Guest Blog by Ambrose Liu, Olney Culture Lab
In the Fall of 2017, Olney Culture Lab was invited by Tookany/Tacony–Frankford (TTF) Watershed Partnership to collaborate on a two-year project using arts and culture to highlight the local treasure that is Tacony Creek Park. As a section of Tacony Creek Parks runs adjacent to the eastern border of the Olney neighborhood and the park acts as a resource for residents, the prospect of working together to elevate the park’s status was meaningful and exciting.
First, we began by collecting oral histories from residents, former and present, whose voices bring to life the different ways people have related to Tacony Creek Park over the years. Their stories were recorded in audio files, transcribed, and archived in the Manor College Library website. has also published blogs based on these interviews, allowing readers to gain a deeper understanding of the park and the creek over time:
- Lisa Kuzma, Director of Olney Christian School
- Dan Donahue, former Olney resident
- Tom and Savannah Mchale, Tacony Creek Park community members
- Elaine Johnson, Founder of Latinas in Motion
- John Hewitt, Frankford Historical Society volunteer with roots in Frankford
While the oral histories were being collected, Olney Culture Lab and TTF came together to launch a fun photo contest that called on the public to grab their cameras and head to Tacony Creek Park. We were interested in providing an incentive for professional and amateur photographers to explore the park and capture stills of nature, recreation, and wildlife. In the end, the contest received 56 submissions from 14 photographers, many of which were first-time contacts for TTF. The contest winners were celebrated at the 2019 Watershed Milestones Award Ceremony & Reception on May 15 and the top photos were displayed. See all the photo submissions here.
The third phase of the project entailed working with local artists and inviting them to “lean in” to Tacony Creek Park. This meant being inspired by the park to create music, poetry, and dance. Each of the four artists created two works that illuminated their experience with the park:
- Professor Randy Gibson, pianist, composer and proprietor of the Gibson School of Music & Arts in Olney
Tacony Creek | Moment of Silence
- Malik Henry, drummer, composer and founder of New ERA Collective, and Olney resident
Make A Way | Turn It Up
- Tania Ramos Oton, Choreographer, Director of Esperanza Academy Dance Ensemble and Educator at Esperanza Academy Charter High School in Hunting Park
Two pieces choreographed to Malik Henry and Antonin Vivaldi
- Hazel the Aura, poet, performer, and former Olney resident
Why? (studio version) | Creek
As the partnership between our two organizations comes to an end, we are left feeling inspired by all that the park offers and the passion of the team at TTF who advocates for its future. Olney Culture Lab will continue collaborating with TTF with support from the Joseph Robert Foundation and the William Penn Foundation, a champion of the Olney Embrace Project in 2020.
The Olney Embrace Project is a year-long project that envisions artists immersing themselves in the “bookends” of the multi-ethnic Olney neighborhood, fostering dialogue around cultural diversity and urban environmentalism; and creating new artistic work inspired by those themes with contributions by residents and local partners. We aim to wrap our arms, east and west, around Olney in an “Olney Embrace.” The bookends of the Olney neighborhood are North 5th Street, on the west, and Tacony Creek Park, on the east.
We are grateful to TTF for the opportunity to rally the cultural community around Tacony Creek Park, an urban oasis of natural space that sometimes goes under-appreciated. Many thanks go to the Joseph Robert Foundation for supporting the first two years of this wonderful collaboration. We look forward to seeing you in 2020 at the park!