Take a Walk through the New Cherry Street Pier

Take a Walk through the New Cherry Street Pier

If you’ve ever strolled along the Delaware River waterfront near Penn’s Landing, you’ve probably passed by Municipal Pier 9 – an impressive, 55,000-square-foot structure jutting into the water that has stood vacant for decades. As of this past Friday, this nearly century-old former shipping pier is now transformed into Cherry Street Pier, an artistic, cultural, and community hub that honors the building’s historic construction. This space promises new opportunities for the community to meet diverse Philadelphia artists, see their process, and support their craft.

Didn’t make it to the public opening? Take a walk with me through this inviting new space.

 

 

 

 

The Space

 

When you first enter the Pier, grab a drink or snack from a local vendor, sold out of historic trolley carts. Next, take a ride on one of the giant, musical, illuminated seesaws (while you still can - they are a temporary piece of the Pier!), which are presented as part of Philadelphia Contemporary’s October 13 – 28 Festival for the People (more on this, below) through a partnership with the Montreal-based group Creos. Look to your right, and you’ll see a long, two-story stretch of repurposed shipping containers-turned-artist studios, complete with large glass panels. Fourteen Philadelphia artists and arts organizations have been selected as the first cohort to use the studios, where they will create, host events, exhibit their work, and let visitors in on their creative process. Through the middle of the space, local merchants and artisans sell their products in an open-air bazaar.

On Friday night during the opening event, the studios pulsed with excitement as artists shared their work with visitors. I marveled over the beautiful details of Acori Honzo’s doll sculptures and chatted with him about his process next to a tiny, perfectly rendered Tupac. “I’m overwhelmed by the opportunity to create and have everyone see my creative process,” he shared. “It’s my first chance to collaborate with other artists and create with freedom and support from the city.”

As I stepped out of his studio, I was serenaded by musicians from Orchestra 2001, who held pop-up performances throughout the night. I was lucky to run into Adam Lesnick, Orchestra 2001’s executive director, who explained that the space provided a “hands-on, inside look at how music is created and made,” especially for audiences less familiar with classical music. (Check back to see Orchestra 2001’s composers-at-work, who will create their next compositions right at the Pier.)

After you’ve toured the studios, catch an installation, watch a performance, or attend an event in the Pier’s mixed-use space. The Pier has a history of being used as an exhibit space, and recently served as a performance venue for the Fringe Festival. At Friday’s opening, I was introduced to the powerful poetic and spoken word stylings of Jaylene Clark Owens (who is now a new personal favorite).

Every weekend in October, Philadelphia Contemporary is hosting a Festival for the People at the Pier - a populist, participatory art festival that celebrates a range of subcultural art forms found throughout Philadelphia. Its attractions include a teen ASMR video competition (look it up! It’s an internet thing), tattoo art, and specially commissioned banners of Philadelphia neighborhoods by artist Erlin Geffrard. The Delaware River Waterfront Corporation (DRWC) has also been engaged in a long-term, community-based planning process for arts programming along the waterfront, so great art at the Pier is sure to continue.

 

 

Once you’ve experienced all of the artistic and cultural activities the Pier has to offer, go relax in the garden, a calming, green oasis with views of the Delaware River, Race Street Pier, and Camden. It is brought to life by glowing prismatic sculptures, also brought to Cherry Street Pier by Philadelphia Contemporary for the Festival for the People, working with Montreal-based Creos.

 

The Design

Over the past decade, the Delaware River waterfront has changed dramatically through the construction of parks, arts institutions, businesses, and residential buildings. Supported by the Knight Foundation, the DRWC envisioned the old Pier 9 to become the next great public space and non-traditional arts venue alongside the waterfront’s growing attractions.

DRWC planned and designed the Pier to be more than just a modern hangout spot for Philadelphians, though -- they recognize that a strong civic asset must also be inclusive, promote economic opportunity, and provide space for creative expression and collaboration. In their planning process, DRWC engaged with artists, curators, vendors, and the surrounding community. Its final design and operations are shaped by this early engagement, and reflect DRWC’s goals of creating an inviting, inspiring space for entrepreneurs, artists, and community members alike.

Once we saw the plans for the Pier, we knew that this space would be special, and its emphasis on art, public space, and cultural diversity nicely aligned with the Foundation’s mission. As an abandoned city space-turned-open, participatory arts venue, Cherry Street Pier brings to life the core beliefs that motivate our arts and public space funding: that both great public spaces and the arts strengthen communities and provide opportunities for engagement and expression, and that all Philadelphians should have access to these assets.  

Melody Forrester, CEO and founder of Artists First, Inc., put it best. I asked her about her studio space with Stacey Wilson of FlyGirrl at the Pier, and she shared: “We’re excited because [the Pier] gives us an opportunity to connect with the city and the people. With all the challenges we have in this city, to put money towards art, it’s a beautiful thing. Art heals people.” 

We couldn’t agree more.