Written by Kennedy McAlister, Program Manager
West Park Cultural Center (WPCC) celebrates its 20th season this year, but what have we been up to? The organization has been providing summer camp, after school and Saturday programs, West Park Arts Fest, and more programs in the many years since its Executive Director, Betty Lindley, founded it in 2001. This year, we are back in full swing in the post-quarantine era.
July brought 20 campers in-person to the summer camp, Camp Ginkgo. This 4-week arts and nature program located at the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, serves children ages 5-12. Though it was a scaled-back version due to the pandemic, WPCC was thrilled to offer it to the community again after having to cancel it completely in 2020. Campers explored ceramics, guitar, and filmography throughout their month-long tenure, and enjoyed special field trips to the Shofuso House and Philadelphia Zoo.
“Once camp concluded this year, we hit the ground running for our Fall programs,” explained Kennedy McAlister, WPCC’s Program Manager and Camp Ginkgo Director. This fall, over 25 students gathered for WPCC’s fall youth programs from “Design Your Own Anime Character” and “Arts and Activism: Climate Change” to their ongoing program, “danceLogic”.
WPCC did return to some in-person programming but made sure to keep an online option available. “We’ve realized that online programming is sometimes the more accessible option, especially for families who can’t necessarily make it to a site for whatever reason,” said McAlister. “We plan to keep online and hybrid options for the foreseeable future.”
The online program this fall was “Design Your Own Anime Character” with teaching artist Janice Merendino. Merendino led the students, ages 9-18, through a four-week virtual drawing class. “Though I think they are beneficial, I sometimes worry about the online programs,” Kennedy McAlister admitted. “I know the students are learning a new skill, but I wonder if they are getting enough community out of it. Luckily, I don’t have to worry about that with Janice teaching.”
Indeed, Janice Merendino leads her class with patience and encouragement, coaxing even the shyest of participants to keep their cameras on and share their work. “I’ve actually really enjoyed teaching virtually!” said Merendino. “I think that drawing classes lend themselves perfectly to an online teaching format.” Students received kits from WPCC with materials and worksheets required to complete the class. They took time learning each aspect of drawing the anime faces and bodies, using tracing paper to “mix and match” bodies and heads. The camaraderie really kicked in when it came to naming a character and telling the stories of their characters. Each student received a storyboard worksheet where they got to create a scene using the characters they created.
Part of the in-person programming is danceLogic, WPCC’s premiere program combining dance and computer coding. In its fifth year, danceLogic brought on new dance staff for its return to fully in-person activities. “By combining [dance and coding], each danceLogic student will develop self-confidence, leadership skills, and critical thinking skills. danceLogic is preparing the youth for the future,” explained Kamil Simmons, one of the dance instructors.
danceLogic has been featured nationally on CBS this morning, and most recently by TOGETHXR, an LA-based company that spotlights female-led and empowering programs. We are always looking to recruit more girls to this class and building our community!
Another program brought a collaboration between WPCC, UPenn’s chapter of the national organization Stemnova, and the Philadelphia Zoo. It is the first in the ongoing program series “Arts and Activism” and this particular semester focused on climate change. Students were able to gather in one of the zoo’s meeting areas and participate in projects and discussions regarding climate change. Penn students Ryan, Amy, and Abbie led the students in these discussions and projects each week.
“We were excited to be able to connect with West Park Cultural Center,” said Ryan, Stemnova’s VP of Outreach. “Branching out more into the community is a goal of our organization, and particularly an important goal for my role in Stemnova. It’s been fun to adapt our curriculum to the community’s needs, and I think both we and the students have learned a lot.”
The discussions garnered serious questions from the students regarding climate change’s effects on clean water, how it affects the soil our food grows in, and what different areas of the world’s animals experience.
“The personal aspect of students having face-to-face discussions with experts who are committed to searching for answers is a huge aspect of why I wanted to create ‘Arts and Activism’ in the first place,” said Kennedy McAlister. “The goal of the program is to get children and youth thinking about those tough questions, and then give them the tools to find solutions and do something with their knowledge.”
WPCC plans to run “Arts and Activism: Climate Change” in a future program cycle but is also hoping to provide themes where other areas of arts and activism can converge, like visual and performing arts. Other programs you can look forward to seeing in the Winter/Spring include Intro to Guitar, Photography, Lego Robotics, and more!
To end the 20th season, WPCC will celebrate its 14th West Park Arts Fest in Fairmount Park on June 11. “We hope to bring it fully back as it was pre-pandemic,” said Betty Lindley. Complete with vendors, live music, dance, activities, and food, the fest brings in thousands of visitors each year, even last year when it was a scaled-down version to comply with strict covid-19 policies, it brought joy and visitors from all over the community.
West Park Cultural Center and its variety of programs keep our community invested and minds engaged in the arts and education. The Winter 2022 youth programs registration opens for all programs – after school and danceLogic – on January 5th. For more information or to sign up for the WPCC newsletter, visit westparkcultural.org. You can also find us on Facebook and Instagram at @westparkculturalcenter.
- Parkside Journal – November 2021