Thursday, February 11, 2016

A park on the parkway

"More Park, Less Way" transforms Eakins Oval from a pedestrian wasteland into a cultural oasis.

A park on the parkway

Nya Glipsy, 10, makes chalk drawings at the Oval. The "beach" will be open until Aug. 18. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)
Nya Glipsy, 10, makes chalk drawings at the Oval. The "beach" will be open until Aug. 18. (ANDREW RENNEISEN / Staff Photographer)

You may have recently noticed Eakins Oval, the new pop-up park at the base of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

Characteristic orange banners circle the perimeter of the Oval–which marks the park area–as the Philadelphia Museum of Art overlooks the entire scene while the Rodin Museum and the Barnes Museum lurk nearby. The park, established by the Parks and Recreation department of the city of Philadelphia, is refreshingly beachy and provides an interesting contrast to the hot pavement of the city streets.

The program is part of a larger project, entitled “More Park, Less Way,” which strives to make the area surrounding the Parkway more of a recreation zone, rather than a pedestrian wasteland. It has previously been criticized as being a difficult area for navigation, especially with its major tourist appeal.

When it comes to the chosen location of the park, the director of the project, Mark Wilkens says, “We thought that this would be a good spot to elevate the profile of the park and improve the parkway in a variety of ways. We wanted to activate the parkway to make it more of a public space than a parking lot. I certainly think that people will come just to see what’s happening.” So far, his efforts are successful, as the numerous benches and tables are consistently occupied with people enjoying the various activities available, including sandboxes, a life-sized chessboard and food trucks.

Each day of the week, the Oval has a different theme. Wednesday’s are of special interest to art enthusiasts, as the day is geared towards arts and culture, and features events such as free art classes presented by local institutions. Saturday’s include live music and performances presented by local venue the Trocadero.

I got the opportunity to visit the park on a Wednesday afternoon, during a Mural Arts art class for children. Though I was, admittedly, too old to participate, I took in the scenery and briefly chatted with Mural Arts muralist and art educator, Cathleen Hughes. Hughes was there with her husband, helping children create marine-themed paper masks. On the topic of the art class, Hughes stated, “My goal, personally, was to make something to serve kids ages 5-14, to let them get creative.” The program appears to be quite popular. Hughes also mentioned there was a tragic shortage of turtle masks, which happened to be the most coveted marine animal on this particular day. I spotted several colorfully decorated sea animals roaming around.

The location of the park is crucial to its overall mission, as it provides a family-friendly meeting place in Philadelphia’s cultural center. It is a place for dancers, artists, musicians, and film buffs to gather. Perhaps most significantly, the atmosphere is extremely accommodating for children, which is not always true of arts and culture events in the city. Of course, many people just like to sit outside and enjoy the sun and the park provides ample space for this. I asked several park-goers why they had decided to visit the Oval, and the consensus seemed to be, “I came to visit the food trucks and to have a nice place to sit,” thus the park does a great job of serving a diverse crowd. It’s provided a space for resident creative types, foodies and outdoor lovers alike.

The Oval will remain open and active until the closing event, Ovalpalooza, on August 18th. I would highly recommend stopping by this pop up recreation center before it disappears.

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Art Attack is a partnership with Drexel University and is supported by a grant from the Knight/NEA Community Arts Journalism Challenge, administered by the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance.

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