Hello Arts Festival remakes the conversation in Point Breeze and Newbold

A Story Swap session leading up to the Hello Arts Festival. Photo courtesy of PointBold: A Neighborhood Project.

Philly theater artist Lee Ann Etzold said she got the idea for a new, collaborative, conversational arts festival about three years ago, after attending “super tense” community meetings in the Point Breeze and Newbold neighborhoods.

PointBold: A Neighborhood Project and Diversified Community Services will present the Hello Arts Festival at Dixon House on May 21 (meetings and workshops kicked off this March). The purpose is to invite local artists and residents to gather and listen to each other’s stories in order to promote a positive artistic celebration of the neighborhood.

PointBold: A Neighborhood Project was started by Etzold, who lives in West Passyunk/Girard Estates. She wanted to find ways for South of Washington and West of Broad neighbors to get to know each other, spark conversations, and celebrate stories from the neighborhood through the arts.

Changing the mood

“When I told people after the meeting that I was a theater artist, I felt their mood change,” she said. “There seemed to be a desire for more arts in the neighborhood.”

She applied for a grant from the Knight Foundation to create a neighbor-driven and neighborhood-inspired theater project that would provide a venue other than a civic meeting for talking about what they want for where they live. After researching the idea and talking with artists and neighbors, the group decided personal stories should be the heart of the project.

“The goals became simple: create somewhere for neighbors to gather together, eat some good food together, share stories with each other, and listen to each other after getting to know each other a bit first,” she said.

They’ve had meetings to brainstorm and workshops to share their stories and learn more about each other. They’ve been great learning experiences, Etzold said, even if only a couple people showed up. “It’s a start. Once people started thinking about their neighborhood with their creative brain, some great ideas started flying around the room.”

Reaching through harsh reality

Etzold believes all people need a creative outlet. “I’m an artist, so of course I’d say that,” she said, “but I do believe that something happens to your brain when you are allowed and encouraged to express yourself creatively, and when you bear witness to someone sharing that expression.  Live performance is powerful and performing can be empowering.  Whether you are on the giving or receiving end of an artistic exchange, you are experiencing generosity, real listening, and a live personal connection that makes for great human relationship.”

Etzold hopes that the project, which culminates with the May festival, will encourage people to want more opportunities to get to know each other, to keep making connections. “Art reaches out to us, through our harsh reality, and reminds us that we are not alone,” she said. “I don’t want to feel alone in my neighborhood. I want to know my neighbors and I think a great way to get to know them is to make and experience art together.”

The Hello Arts Festival is coming to the Dixon House, 1920 S. 20th Street, on Saturday, May 21 from 12-4pm. 

At right: Neighbors have plenty to share at a Dixon House workshop. Photo courtesy of PointBold: A Neighborhood Project.