Recommended Reading: Funeral for a Home
At 11am on May 31st, 2014 local Philadelphia artists, historians, and residents of West Philadelphia’s Mantua community gathered for a funeral commemorating the life and death of 3711 Melon Street. Cause of death: “prolonged and multiple causes.” The writer of 3711 Melon Street’s obituary states, “Living things die when the infrastructure of life declines or disappears. It is no different for a house that draws sustenance from the infrastructure of safe streets, economic viability, home repairs, a stable population and city services.” The funeral of 3711 Melon Street, one of Philadelphia’s row homes dating from 1872, was part of a public art project organized by Temple Contemporary that connects the decay and demolition of 3711 Melon with a much larger conversation around urban development and struggling urban communities. A Funeral For A Home is the beautifully designed accompanying book for the project.
Reading the text is nothing short of an interactive experience. The book includes full page photos chronicling the funeral and community engagement around the project, images of original historic documents, a folded up newspaper clipping of the obituary, and a manila folder in which the reader will find a copy of the home’s original deed. The book itself is carefully and intentionally designed; a wonderful extension of a project that points to the importance of public art as a vehicle for building awareness and community engagement.
Broken up into four chapters and a conclusion written by Patrick Grossi, the project’s manager, the book’s contributing authors write about the history of the Philadelphia row home, the obstacles and importance of historic preservation in the face of urban economic disparity, as well as a detailed documentation of the planning and day of the funeral itself. Without submerging the unique history of 3711 Melon St., Funeral for a Home further contextualizes the project “within a spectrum of contemporary public art projects that seek to memorialize, re-imagine or remediate housing in the era of the post-industrial late capitalist city” (71). As Sue Bell Yank writes in the chapter “This House is Every House,” the project “prompts us to observe and push the boundaries of how we perceive what is happening in our own communities, how we address the future and the past, and how we recognize ourselves in the other.”
While reading Funeral for a Home, you begin to realize how the funeral is not meant to be an isolated event in time, but is a project that works to build new relationships and opens creative ways for using forgotten space. For anyone interested in public art, urban history, and community development, Funeral for a Home is a rich window into a project whose potential and lasting effects are still unfolding.
Be sure to also check out Funeral for a Home‘s online page to learn more about the project.