Our Stories

A New Home for the “Heart” of Latino Philadelphia

Taller Puertorriqueño is a steadfast cultural anchor in the Fairhill section of Philly, and a longtime LISC partner. An article in Next City narrates the group’s influential history and describes how its gorgeous new headquarters, funded in part by a $2.1 million loan from LISC, symbolize the organization’s enduring impact on its community, its neighborhood and the city at large. 

This excerpt below is from:
New Latino Cultural Center Forges Community in North Philly’s Barrio
by Katharine Greider, Next City

In 1978, 15 young Puerto Ricans fanned out across the Philadelphia barrio, centered in a faded industrial ward called Fairhill, to collect the stories of their neighbors. Working out of a fledgling neighborhood arts organization called Taller Puertorriqueño, they styled the oral history project a “self-study” and titled it Batiendo La Olla (“Stirring the Pot”) after a Puerto Rican saying, “No one knows what’s in the pot except the person who stirs it.”

For 42 years, Taller Puertorriqueño has never stopped stirring that pot, surfacing the arts, culture and daily experience of North Philly’s barrio.

As of this winter, Taller (Spanish for “workshop” and pronounced tay-YEHR), housed all these years in two cramped and creaky nineteenth-century buildings, has moved into a new home that amplifies its long tradition and celebrates the fruits of persistence: El Corazón Cultural Center, an elegant, contemporary gathering place that lies in the literal and figurative corazón, heart, of the community.

Taller has also embarked on a new oral history project, some four decades after that first, touchstone project. In “A Meditation on Memory: Visually Mapping Fairhill,” local historians are collecting the stories of local residents over home-cooked dinners and in small gatherings. Those histories will be made “visible” on the neighborhood’s streets in a series of permanent installations that are part sculpture, part historical marker. Rafael Damast, Taller’s curator and exhibitions manager, calls them “statements of being that are planted in the ground.” The street markers, in turn, will be represented on an eight-by-eight-foot map of Fairhill that will hang like a luxuriant tapestry in El Corazón’s glass-sheathed atrium.

Latin dance class for children at Taller Puertorriqueño
Latin dance class for children at Taller Puertorriqueño

This marking of Fairhill with the signs, symbols and metaphors of communal identity is a potent example of what people in the community development field call creative placemaking. The idea, which has been gaining traction over the last decade, is that artistic and cultural expressions can help build strong neighborhoods where people want to be. These works can help in ways small and large to reclaim space, spark economic activity, enable social connections and unearth historical memory.

The Local Initiatives Support Corporation (LISC), a national nonprofit, is a longtime Taller partner whose Philadelphia team has secured funding and provided years of technical assistance for the group, culminating in a $2.1 million loan to help make the El Corazón building a reality. Over the last 25 years, LISC has invested some $60 million in the surrounding neighborhoods and has come to see placemaking as part of broader revitalization efforts that include such things as affordable housing, community safety programs and workforce development. As an intrinsic strand of this work, creative placemaking helps successfully transform neighborhoods like Fairhill because, at its core, it is equitable and participatory — reflecting the lives and aspirations of the people who call that place home. Continued[+]...