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The Ginger Arts Center opened this past Saturday. 

Credit: Nathaniel Babitts

Ginger Arts Center, a new youth and arts center located in Philadelphia’s Chinatown, officially opened on June 1.

Started by college and high school youth from Students for the Preservation of Chinatown and Students Against Sixers Arena, the center features youth-led programming, teach-ins, and workshops, with the aim of providing local youth the opportunity to engage with art through professional-grade equipment.

College rising senior and SPOC co-founder Kenny Chiu has been actively involved with the Ginger Arts Center since its inception. He said that the idea to build the center was influenced by his own experience growing up in Chinatown and wishing that he had a “third space” to seek comfort in.

“We know art is an important aspect of activism, and community organizing, and storytelling,” Chiu said. “We're hoping that the center can combine community and art and really use art as a way to tell our stories, to show what our community looks like.”

After receiving a grant from the Leeway Foundation, an organization that supports artists dedicated to social justice, the group was able to found the Ginger Arts Center. The group also raised over $2,000 for the center through a GoFundMe fundraiser.

“We’re hoping that youth and parents can really rely on the Ginger Arts Center as a place that nourishes children and provides them with a place to grow up and to hang out and do art,” Chiu added.

Fellow SPOC co-founder and College junior Taryn Flaherty said that the inspiration for the Ginger Arts Center can be traced back to a group called the Yellow Seeds, which was active in Chinatown during the 1970s. Many members were born and raised in Chinatown and formed Yellow Seeds in response to their disapproval of the construction of the Vine Street Expressway, which harmed the Chinatown community.

“As we studied the history of Chinatown as activists trying to learn from the past, we really took a lot of notes from Yellow Seeds,” Flaherty said.

The name of Ginger Arts Center pays homage to Yellow Seeds, as ginger is a yellow plant with medicinal properties. Flaherty hopes that the center can come to embody those qualities for youth participants.

“We really resonated with a lot of [Yellow Seeds’] mission, because they really intertwined activism and advocacy against the Vine Street Expressway, kind of promoting self-determination among Chinatown residents and community members,” Flaherty added. 

The center has faced several challenges: besides fundraising, the group had difficulties selecting a suitable space for the center. Originally, it was located in the basement of a larger building in the middle of Chinatown, but the group decided to switch areas due to concerns over the basement not being an “open space.” The current location, a few blocks outside of Chinatown, is larger and in an area that anyone can “easily walk into.” 

Other challenges the group currently faces revolve around recruiting staff members and attracting youth participants to use the space. The center is also undergoing renovations, which will be completed entirely by students rather than professional renovators.

“We just really want the youth to be part of this project and be active agents of change,” Chiu said.

The workshops held at the center venture into several artistic genres, including filmmaking and photography. Led by Drexel University senior and Ginger Arts Center organizer Sammy Wiener, students will be taught how to document activism through camera and video equipment.

“The overall goal of Ginger Arts is to provide a sort of a space for people to have access to all these different forms of art and expression and mediums for activism,” Wiener said.