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Widener Part of Partnership to use Innovative Theater to Help Spur Revitalization in Chester

The Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) is partnering with Widener University, the city of Chester and Chester Arts Alive! to launch a model civic engagement project that uses innovative theater techniques to inspire problem solving and to help revitalize the city.

The initiative, part of the proposed Chester Cultural Corridor Project (C3), is being funded by a $72,000 Discovery Grant from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage. The grant will enable PHC to bring nationally-known theater artists Bob Leonard and Jon Catherwood-Ginn from Virginia Tech University to work with Chester Arts Alive! They will use grassroots interactive theater to expand community engagement with Chester business owners, seniors, youth, artists and preservationists and Widener.

C3 is a proposed one-mile arts and culture district that extends from Widener to Chester's central business district. Central to the project is an innovative vision that will integrate design, economic development, civic engagement and the arts to bring diverse people together to be inspired by arts and humanities.

"We are thrilled that the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage is supporting PHC's plan to work with the C3 partners and national theater experts to engage diverse groups of Chester residents in revitalization decision-making through the use of the humanities and community conversations," said Laurie Zierer, PHC executive director.

Widener will collaborate with the Animating Democracy, a program of Americans for the Arts, to study the impact of the initiative. Dr. Stephen Kauffman, an associate professor in the Center for Social Work Education at Widener, will devise data collection instruments and research protocols, identify and coordinate mechanisms and people for collecting and analyzing data, train and monitor students and community members in data collection, lead data analysis, and participate in debriefing and review and comment on findings report.

According to Marcine Pickron-Davis, chief community engagement and diversity officer at Widener, the university will also coordinate focus groups with Widener students, faculty and staff to participate in the planning process for the design of C3.

"I am pleased that this vision will be developed for the community, by the community," Pickron-Davis said. "This project indeed represents a collaborative effort that will engage key constituents and stakeholders in an inclusive planning process."