Rebecca Rose remembers when Brandywine Pocket Park, at 34th and Brandywine streets, was a center of community life in Mantua. That was before the park, built in 1977, started its slow decline, with walls cracked and falling apart and areas that once hosted community events turned shabby.
Parks in Center City, Rose notes, don’t fall into disrepair in this way. “They are full of major artworks and beautiful things,” she says. “We want our community to look as established as downtown.”
In that vein, Rose, founder of RoseBridge Community Arts and chair of the Mantua Beautification Planning Committee, orchestrated a community-based art project where she engaged locals to write a poem about the neighborhood and paint tiles that represent the people who live there.
Around 150 residents got involved, grabbing a brush and painting a ceramic tile for the project that Rose likens to those Paleolithic paintings that were discovered in France’s Chauvet Cave. “Mankind has always documented or made his mark in the world,” Rose says “This is an opportunity for our community to do the same thing … to identify themselves so they can say, ‘My life in this community is important, too.’ Community members rarely have an opportunity to do that.”
The ceramic tiles are emblazoned with symbols that characterize each person painting them. Some folks added their family’s names, the year they came to Mantua or the street live on. The tiles were then put through a preservation process and attached to a rod iron fence that spans 60 feet on each side of the park’s entrance gate. The first of the panels, she says, is the community poem, titled “Brighter Day:”
The wall will be dedicated on Saturday afternoon during a ceremony that will feature food, music and comments from Rose and other organizers of the project. They hope it will encourage funders to back their efforts to rehab the park so that they can not only have a thriving green space in the neighborhood but be able to host an array of community programming, like summer movie nights, kid talent shows and more creative arts projects.
“We are saying this ceremony is to initiate the revitalization of Brandywine Park,” Rose says. The Mantua Community Family Tile Project Dedication ceremony takes place Saturday, March 19 from 4 to 5 p.m.