Prophets, Poets, and Parks
On hot summer days of 2021, community members in Reading, Pennsylvania, hauled chairs and umbrellas to attend poetry readings in underutilized public spaces.
City resident Lourdes Monzon organizes these gatherings, called Prophets, Poets, and Parks. She intentionally rotates the events around the city, picking abandoned and underutilized areas of parks. Her purpose is to create safe spaces that highlight the importance of words, narratives, and poetry. The first event in the series focused on reading poems by Audrey Lorde, and featured an open mic component. The event didn’t cost much to put on: Monzon simply borrowed a speaker and microphone from a friend. However, the response was overwhelming and Monzon decided to enhance the second event by inviting an artist to hold a live painting session. The events are free for the community and were originally funded by Monzon.
For Monzon, poetry and art are ways to acknowledge issues in her community, including poverty and hunger. She began the series after talking with a friend about the need for open mics and spaces for poetry and art. She chose parks because it is safer to hold events there during the pandemic, and she chose to focus on impoverished areas of the city to shine the light of art and creativity and to make a statement. Monzon grew up in New York, and in her childhood she wishes there had been spaces for creativity in low-income neighborhoods. Even though she had a passion for art, her family was unable to afford art classes. Although the goal of her poetry gatherings is to build community, remembering her childhood makes her understand the importance of public spaces that foster creativity. Her plan is to grow these gatherings by requesting small donations so the poetry can flow without fear of outside censorship.
Although Prophets, Poets, and Parks takes place in Reading, attendees have come from as far as Philadelphia and New Jersey. Reading is the fourth largest city in Pennsylvania and faces significant economic challenges. However, it has seen some economic gains in recent years alongside a resurgence of grassroots art events.
Property Type: Open Space
Project Type/ New Use: Art – Small Scale (e.g. painting; performance; visual), Event(s)
Project Purpose: Engage community
Duration: Once / Single Day
Initial Cost: Under $10,000
Funding Source: In kind
Organization Type: Community Leader
Implementation Partners: Nonprofit – Arts & Culture; Artist(s)
Community Type: Urban
Contributions By: Daniel Egusquiza