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A colorful scene

FNA partners with local artists to create the inaugural edition of neighborhood coloring book.

The ‘Around Fishtown’ coloring book is now available at the Fishtown Library. PHOTO: DAVE RUNKLE

Fishtown residents can now connect with their neighborhood in a new, colorful way.

Fishtown Neighbors Association released the inaugural edition of the “Around Fishtown” coloring book last week.

The civic group worked with 14 local artists to create 15 unique pages that represent various aspects of the neighborhood in realistic and mythical forms, from a sketch of the Fishtown library, to the infamous fish head trash can lids, to dinosaurs overtaking the tracks at the Girard Station.

Each page highlights a local artist, with a 15th page featuring a cut-out postcard for participants to color and mail.

Artists include Dave Runkle, Jessie Husband, Devilfish Ink, Anne Kullaf, Kate Otte, Jacy Webster, PhillyRow, Jeffro Kilpatrick, Holly Simple, Sean Martorana, Troy Musto, Leon Rainbow and Kaitlin Chow.

Runkle, an FNA beautification committee volunteer, spearheaded the project. 

Fellow Fishtown resident Venise Whitaker pitched the idea of a coloring book at the group’s monthly meeting in October, and Runkle took over from there.

Originally, Runkle’s intention as a volunteer was to tackle trash problems in the neighborhood, “but in recent years I’ve been able to use my background in the arts to advance the overall mission of the committee,” he said. 

“I’ve been working in the art/design field since the late ’90s, so when the idea for the book was presented to me it felt like a natural fit,” Runkle added. “What I didn’t realize at the time was how rewarding working on the project would be. Seeing the positive response from the artists and my neighbors has been an uplifting experience.”

Brian Potash, owner of Devilfish Ink, printed the books.

“David from FNA contacted me about submitting art, as I have always been very involved in my community and have worked with FNA since my inception,” Potash said. “After realizing what the project was and how beneficial to a sense of community it was, I offered my services to donate some print work and help promote. Just trying to spread pride and positivity for our neighborhood that I sometimes feel is getting lost with all the new development.”

Potash, 48, has lived and/or worked in the neighborhood for half his life, and preserving and passing on Fishtown’s sense of community inspired him to contribute.

“The best part of 19125 has always been the honest sense of community that has filled the cracks in the cement,” he said. “We (our community) are experiencing growing pains, but also a revival.  New families are planting roots, and the landscape is obviously changing. I feel the history of the neighborhood and the buildings that have been our scenery need to be celebrated and passed onto future generations.”

For Runkle, the arts act as a bridge to bring the community together.

“In short, it’s a coloring book celebrating Fishtown and the artists that work in it. More broadly, it’s much more than that,” Runkle said. “For me, it’s about connecting the creative community and Fishtown residents who have been through one of the hardest years that we’ve collectively experienced in recent history.”

The complimentary books – 200 total – are available for pickup at the Fishtown Library, 1217 E. Montgomery Ave., while supplies last.

Funding for the project was provided through a $1,035 grant, which covered artists’ commissions and printing, from Penn Treaty Special Services District.

Overall, keeping the residents connected to their community and accessing the arts after a tumultuous year is the main goal.

“Our hope was to provide a fun, familiar, accessible and safe way for children and families to experience the arts during a year that’s kept us all more separate than ever before,” Runkle said. “Even before the pandemic, access to the gatekept world of museums and galleries can feel intimidating and remote for most. The book bridges that gap and brings the amazing work of creatives directly to the homes of our community in a relatable way.”

And, there’s already talk of another edition to continue that mission.

“We’re hoping the coloring book will be the beginning of a continued effort to bring more accessible art to Fishtown. It’s our mission to bring residents together to create more positive experiences between all of us,” Runkle said. “We’re hoping that this project can grow as well as help us foster new relationships for future collaborations between our local arts community, the FNA and our residents … Stay tuned for more.”

Participants are encouraged to share their finished coloring pages on social media by tagging FNA and using the hashtags #AroundFishtown and #ColoringBook. Pictures can also be emailed to beautification@fishtown.org. Artist contact information is printed at the bottom of each page. The FNA beautification committee typically meets the fourth Thursday of the month. Individuals interested in volunteering or sharing ideas should contact the above email.

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