Envisioned in 2015 to honor the legacy of Dina Wind, an artist, Fleisher board member and supporter, and longtime patron of the arts, the fellowship provides visual artists at a critical junction in their careers the opportunity to enrich their practice by developing a participatory public art project within Fleisher and Southeast Philadelphia’s highly diverse communities.
Fleisher believes art is most transformative when individuals actively participate in its creation and that artists help weave the social fabric that strengthens diverse communities. The fellowship intends to spur artists to transcend conventional notions of static art objects in public places while emphasizing how art and artists serve as catalysts for social action, problem solving, and relationship building.
2019-2020 Fellow: Catzie Vilayphonh
Catzie Vilayphonh is a recognized leader in Philadelphia’s Lao American community and a poet, filmmaker, and multi-media artist. As the founder of creative director of the nonprofit Laos in the House (LITH), Vilayphonh has demonstrated her commitment to community empowerment through the arts and storytelling. LITH is the nation’s only Lao American organization focused solely on art, and much of its work revolves around healing the wounds of intergenerational trauma and encouraging American-born and those who immigrated during childhood to better understand traditional Laotian culture.
For the past two years, Fleisher has hosted LITH’s annual Lao New Year pop-up dinner in its historic Sanctuary space. Last year, Fleisher collaborated with the Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival to showcase independently produced Lao American films. As the Lao American community continues to be better represented at Fleisher, it is Fleisher’s hope that the fellowship will demonstrate that it can be a sorely needed resource for the community.
The 12-month residency began in August 2019 and is being developed collaboratively by Vilayphonh and Fleisher’s programs team during its first two months. A variety of LITH events and programs at Fleisher are expected. In addition, due to Vilayphonh’s role as a lead organizer of the National Lao American Writers Summit taking place in Philadelphia in August 2020, the fellowship should will allow Vilayphonh to further refine the summit’s program, some of which will be held at Fleisher.
Founded in 1898, Fleisher is located at the geographic center of South Philadelphia’s diverse and vibrant communities and continues to sustain the vision of its founder, Samuel S. Fleisher, of art as a great social equalizer through its mission of providing access to art for all. The neighborhoods Fleisher serves, once a draw to Irish, Italian, Polish, and Armenian immigrants are now home to immigrating Mexican and Southeast Asian families, with significant projected population increases over the next five years.
Fleisher completed a community engagement research initiative to develop strategies to reduce barriers to participation in its arts programming, stay relevant to newly established communities, and uphold the tenets of our founder’s vision by serving an audience reflective of these neighborhoods. Informed by this research, Fleisher launched programs to attract new artists while deeply engaging current students and has worked to define arts-based community engagement as “a process of working collaboratively with groups of people affiliated by interests in art, culture, and creativity and a collective desire to make our communities better places for all by developing, sharing, and promoting creative resources.”
The Dina Wind Art as Catalyst Fellowship applies this perspective to Fleisher’s exhibition program by expanding beyond gallery wall presentations of art to a collaborative, people-centered explorations that engage the Southeast Philadelphia community.