Photo/Naomieh Jovin

The Vare Recreation Center is undergoing a process of metamorphosis. At this moment, powered by the City of Philadelphia’s Rebuild Initiative, the Make The World Better Foundation is working with community leaders and residents to envision and build a transformed, updated facility that also values its legacies and pasts. This is not the first time Vare has undergone change. Built originally in 1915, generation after generation has made Vare their own. Resilience is one pivotal cornerstone of a community whose foundations have made this rec center their haven, their home, and a space of profound connection. 

In the midst of this change, Vare Studio, a collaboration between MTWB, Monument Lab, and TILT operated to collect, preserve, and share a living history of the Vare Recreation Center. From July 27 – September 28 2019, the studio was staffed by teaching artists who specialize in photography, history and sound archiving. Community members were encouraged to visit the studio and bring old photographs to be scanned and preserved; take free photographic portraits with family and friends; and share memories of Vare through the generations in oral history interviews. The creative work of Vare Studio was led by four teaching artists: Shasta Bady, Naomieh Jovin, Heather Raquel Phillips and Fred Schmidt-Arenales. The Vare Studio received coordinating assistance from MTWB engagement coordinator, Stephanie Garcia, as well as several members of the Vare Recreation Center’s staff and community leaders. 

After the studio closed, the Vare Studio photo archive was gathered and compiled by our organizations, in preparation for the publication, Vare Studio Journal, and a hand-off to Vare community leadership. The archive includes high resolution scans of images submitted by visitors to the studio, as well as high resolution JPEG selections made by the four Vare Studio teaching artists. These selections represent the artists’ best work created from their engagement through the Vare Studio with residents and the building itself. 

Text excerpt from the essay Vare Studio Reflection On Then And Now, by Paul M. Farber, Director of Monument Lab