Germantown City Hall

Jeremy Beaudry, Katie Hargrave, and Meredith Warner collaborated with Jacob Wick to create Germantown City Hall for the 2013 Hidden City Festival in Philadelphia. The project temporarily opened the neglected Germantown Town Hall building as a space for civic engagement and debate, with a meeting/performance space, reading room/lending library, and office/copy center.

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In June of 2013, The Think Tank had the opportunity to work with artist Jacob Wick on a project called Germantown City Hall. Together we transformed a long-shuttered building known as Germantown Town Hall into a multipurpose public space offering a performance and meeting area, a reading room/lending library, an office/copy center, and workshop room. For six weeks, residents of Germantown had free access to City Hall and were invited to schedule meetings, performances, and events in the building. City Hall became, first and foremost, a civic space in which dialogues amongst and between the citizens of Germantown could occur.

The opening of the town hall building to the community produced a number of outcomes which are still being felt and addressed beyond the timespan of the project. We were able to catalyze new relationships between people and organizations working across Germantown which has led to ongoing initiatives to keep the building open to the public, to manage the archive of Germantown residents’ history we collected, and to create a living database of neighborhood resources. Germantown City Hall worked as a prototype of a different kind of civic space in the neighborhood that wasn’t currently provided for, a space that was secular, non-governmental, open, and networked.

The success of the space depended largely on the implementation of a clear, effective infrastructure which allowed for emergent uses, activities, and different levels of engagement. The use and life of the space grew slowly over time. The participatory structure was inclusive and accessible, and it was ad hoc, meaning that the space satisfied unmet, immediate needs within the community.

During the 24 days the project was open to the public, Germantown City Hall hosted over 50 different events which were attended by over 1800 visitors. Some of the Germantown organizations that used the space included:

  • Germantown Artists Roundtable
  • Kelly Green Project (Hansberry Community Garden)
  • Germantown United CDC
  • Decarcerate PA and Matthew Pillischer (Director, Broken On All Sides)
  • Ladies of the Knit
  • Center in the Park
  • Historic Germantown
  • Cliveden Historic Site
  • Wissahickon Dance Academy
  • Germantown High School Alumni Group
  • Time4Time Community Exchange

Nesting our Structures of Support project in Germantown City Hall

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Aside from co-designing the infrastructure of the space and community participation, one of our contributions to Germantown City Hall was to import our Structures of Support work into the space and customize it specifically for Germantown. Throughout the course of the project we collected data from the community, mapping past and current support networks and assets that might otherwise be invisible—things like informal civic groups, clubs, leisure groups, cooperatives, playgroups, town watches, community gardens, and so on.

We made our Structures of Support Survey available to all visitors, which allowed us to understand individual conceptions of support within Germantown. We also installed a large scale map of of the neighborhood and invited visitors to identify assets within Germantown. At the start of the GCH project we hosted a workshop to begin populating the map. Over the course of the 6 weeks the map itself acted as a generative and convivial tool for conversation among neighborhood folks. It often became a focal point where strangers gathered to chat about what they know and query each other for knowledge about Germantown. Everyone engaged in impromptu storytelling about what is, what has been, and what could be.

Through this process, we heard from the neighborhood how valuable the asset map could be as a living database of neighborhood resources, whether in a physical or digital format. We are in the process of digitizing the map and its data, and we hope to partner with other organizations to create a more sustained, growing, and widely available version of the asset map that began at Germantown City Hall.

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We interviewed several Germantown residents and asked them to tell us about why civic spaces like Germantown City Hall matter for the life of the community. One of these interviews was with Dennis Barnebey, a long-time Germantown resident involved in the Hansberry Garden and the Kelly Green Project. (Other interviews from the series are catalogued here.)

Additionally, we led flag making workshop with community members (kids included!) to create flags and symbols for Germantown, allowing folks to show their true colors, presenting issues and desires for Germantown through symbols rather than words.

Related Notes

Press for Germantown City Hall

Germantown City Hall was commissioned by Hidden City Philadelphia for the 2013 Hidden City Festival with the generous support of The Andy Warhol Foundation for the Visual Arts.