For Project 4, Jesse and I chose to explore the topic of “Penntrification” or gentrification perpetuated by Penn’s administration. We decided to project images and text onto a chosen building in University City. The content of the projections described the impact that Penn’s expansion has had on the surrounding neighborhood of West Philadelphia.
Our intention was to increase awareness about the often negative role that Penn students unknowingly play in the communities we inhabit. We ended up projecting onto the side of the Free Library of Philadelphia after Penn tightened restrictions on students’ freedom of expression by prohibiting public art displays on campus where tour groups might encounter messaging critical of Penn. Ultimately, I was really happy with the location because the Free Library is one of the last remaining buildings on campus that is out-ward facing and serves the broader West Philly community as opposed to solely serving Penn students. Additionally, 40th street serves as a symbolic marker as the divide between Penn’s campus and West Philadelphia (though I am now well aware that Penn’s impact has spread far beyond this boundary).
We conducted our art project on Tuesday, December 11th. On the morning of Wednesday, December 12th, I walked by the site and to my shock found that the entirely of the field is fenced off to begin construction of Penn’s newest dorm, New College House West. By mere chance, we did our public art intervention in the last few hours before that green space was fenced off from West Philadelphia forever. The next time the space opens, it will only be accessible to PennCard-carrying students who are able to pay upwards of $10,000 annually for student housing.