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Love returns to Love Park–Welcome House


The magic of worlds merging–homeless and well-heeled, city workers and city slickers, artists and would-be’s–suddenly has returned Love Park into a meeting place, under the spell of Marianne Bernstein’s Welcome House–a glass house or box framed in wood, set in the park not too far from the so-called Philadelphia Welcome Center.

Marianne Bernstein's Welcome House in Love Park
Marianne Bernstein’s Welcome House in Love Park

Philadelphia Chief Cultural Office nailed it in his new blog with the unwebby name Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy.

“This is exactly the sort of project I would like to see much more of throughout the City. It is art that is temporary, of the highest quality, wakes people up and confronts/engages/delights them in the course of their daily routine. Last night’s celebration of Design Philadelphia was also remarkable – a party whose participants ran the gamut from hipsters to the homeless. Minima, the gallery in Old City which specializes in contemporary furniture design, was able to arrange for the installation of an array of very sleek white outdoor furniture in the park, so for the run of this installation the park will each become Philadelphia’s newest open air lounge.”

Bernstein in Love Park
Bernstein in Love Park

Overcoming any number of bureaucratic snafus, Bernstein has populated the Welcome House with two artists every day it’s open for a total of 20 artist participants. The days I stopped by, I saw work from the Semilla Arts Initiative peeps Betsy Casanas and Pedro Ospina as well as work by Candy Depew and Eugenie Perret.  The interactions between artists and the people who have been dropping by the Welcome House goes beyond the limits of studio visits. It’s public and it’s humanizing for the park and the participants.

Candy Depew interacts with Love Park users.
Candy Depew interacts with Love Park users.

Bernstein herself at one point helped out one of the homeless people as he was having a seizure. Since then, that group has also been demystified as they shower Bernstein with their attention and curiosity and respect.

Here’s the schedule of who’s left.

Pedro Ospina (left) drawing with passersby, klip collective taping. A charcoal portrait by Betsy Casanas hangs on the Welcome House.
Semilla Arts Initiative with interactive drawing and a charcoal portraits, while klip collective tapes.

The art activities I saw were interactive or welcoming in some way.  Semilla artists created giant charcoal drawings of people hanging in the park. They also invited people to work on another drawing project. Depew and  Perret in a serendipitous pairing, turned the house itself into a homy space. Perret, whose Minima is behind the furniture Steuer mentioned, knit cozies for furniture inside the Welcome House, while Depew cut out elaborate window decorations. Depew ruefully called the little box a fishbowl, but the glass walls were demystifying to those who have never looked inside an artist’s studio.

Eugenie Perret through the glass wall, with her furniture cozies, and Depew's cutouts on the glass walls
Eugenie Perret through the glass wall, with her furniture cozies, and Depew’s cutouts on the glass walls

By night, another sort of cozy envelops the closed box. klip collective, which videotapes by day, edits and then projects the daytime activities (with a one-day delay for editing time) on the cozy by night, seemingly peopling the park and making it more welcoming. The box itself was designed by Interface Studio Architects.

Bernstein, the brains behind the project, also engaged everyone who could possibly help, from Design Philadelphia to the First Person Festival. And none of it would have happened if Fairmount Park’s jefes had put the kibosh on it (they did waver, but ultimately rolled out the welcome wagon–for a fee). Much to Bernstein’s surprise, someone in the city circulated an email about the Welcome House to city employees. That day, lunch time included a welcome bonanza of city workers visiting the park.

To see Love Park repopulated (it used to be a busy place!) is practically miraculous. Good for everyone!!!