Along the 23: A launch party connecting communities with a SEPTA bus coming to Taller
The brainchild of artist and dancer Christina Castro-Tauser, the project’s launch is a day of fun and celebration on Saturday, April 9.
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The origins of Christina Castro-Tauser’s upcoming Along the 23 community art project goes back to her early days in Philadelphia as a grad student at Temple’s Boyer College of Art.
In 2015, when she first came to the city from Georgia, she was a dance instructor and settled in Mount Airy. In addition to school, Castro-Tauser kept up her instructor gig at Taller Puertorriqueño.
To get from her place to Taller, class, and anywhere else in the city, Castro-Tauser rode SEPTA’s 23 bus daily. On it, she learned all about the new city she calls home to this day.
Now, that route is the setting for a public art project led by Castro-Tauser that will feature a multitude of artists from across disciplines to highlight the culture of the neighborhoods riders see out the bus’ windows. The project is funded through the Knight Foundation and PHDC's Art Is Essential program, which launched in 2020 to redefine art and public space.
The free launch party for Along the 23 will be held on Saturday, April 9 at Taller from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and will feature some of the artists also taking part in the project.
It will start with a community art jam, meant for members of the community to come together and create their own pieces through collaboration, and then transition to an afternoon of dance and music performances and workshops. Those performing include the Wissahickon Dance Academy, the Esperanza Dance Ensemble, and Los Bomberos de la Calle, which will also host a workshop for attendees on plena. There will also be a salsa workshop put on by dance instructor Ashley Rivera.
Much like the overall project, which will allow riders to scan barcodes to see performances or contribute in other ways to developing art projects at bus stops, the launch party is a first step in connecting the communities along the 23 bus route.
“The way these communities can inter-relate, that’s where the power of this project is. That’s where the power of the bus is,” said Castro-Tauser. “The bus is one of those places where many, many neighborhoods intersect. Many, many neighbors are all in one space, and sometimes it’s difficult.”
Given the project’s scope of the entire 23 bus route, she hopes to pull some positivity out of the connections the project creates.
“I hope to inspire them to find a way to create,” said Castro-Tauser. “It could be creating art, it could be creating dance, but what's key is to create interactions, and connections. So if it gives them the spark to go and do something new, or even if it just gives them an awareness of their beautiful surrounding, and awareness of the possibilities, then it’s done something.”
Like Castro-Tauser, Tony Mendez was also drawn to the project for its connecting capability. It’s also a major pillar of his own group, Los Bomberos de la Calle, in spreading the bomba and plena music and dance styles from Puerto Rico.
“In most cases, we are in parks. This is not always a performance and on stage. Bomba and plena are a street thing,” said Mendez.
That’s where Los Bomberos de la Calle were when they recorded a bomba performance as part of the Along the 23 project — a park along Germantown Ave. It featured dancers that caught a lot of eyes, and drums that called for movement from the rest of their bodies.
“It’s always a community connected thing,” said Mendez. “It's about letting these feelings out — the frustration, the anger, happy.”
In that sense, bomba is something anyone can relate to no matter their neighborhood.
At the launch party, Los Bomberos de la Calle will be conducting a workshop in plena, not to be confused with the aforementioned bomba. Both have roots in Puerto Rico’s African history, but bomba is much older. Plena is more modern, mobile, and utilizes smaller pandeiro drums rather than the larger seated ones used in bomba.
For Dora Viacava, who has helped in the promotion and planning for the event from Taller’s perspective, she just hopes everyone who comes to the free event on Saturday has a good time enjoying the food, dance and culture.
“Everyone is welcome,” she said.