"This type of a facility can help revitalize the area by bringing
people back to Chester. It's also a way to encourage young people to
stay in school and get them off the streets," Rosenberg said.
"It will be the start of an arts renaissance. There's a lot of vacant
former warehouse space. If this catches on, you'll find artists moving
into those spaces," he said.
It's already happening at Fifth and Edgmont with the Freeman Cultural
Arts Complex, a gallery and art school on one side of the street and
Fejko's cafe on the other.
People like Stephens, a community organizer, and Fejko, a Curtis
Institute-trained organ player, talk of collaboration and harmony, but
this sweet melody belies less harmonic tones among various groups
jockeying to decide who will run the new arts center.
"It's not a Chester focus," Stephens said of Fejko's grand plan.
"We're trying to draw a different crowd. The things we're trying to do
are more community-oriented."
Fejko, who supports his cafe with a day job as a lighting designer,
said he was invited by a city representative to open his cabaret, which
has hosted acts from the traditional to the avant-garde. He bought the
run-down former pharmacy for $2,000 and spent a year cleaning pigeon
droppings from the floors and walls.
The city, "has been supportive, at arm's length," the ponytailed
Fejko said. "They did give me the building, but they say I have to have
the requisite millions if I want any more."
He's trying to get grants and donations, but just paying for the
shows, at $1,000 a pop, is tough.
David Sciocchetti, executive director of the Chester Redevelopment
Authority, said he liked what Fejko has done with the Andre Cafe but
whether there will be an actual arts district remained to be seen.
"You can't just draw a line on a map and say that's an arts
district," he said. "Hopefully if Mr. Fejko and other artists agree this
is a positive environment, we'll have an arts district."
And that may be harder than fixing up old buildings. For now, Chester
Arts Alive is trying to put together a board of directors to run the new
arts center. So far, it includes Jones-Stephens; Delores Freeman, owner
of the Freeman Cultural Arts Complex; Newton; and Sonya Pappas, a
spokeswoman for Rosenberg who is helping with the center.
Clearly the ones who benefit will be the people of this
problem-ridden city. It's already starting to happen. On a recent
afternoon as Fejko played his piano, a handful of elementary school-age
boys wandered in to listen. Soon they were striking the keys and
touching the piano strings, while Fejko gladly obliged their requests
for things like "vampire" music.
"This," he said, while segueing into circus music to the delight of
his audience, "is Chester's future."