The Germantown Arts District will transform into a backdrop for an outdoor party celebrating art, culture and community this Friday.
When the Germantown Arts District transforms a city block into a backdrop for an outdoor party celebrating art, culture and community this Friday, it will be, in part, the fulfillment of a dream imagined decades ago by a little girl.
Kristen Clark was that youngster growing up in a Germantown household where her father, a hip hop artist, and her mother, a singer, infused the home with music and performances surrounded by a village of fellow creatives.
But outside of her home and the school where she studied, Clark believed that organized artistic offerings in the neighborhood were scarce.
“So, I decided to launch the thing that I knew needed to exist, to get what I wanted,” said Clark, a writer, teacher, dancer, entrepreneur and performer.
In April, Clark founded the Germantown Arts District (GAD), a nonprofit organization dedicated to “cultivating a vibrant and inclusive arts district.” GAD will host the “September Block Party,” at 5 p.m. Friday, Sept. 22, on the 5400 block of Germantown Avenue – home to the KDD Theater performance space, Uncle Bobbie’s Coffee and Books, and Ubuntu Fine Art gallery.
The evening will be jam-packed with art exhibits and installations, live performances, DJ sets, food trucks, and interactive activities. Arts District organizers aim to create a setting where residents and artists can share, connect and create community.
The event is one more way that Clark hopes to fulfill that dream that has roots in what she describes as her “artsy” childhood in Germantown, a community that district leaders describe as a predominantly Black neighborhood steeped in a rich history of rebellion and emancipation, a community where the arts have always played an important role.
“My biggest dream for Germantown is full-sized theater, I mean I want to rival the Minskoff on Broadway,” Clark said. “But I knew that in order to build there had to be some sort of infrastructure to support the artists and creatives and businesses that live there now.”
Clark hopes to develop an Arts District that will “foster creativity and collaboration among residents, businesses, and stakeholders” and includes signage and markers for businesses, additional public spaces for viewing and creating art and offering regularly scheduled events such as arts and craft fairs and markets.
Already, the district hosts Fourth Fridays, a monthly event that celebrates local art, music, and culture, from 6 to 10 p.m., on the same block of Germantown Avenue. That event includes pop-up art galleries, live music, handmade craft displays and businesses that remain open for attendees to browse and visit. Clark is also making plans for a 2024 arts festival.
That kind of vibrant organized art community would have been a boon for the young Kristen Clark, who performed in school programs, talent shows, musicals and at-home karaoke sessions. She followed her dad to recording sessions and began to write songs.
“I danced on the street at bus stops while waiting for the bus, or in the supermarket aisles – performing for absolutely no one. That was my energy,” Clark said.
Clark attended the former Imani Education Circle Charter School, and later graduated from Central High School. She attended Howard University in Washington, D.C. for a year, but decided to return home to pursue music. Eventually, she began teaching dance and helped to create the Kinesics Dance Dynamics studio which is located within the KDD Theatre.
Ultimately, Clark envisions her community as a modern-day Harlem Renaissance setting where residents and visitors can “go to a nice show on the Avenue, get dinner and drinks, then go to something like an [after-hours] speakeasy where artists are sitting around talking, drinking, politicking and sharing community.”
The District will be working to achieve that goal in a neighborhood that is undergoing major change and development. The 5400 block is close to a controversial five-story, 125-unit development proposed for Church Lane – one of quite a few large new buildings that have recently gone up in Germantown.
“Germantown Arts District supports revitalization, which means we value, amplify and take care of the intrinsic value already in Germantown,” Clark explained. “That being said, we are not anti-development, but we are pro-community. We want to see development that is intentional and takes into consideration the landscape and plans of the people who are in the community already doing the work to build it up and make it better.”
To get involved, or to support the Germantown Arts District, visit gadphilly.org.