Performing the urban village: Art, place-making, and cultural politics in North Central Philadelphia

Rosina S Miller, University of Pennsylvania


This dissertation considers how place is performed in an urban community in North Central Philadelphia, influenced by the practices of Lily Yeh and the Village of Arts and Humanities, with particular attention to the intersection of vernacular creativity and professional expertise. An arts-based community organization, the Village began as a spontaneous construction of place in 1986, when local artist Lily Yeh was invited to clean up an abandoned lot in an inner-city neighborhood of North Philadelphia and build an art park. Since then, the Village has developed into a multifaceted nonprofit organization that offers programs centering on the arts, community building, and environmental revitalization through land transformation. This place-based ethnography examines the ways in which expressive culture functions to help revitalize the community and organize the area into a submetropolitan region capable of exercising some measure of control over local social and economic development. Themes of the dissertation include the expressive cultural mechanisms that produce place and the cultural politics involved in the constant and reiterative practices that must navigate between the tropes of "village" and "inner city." These tropes compete for dominance in the social imaginary of community being articulated daily in local attempts to revitalize the neighborhood. As regionalization efforts self-consciously address issues of cultural politics, the expressive culture can be seen to produce and reflect this performed sense of place. This dissertation aims to contribute to place-based study in folkloristics, examining in particular folklore's recent discussions of critical regionalism, which attempt to negotiate between both the pre-modern essentialized notions of the local and the more global sense of place.

Subject Area

Folklore|Cultural anthropology

Recommended Citation

Miller, Rosina S, "Performing the urban village: Art, place-making, and cultural politics in North Central Philadelphia" (2005). Dissertations available from ProQuest. AAI3197715.