For many, this is the way it should be. The Hill’s reputation is all cozy charm and colonial ambience. It’s a jewel of a residential neighborhood with great public transportation access and one of the world’s best urban parks. It’s a shining suburb in the city.
The Hill’s people might be stylish, but even the young here trend conservative, preferring prep to punk. This is a neighborhood of Lily Pulitzer and Lacoste, not Doc Martins and Levis. Men in Chestnut Hill wear their facial hair without irony.
Hipness would clearly come at the expense of some of those things for which the Hill is best known. Hip is not charming and it’s not antique. It is new, not old. Hip is not historic.
Lately, though, there’s been a whiff of hip to the Hill that could be a breath of fresh air for those of us who would like to at least see a little edge in the neighborhood. And it’s not just because the Weavers Way Co-op opened on the 8400 block of the Avenue last year.
Last week, we featured the work of Brookes Britcher and his definitely-hip-for-the-Hill art collective, Chestnut Hill Artists Initiative. Britcher’s group has brought a level of DIY can-do to the Avenue that it hasn’t seen at a cultural level for some time. What it’s done, too, is successfully brought attention to some members of the artistic community Chestnut Hill already had. Consider the works at the Chestnut Hill Gallery, the Nichols Berg and Carol Scwhartz Galleries, too.
The Hill also has in its pocket other arts initiatives both young and old. From the now two-year-old Chestnut Hill Book Festival to the Chestnut Hill Film Series, one of the best public cinema groups in the city for 37 years. Then, of course, there’s the Woodmere Art Museum and The Stagecrafters Theater. There’s art here if you look for it.
But that begs the question: How do the arts play to Chestnut Hill’s reputation? Not known for art, Chestnut Hill artists and arts institutions face a bit of a challenge in getting arts events here to play across the city where there are far more intense pockets of people making and enjoying art.
What could Chestnut Hill do to double down on art? There are lots of opportunities. The Hill has a lot of really talented artists. It even has a few good venues (the above-mentioned galleries, Woodmere and Stagecrafters).
But we could always do better. A nice sound stage that could host rock and jazz bands would be great. A real art cinema would be terrific, too. More venues would be a magnet for culture and bring people out not only for the new, but the established galleries and institutions in town.
The hipsters might not fit in so easily on the Avenue, but we should definitely think about making room for them. There’s more to making a vibrant Avenue than striking the right balance between retailers and restaurants. The Hill has culture to spare. With the right push, The Hill might become more hip than anyone thought possible.