Every summer in Reading, Pennsylvania, Barrio Alegria engages community musicians and vocal artists to perform in their Alleyway Concerts series. Barrio Alegria (Barrio) is “a community engagement organization that uses the arts to create transformations in individuals to help them transform their communities.”
The Alleyway Concerts were born out of the desire to activate underappreciated spaces while also gathering community members through music. Concert locations have ranged from abandoned lots to bodega fronts to inside a laundromat. Using simple portable speakers and microphones the program engages local artists and businesses to see the beauty of their community through a new lens. Barrio believes in the democratization of creative spaces. They encourage neighborhood artists to use their own cultural knowledge and skills to co-create activities to share that knowledge with the community. For Barrio, an artist is anyone who is a vehicle for creativity, someone who can imagine something that doesn’t exist yet, or preserving something that is in danger of being lost. Barrio also engages neighbors to promote, coordinate, and find new talent every year.
Reading is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania with a population of 95,122 people. After decades of disinvestment, 35% of Reading residents now live below the poverty line. According to a Barrio survey, 80% of Reading youth want to move to another city. But where others see challenges, Barrio sees opportunities.
Barrio programs deal with social justice issues, and use art as a vehicle for personal transformation and community building. Barrio is intentional about making programs free so their message is accessible to everyone. The concerts carry more than music: they empower individuals by providing them with opportunities to participate in the creation of the program. To ensure this, the organization constantly meets with neighbors to ensure their presence in the program creation. The organization also works with neighbors to offer training opportunities for teaching, engaging, and following up with community members.
Property Type: Commercial Structure
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Small Scale (e.g. painting; performance; visual)
Project Purpose: Community engagement; Decrease commercial vacancy
Duration: Once / Single Day
Initial Cost: Under $10,000
Funding Source: In kind services; Philanthropy
Organization Type: Nonprofit - Arts and Culture
Implementation Partners: Artist(s); Local businesses
Community Type: Urban
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza