Its data comes largely from the So­cial Im­pact of the Arts Pro­ject, which has been col­lect­ing data for more than 15 years. 

On the data­base, cul­tur­al as­sets are rep­res­en­ted by dots on maps. The North­east has a lot of dots.

What does this mean for the North­east? 

“Any­body mak­ing in­vest­ments can and would be us­ing this tool to make bet­ter in­vest­ment de­cisions. It helps people un­der­stand what’s hap­pen­ing in com­munit­ies,” Baylson said.

This could lead, she said, to funds be­ing channeled in­to arts or­gan­iz­a­tions in neigh­bor­hoods like those in the North­east. 

What about neigh­bor­hoods that lack an abund­ance of cre­at­ive en­ter­prises?

“Every­one ap­proaches it dif­fer­ently — some people want to be where oth­er [cre­at­ive] busi­nesses are. An­oth­er would see a neigh­bor­hood with a lack of en­ter­prises and say ‘there’s an op­por­tun­ity here,’” Baylson said. 

A dif­fer­ent story than, say, areas of the city like Fishtown and North­ern Liber­ties, where gal­ler­ies and in­de­pend­ent pub­lish­ing houses and the like have opened in great num­bers in re­cent years. 

Baylson said there is “ab­so­lutely” already a spread of arts and cul­ture hap­pen­ing in those neigh­bor­hoods, but com­par­ing the avail­ab­il­ity of re­sources there to those in the North­east could ini­ti­ate cul­tur­al ac­tion in neigh­bor­hoods here.

“Does the fact that the North­east has no art gal­ler­ies mo­tiv­ate someone to say, ‘Hey, there are no art gal­ler­ies here, is this a good place to put one?’ I do think there is a mar­ket for that here,” she said. 

De­Fe­lice agreed, cit­ing the suc­cess of cul­tur­al events in the North­east. He said that he’s been in­spired by what oth­er neigh­bor­hoods, like those in Cen­ter City and the River Wards, have done cul­tur­ally, and the May­fair CDC has fol­lowed suit.

For in­stance, First Fri­day is enorm­ously pop­u­lar in neigh­bor­hoods like Old City and Fishtown. The May­fair Art Ini­ti­at­ive, a com­mit­tee of the May­fair CDC, De­Fe­lice said, or­gan­ized Third Thursday as a loc­al ver­sion of the free monthly art event. It takes place on the third Thursday of each month at the Headquar­ters art shop, 7213 Frank­ford Ave. 

On Cul­tureB­locks, a user can ex­plore an area in a vari­ety of ways — by en­ter­ing an ad­dress or ZIP code, a neigh­bor­hood name, a coun­cil or plan­ning dis­trict or even a school catch­ment area. Users can fil­ter what they want to search for: cul­tur­al re­sources, arts-re­lated in­vest­ments, or city re­sources, along with “people” data like eth­ni­city or age. 

Each ZIP code or neigh­bor­hood has a “pro­file” as well. You can se­lect, for ex­ample, the 19136 ZIP code or the “May­fair” neigh­bor­hood. 

A user can draw a cus­tom area on the map and see the points that fall with­in whatever area is con­sidered the neigh­bor­hood. That’s what the North­east Times did, us­ing the same bound­ar­ies as loc­al civic groups use. 

De­Fe­lice said the tool will only help ex­pand the cul­tur­al and artist­ic scene in May­fair and the rest of the North­east. 

“What we try to do in May­fair is see what they’re do­ing in oth­er neigh­bor­hoods. This tool def­in­itely lets you see [that], ” he said.

Like Baylson, De­Fe­lice said much of the North­east’s cul­tur­al activ­ity comes in the form of cre­at­ive en­ter­prises out of the home.

“You’d be sur­prised by how many people make art in their homes. There are a lot of per­form­ing arts and film and video [busi­nesses],” De­Fe­lice said. 

“The North­east is un­der­served cul­tur­ally and it has been for years, but we’ve been in­creas­ing the num­ber of fest­ivals and craft fairs, farm­ers mar­kets, our Christ­mas vil­lage…there are def­in­itely some in­ter­est­ing things go­ing on in the neigh­bor­hood,” he con­tin­ued.

Baylson said con­sid­er­ing how few cul­tur­al or­gan­iz­a­tions there are in the North­east, there is mod­er­ate cul­tur­al par­ti­cip­a­tion hap­pen­ing here, as shown by Cul­tureB­locks’ data. 

“[That] might make someone think, “ ‘Well, maybe we need our own theat­er up here,’ ” she said. ••

Un­der the neigh­bor­hood “pro­file” tab on the Cul­tureB­locks web­site, the North­east Times used the “draw a cus­tom area” tool to see what Cul­tureB­locks lists as cul­tur­al as­sets in each of the fol­low­ing North­east Phil­adelphia neigh­bor­hoods. 

The North­east Times defined each neigh­bor­hood by the same non-over­lap­ping bound­ar­ies that civic as­so­ci­ations use. For more in­form­a­tion about all the neigh­bor­hoods, vis­it cul­tureb­locks.com/tool.html.


Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 3

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 25

Pub­lic Art: 2

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 1


Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 4

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 21

Pub­lic Art: 6

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 0

  Fox Chase:

Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 1

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 10

Pub­lic Art: 3

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 0


Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 6

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 5

Pub­lic Art: 3

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 0


Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 4

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 46

Pub­lic Art: 2

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 0


Non­profit Arts and Cul­tur­al Or­gan­iz­a­tions: 4

Cul­tur­al Busi­nesses: 2

Pub­lic Art: 1

Art Gal­ler­ies: 0

Cul­tur­al Events (Per­mits): 0

You can reach at mjamison@bsmphilly.com.

comments powered by Disqus