New Kensington art gallery hopes to spark change in long-troubled community

PHILADELPHIA (CBS) – When he was 17 years old, Gilberto Gonzalez moved with his family to Kensington.

“I wasn’t in a good place,” said Gonzalez. “And my father gave me a camera and said you gotta do something with your life.”

Gonzalez took that camera and ran with it, spending the early years of his life snapping photos of buildings, bridges and all kinds of structures around his neighborhood.

“For me, these were the symbols of Kensington,” said Gonzalez.

Now, Gonzalez is turning his works of photography into a new form of art. The Kensington resident takes the old photos, sketches them, and then paints them, breathing new life into his pieces.

“Many factories up and down American Street that you no longer see. There were structures that are no longer here, blocks that are no longer here. So when people look at the work, it’s like going back in history,” said Gonzalez.

Some of Gonzalez’s work is now on display at a new gallery in his home neighborhood. The Bridge Studio opened in November near the intersection of Kensington and Huntingdon. It sits just blocks from one of the largest open-air drug markets on the East Coast, in a community that’s struggled with drug use, violence and homelessness.

But owner Nicole Moy was determined to open her gallery here.

“What better can I do but to open up something in the area where I’m from,” said Moy.

Moy grew up in Kensington, attending Conwell Middle School. She’s seen the challenges the neighborhood has faced over the years and watched it change from when she was a child.

Now, she’s working to be part of the change in the neighborhood and believes she can do that through art.

“I hope it changes the narrative in Kensington. I hope it brings back excitement, collaboration, engagement,” said Moy.

Moy said her vision for The Bridge is what she called ‘Starbucks for creatives,’ a place where artists of all kinds can come, meet, collaborate, and just hang out.

While she hopes to collaborate with creatives from across the city, Moy also wants a focus on people like Gonzalez and others with Kensington roots. She talked about wanting to showcase art from high school students in the neighborhood and even works from people who are on the streets.

“Some of the people outside actually are artists. So instead of some people looking at them or looking down on them and saying ‘oh that person is just suffering from addiction,’ I mean art can help them express themselves,” said Moy.

Moy isn’t blind to the uphill battle she faces. She knows the stigma that surrounds Kensington and admits it takes a little selling when she brings up the location.

“We do get a little pushback,” she said.

But it’s that stigma Moy and artists like Gonzalez are setting out to change.

Earlier this month, officials with the City of Philadelphia announced a five-step plan to revitalize the beleaguered neighborhood. Moy and Gonzalez both said they’re hopeful for what the city can do, but they’re by no means leaving this up to the government.

They say if we’re going to see change in Kensington, it needs to come from people who are invested in the community.

“We need businesses that want to do the community work. We need businesses that want to show Kensington in a different light. We need businesses that help bring hope back to the Kensington area,” said Moy.

“This is her saying ‘I want my neighborhood back.’ And we all have to help her and support her and be a part of this,” said Gonzalez.

The Bridge Studio is by appointment only, but Moy hopes to open the gallery daily before the end of the year.

Moy said they’ll host a vendor pop-up event on May 18.

You can get in touch with The Bridge Studio at their website.

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