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West Philly center sharing sustainability lessons with community
Philly

West Philly center sharing sustainability lessons with community

Years in the making, One Art Community Center is teaching teens about gardening and construction.

Koi fish swim in a pond in a West Philly yard while a horse named Recovery munches on hay. Ten feet away is a colorfully painted stage and half-assembled solar tubes.

The unique home in the city’s Parkside neighborhood is the One Community Art Center, the manifestation of an idea Benjamin Dyett Reid had 19 years ago, said Malaika Hartsaid, his widow and the center’s co-founder. 

Since then, Hart and husband Ewan Gilpin grew Reid’s idea for a positive space for Philly residents to gather into a community center offering green, educational initiatives.

“It’s like this huge family and it’s all these people working together,” Hart said, “and all these different people coming and bringing their talents and their passion and their love.”

One Art is multi-faceted. It has a live venue space, vegetable gardens, a recording studio, orchards, and spaces for healing and meditating.

The center solely relies on sustainable energy sources and neighbors can take part in activities linked to sustainability, ranging from a vegan dessert workshop to constructing self-sustaining homes called Earthships.

One Art’s healing space, where residents can meditate and engage in other calming activities.

Hart aims to make a sustainable impact in her neighborhood, but building green sites in an urban setting comes with complications.

One Art Center’s projects require funding and a team of volunteers to complete the labor-intensive projects.

The center’s Love Cafe, a farm-to-table dining experience that will use sustainable cooking practices, is moving forward, but it is unclear when it will open.

One Art is working to raise roughly $75,000 to cover the costs of several other projects, including installing solar panels, completing a tiny home, and building a second greenhouse.

The additional greenhouse will be dedicated to the farmers who lost their place to grow produce with the recent closure of the Fairmount Park Horticulture Center, Hart said.

Hart said she makes regular visits to City Hall to appeal for financial support and One Art hosts fundraising events like tours of the facility.

In addition to managing the funding and labor issues that many organizations face, she faces challenges specific to her community.

“Being a woman of color, I was showing people that you can do something like this,” she said.

She also recognizes the budget constraints her neighbors may have but hopes One Art can be an example of how you can still make a difference.

“You don’t have a lot of money, but your heart is in it,” she said.

One Art partners with Soil Generation

The center runs a Sustainability Training and Education Program (STEP), which is funded by Soil Generation, a brown- and black-led coalition of growers.

STEP teaches 19- to 24-year-olds from marginalized communities about gardening and construction.

At the One Art Center, Hart said she wants to have a positive, lasting influence on the STEP participants and encourage them to elevate the environments in their communities.

“It’s set up so that the students get paid for their time learning and working,” Hart said.

One Art’s first self-sustainable home.

STEP participants help build the self-sustaining Earthships on the center’s property. Each will be powered by solar energy and built with recycled and natural materials.

Tires and glass bottles decorate the tiny Earthships, where Gilpin says one could lead a self-sustaining lifestyle for years.

There are also opportunities for others, besides STEP participants, to contribute. For instance, Temple University student-volunteers helped One Art set up its aquaponics site.

Hart says there’s an opportunity for anyone with a passion for community and sustainability to make an impact with One Art. “Well, what do you love to do?”

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Jessica Rogers

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