Ellissa Collier’s passion is to create spaces where children and adults from all walks of life can uncover stories of joy, resilience, inspiration, and strength through the power of self-expression. And she hopes to bring that same passion to her new role as Community Arts Curator at the Hatfield House in Fairmount Park!
Ellissa is a community arts advocate, public speaker, facilitator and educator who works with diverse communities throughout the East Coast. She develops art programming, writes curricula, teaches classes and trains professionals in using the arts as a catalyst for healing and personal transformation.
We are thrilled to have her join the team at Fairmount Park Conservancy in a consulting role as Community Arts Curator of the Hatfield House. We had the opportunity to get to know Ellissa better by chatting with her about her ties to Fairmount Park and what she hopes is in the future of the Hatfield House. Get to know her below in our Q&A with Ellissa.
What compelled you to join the Conservancy’s team as Curator of the Hatfield House?
The work Hatfield House has done with long term residents over the past few years is inspiring to me. When it comes to community engagement opportunities sometimes residents are shut out of the process or sought out only after decisions have already been made. That’s not the case with Hatfield. Hatfield shows us what it looks like when parks and people come together in authentic ways to build healthy, creative, intergenerational spaces.
What are you most looking forward to in your new role at the Hatfield House?
I’m excited for Hatfield House to be the neighborhood showcase it deserves to be. I’ve heard that our neighbors didn’t always feel welcome here in the past. This is an opportunity to right that wrong. Our parks really belong to our residents and I think we’re seeing just how important this kind of public access is for everyone especially in times of uncertainty and fear. From what I’ve learned Hatfield House has been an antithesis to that- its a place of hope, healing and celebration and I’m excited to build on those themes. If we can bring more joy, more justice and more appreciation to people’s lives then we’re doing something right.
What do you want people to know about the Hatfield House?
I want people to know that we’re committed to making Hatfield House a multifunctional space that honors the voices, creativity and heritage of our community members. Even though our parks are taking extra precautions right now and we’re practicing social distancing, lots of work is happening behind the scenes. We’re taking this time to plan, to continue updating the physical space with repairs and improvements and to meet safely with community members.
What’s your personal connection to Fairmount Park? The Strawberry Mansion community?
I’ve been a member of Fairmount Park Conservancy for years. Like many people, I see the park as an extension of my backyard and a source of comfort and community. I love exploring nature and walking the Trolley Trail. And I always look forward to events like the Boxers’ Trail run, performances at the newly built Discovery Center and the West Park Arts Fest. In my other role as an educator focused on community well being, I know the health benefits of being in nature are well documented. When you see the parks through a public health lens, you begin to understand just how important these spaces can be for improving our physical and emotional health.
Strawberry Mansion is a neighborhood I’ve gotten to know through past work with Mural Arts Philadelphia. There are a significant number of public artworks in the neighborhood and those murals are part of the neighborhood’s story. Who a neighborhood chooses to honor can tell you so much about their values and strengths. With Strawberry Mansion there seems to be an emphasis on education, activism, family and celebrating artistic talent.
What do you envision for the future of the Hatfield House in five years?
I want the work we’re doing over the next few months to inform what happens in the future. We’re taking steps to really document this process not just for future programming at Hatfield House but for other historic houses as well. In 5 years I see us as a model for what’s possible when it comes to re-activating public spaces and restoring a sense of community. This building has been underutilized for too long and we’ve got to make up for that. I see a future of free, intergenerational, culturally relevant programming for years to come
Q&A has been edited and condensed for clarity.