The new Juvenile Justice Services Center in West Philadelphia was dedicated last month and I got a tour recently of the building from Dave Kyu of the Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy. While the finishing touches were still being put on the facility (no residents or staffers had arrived at that point), the Percent for Art projects by Sarah McEneaney and Leroy Johnson are installed and look fine.
McEneaney’s painting, Philadelphia City of Parks, 2012, is a birds’ eye view of Philadelphia’s vast array of parklands. The artist visited ten parks, all with her sidekick Trixie, and sketched, took pictures and roamed around, all in preparation for this large egg-tempera painting.
The autobiographical artist has painted herself and Trixie into the scene, a little human (and canine) presence in the vast panorama of natural beauty and man-made wonders (those arched bridges over the Schuylkill River!).
As you walk in the front door of the Center, Philadelphia City of Parks is the first thing you see, and it is a lovely welcoming card. Positioned at eye level, the framed panel is a burst of saturated color that radiates ebullience and love of the great Philadelphia out of doors. The message of freedom and beauty entwined in the work is so positive and life affirming it will no doubt be a tonic to the families, staff and others entering the center. It is a message of hope in the future.
Leroy Johnson’s collage paintings of urban Philadelphia are a perfect complement to McEneaney’s scenes of natural Philadelphia. Johnson’s works are not situated near McEneaney’s but seeing them as I did, one after the other, it made perfect sense to put these artists works together in this building. Both artists are champions of the city and their works are engines of positivism.
Stand in front of a Johnson or McEneaney painting and you are immediately drawn in to a search of the microcosm presented within the larger whole. Is that really an eagle soaring over the Schuylkill River, trout in its claws in McEneaney’s painting? Who are those people waiting on the platform for the El, or walking under the El’s enormous stanchions on Market St in Johnson’s work? Without being overtly narrative or grandiose, the works bespeak an optimism and lack of irony that is refreshing and open.
Johnson has five works in the building, three of them scenes centered on and around the Market Frankford El in West Philadelphia, which chugs along a block away from the Center. Three of the works are in the community room and two are in a waiting area on the second floor.
About that community room. It’s a room built in the new facility that is specifically for the surrounding community to use for meetings and events. It has separate entry and exit doors that allow it to be in the building and yet separated from the activities of the building. What a great idea! The room is large, with plenty of windows, and Johnson’s vibrant scenes of urban Philadelphia dot the walls, their message of community and the energy of urban life a perfect accompaniment to the gatherings that will occur here.
Greenhouse Media — Matt Suib and Aaron Igler — made a documentary about the Johnson and McEneaney and the making of the two artists works for this building. The two artist’s stories, out in the world taking pictures and in the studio working with their paints, are interwoven nicely in the video, which plays in the building’s lobby.
It is worth noting that this building replaces the Youth Study Center that was on the Ben Franklin Parkway at the site of the new Barnes Foundation. The sprawling 160,000 sq. ft. campus with beds for 150 residents has a Silver LEED certificate, meaning it is environmentally friendly. According to the press materials, “The PJJSC is a secure, short-term residential detention facility for youth ages 13-20 with social and educational programs which aim to steer children accused or found guilty of crimes away from further illegal conduct.” The building was funded by the city and cost $110,000 million, and will allow more programming to “better meet the needs of young people we are serving to maximize opportunities for their transformation.” said Kevin Dougherty, Administrative Judge of Family Court.
In my walk around the building with Dave Kyu, I was surprised to see that this is much more than a housing unit for young offenders. There are courtrooms and office spaces for the judges, lawyers, bureaucrats and social workers, who process the papers and work with the youth. And these bureaucratic spaces feel as if they would fit in any contemporary municipal office building. Then there is the back end of the facility with living spaces for the youth. Cell-like bedrooms, lounge areas, classrooms, gymnasium, cafeteria, self-contained outdoor courtyards for exercise, and that back end has the ambiance of a sprawling suburban high school, all except for the white-painted cinderblock intake section, in which the meaning of the word detention is writ large.
More photos at the OACCE website.