‘ReForm’ recreates shuttered North Philly school in Temple installation
Every empty building has a story to tell. When it comes to a shuttered North Philadelphia school, it’s a whole neighborhood of stories.
The empty Fairhill Elementary building inspired artist Pepon Osorio to figure out how the closing affected the mostly Puerto Rican community around it. The result is a year-long installation at Temple University’s Tyler School of Art called "reForm."
Osorio decided to recreate the hallways, a large classroom and the feel of the empty school in the basement of Tyler — a school inside a college. He enlisted 10 students — dubbed the Bobcat Collective after the school mascot — and started to work.
"You walk in and what you see on all four walls are big pieces of composition paper with essays that we all wrote on it," said Lynoska Santa, one of the 10. She graduated from Fairhill a year before it closed forever in 2013. "Then there’s like this cage with iPads and this video with this poem that a friend of mine wrote."
With the refrain of "when we speak, you listen," the poem repeated over and over in the exhibition is about "things that we went through when the school was taken from us, like not seeing our friends anymore," Santa said.
Most of the Bobcats say collaborating with Osorio was hard but enjoyable work.
In addition to teaching at Tyler, Osorio is a prominent installation artist and a former social worker.
The exhibit includes a cardboard depiction of the Philadelphia School District’s headquarters and figurines of Superintendent William Hite and members of the School Reform Commission. Osorio said the films, photos, audio, multimedia and other objects used in the show have one purpose.
"It’s an opportunity to reflect and to be able to understand and to move education into a higher priority," he said.