Inside Pennsylvania Humanities Council: Q&A with Executive Director Laurie Zierer

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Reclaim. Rebuild. Repurpose. workshop, part of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone. Photo by Mark Garvin.

How are cultural leaders and practitioners addressing artistic and organizational challenges today? And how do they make room for creative and institutional growth, while facing shifting audience expectations and consumer behaviors? In this series of interviews with Center grantees, we offer a look inside the practices of many of Philadelphia’s leading cultural institutions and artists, their distinct characters, aspirations, and more.

Here, we speak to Laurie Zierer, executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) whose ongoing Center-funded project, Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone, seeks to revitalize Chester’s downtown by engaging the community in place-making activities and pop-up “maker spaces” to design prototypes that beautify, reinterpret, and animate vacant public spaces. Zierer talks with us about the story-gathering processes involved in the project, PHC’s embrace of mobile technology and socially-engaged practice, and her vision for the future. Learn more about Chester Made here.>>

PHC Grantee Q&A: Content Block 1

You began the Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone project with research conducted through a 2014 Center Discovery grant, for which you brought together community members and practitioners in history, creative placemaking, and urbanism to engage in dialogue and create new city narratives. How did this story-gathering process inform the efforts that are happening now?

Stories are the heart and soul of the humanities. They create a space for new voices and new understanding. They show us the mystery and magic in the everyday. They open the door to possibilities. Back in 2012, storytelling brought people together in Chester, so they could identify their own assets and solutions. At the time, there was a proposal for a cultural corridor that would drive the city’s revitalization. Our Chester team heard about nearly 200 people, places, organizations, and events that were dear to the cultural fabric of the community. We celebrated them and got a road map for the project and downtown development. What came through clearly was that Chester had its own brand, and people were ready to make change themselves—rather than wait for change to happen. When asked what they envisioned, residents said it's got to be "Chester Made." Partner and artist Devon Walls designed a logo for the movement.

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Pop Up Makerspace, part of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Chester Made Cultural Exploration Zone. Photo by Mark Garvin.

PHC Grantee Q&A: Content Block 2

PHC Grantee Q&A: Content Block 3

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