In 2007, Kim Creighton was on a mission.
A member of the North Philadelphia community since 1989, she had come to realize that the youth in her area lacked the opportunities for productive extracurricular activities and creative outlets.
Kim had a solution. An accomplished mosaic and metal artist, she decided she would found and direct a community arts center, where both children and adults could learn to tap into their innate creative energies.
"She searched far and wide to find the perfect building to house the Portside Arts Center," explains Jenna Wilchinsky, Assistant Director. "Then she landed on this amazing old canvas factory in Port Richmond on the corner of Lehigh and Belgrade.
"At the time there was a little old man who owned the building and used it for storage. The two-story, 3,000 square foot property was filled from floor to ceiling with antique furniture, retro clothes, old canvas factory machines, and boxes and boxes of buttons. After seeing the building Kim couldn't pass it up."
The Mother of Invention
From there, turning the building into the dynamic place it is now was still an uphill battle. Creighton devoted her full resources to the project, even going so far as to take out a mortgage on her house. Creighton also left a successful career in sales at United Packaging and Shipping in order to pursue her dream.
Then she and a drove of friends and volunteers set about transforming the space.
Wilchinsky paints a picture of the makeshift nature of the renovation: "Many of the things that were found in the building Kim re-purposed for the arts center -- old dressers, cabinets, found objects for crafts like boxes of zippers and thousands of buttons as well as our 25 foot beautiful wooden table that is used in the main arts room for all of our 'messy crafts.'"
When all was said and done, the group had created something beautiful. The way the community embraced the Center, it was clear that Kim and the other people who cared about bringing it to life had felt the vibrations of the people in doing so.
"When Kim open the doors in January 2008 there was no heat," Wilchinsky remembers. "She was worried that the students would complain but no one said a word. They were just so happy to have this wonderful creative place they just bundled up and created art.
"Kim says that this is what made her realize she made the right decision to open the Portside. The community was so welcoming and warm that it didn't even matter if there was heat or not."
And with this kind of support, the Center was naturally destined to grow.
Since that time, the Portside Arts Center has reached proportions that Creighton had not even foreseen.
The center now offers over 30 different types of classes geared toward children, teens, and adults.
Among the Center's most popular programs are arts and craft, girl power art, teen art projex, and the drawing club.
Portside's music program offers one-on-one private music lessons for all ages in violin, guitar, voice, piano and bass. Additionally, Portside offers an exemplary acting class, and this year they are proud to have Angela Goethals, famous for her work in Home Alone, Jerry Maguire and Grays Anatomy, as their course instructor. Students may also enroll in a unique and exceedingly popular upholstery class, led by instructor John Price.
Portside also holds an annual 8-week Summer Arts Camp, available to children ages four to twelve. By signing up, children are able to participate in arts projects, field trips, swimming, and character building. High school and college students are also invited to participate as volunteers.
The availability of these activities has provided a safe haven for community youth after school. Each year, Portside impacts the lives of over 600 children and teens.
The Portside After School Arts Program
This year, Portside was able to relaunch its Award-winning After School Arts Program. With the support of the Penn Treaty Special Services District, the Dolfinger McMahon Foundation, and the Anheuser Busch Foundation through State Representative John Taylor, Portside purchased a 14 passenger shuttle bus to transport children from their schools to the Arts Center for homework assistance, visual arts and acting classes.
In 2014, Portside's ASAP received the “Best of the Best” award from the Pennsylvania Council on the Arts, nominated by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance for exemplary achievement in providing quality arts to the citizens of the Commonwealth. Portside was one of 4 out of 800 applicants in the state to receive this honor.
In the coming years, Portside aspires to bring the ArtsMobile to students for in-school as well as after-school classes.
The Lifeblood of the Center
In order for people of limited means in the community to be able to participate in all of these activities, Portside relies on the generous donations of patrons to its Student Scholarship Fund.
A monthly donor of $28 becomes a Portside Pal, and gets 10% off any of the Center's 4-week or 6-week classes. Each donation in this amount will send the child of a family of limited resources to a week at Portside's Summer Arts Camp. Due to recent cuts in arts and music programs at Philadelphia's public schools, these children will not have the opportunity to receive arts education without donor support.
Thanks to the generosity of contributors, from 2008 to 2012, the amount Portside has been able to give away in scholarships to struggling families seeking art education for their children has increased from $600 to $9,800.
To become a Portside Pal, our readers are encouraged to visit the Portside Donor Services webpage here.
What the Future Holds
With all that the Center has accomplished up to this point, they are still not satisfied. Portside has dreams to carry their mission to higher levels, even providing low-income housing and studio spaces for local artists.
The Center has also been working long and hard to create the Portside ArtsMobile, a mobile arts classroom which they will drive from school to school, providing children with the art class that had been cut from their curriculum. To contribute to this vital project, readers may also visit the ArtsMobile page above.
"There are so many wonderful things that happen [here] every day," Jenna Wilchinsky muses. "Portside is the only arts center of it caliber in the greater North-East area of Philadelphia."
The Center's only wish is that, with the continued help of the community, they will be able to keep carrying that torch.
By Bessam Idani
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