Old and new in Bristol Borough: Centre for the Arts and Grundy Museum announce new projects

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Jack Firneno, the Wire

There are a lot of people hard at work in Bristol Borough. And, this month, two institutions are celebrating them.

The Bristol Borough Centre for the Arts opens a new exhibit this week. Entitled Celebration of Labor, it features more than 100 pieces all under the open-ended theme of portraying people working.

“We try to keep the exhibits frequent and vibrant,” said Bill Pezza, president of the Borough’s Raising the Bar Committee. “As the summer is ending, we wanted to see what we could do. And with Labor Day right around the corner it made a lot of sense.”

And, this exhibit is a little different than usual. Rather than going through a juried process, where a panel of artists decides what gets displayed, the Centre will show every piece that gets submitted, regardless of the artist’s stature.

“This is a community gallery,” said Pezza about the Centre, which opened in June. “The exhibit is an opportunity for everyone to feel like they’re a part of it.”

While many of the entries are from established artists — the Centre and Raising the Bar Committee reached out to organizations like Artists of Bristol and other networking groups, along with general announcements on social media to gather submissions — there are a handful by amateurs or beginners.

As a result, the submissions, from 35 artists, are varied both in form and content.

Some recall the past, like a black and white shot of a shoeshine boy leaning against his box. Others are more timeless, like a photo of firefighters battling a blaze. Elsewhere, a picture of workers installing solar panels is distinctly modern.

And, some weren’t even originally meant to be art. Retired steam fitter Jim Zimmer, who occasionally volunteers at the Centre, submitted four brightly-colored photographs of boiler replacements performed at the Union League and St. Vincent’s Seminary in Philadelphia.

They started out as just snapshots taken to document the work. But when Zimmer heard about the exhibition, he chose the photos he liked best from a CD full of similar production photos, then cropped images and enhanced the colors in Photoshop.

“As part of the labor force, I think it’s a great idea to have it celebrated,” he said.

And, to truly makes this a “people’s exhibit,” as Pezza calls it, visitors to the museum will vote for the Best in Show piece. The winner will receive a $150 grand prize courtesy of state Sen. Tommy Tomlinson. “He’s a good friend of Bristol Borough and a longtime friend of labor,” noted Pezza.

The exhibit opens with a reception Wednesday night from 7 to 8 p.m., and will run through Sept. 9.

And, just as the deadline to enter new work in the exhibit was wrapping up last week, the Grundy Memorial Museum announced its next step toward preserving Bristol’s past.

The museum on Radcliffe Street, located in the iconic Queen Anne-style home the Grundy family purchased in the late 1800s, has been selected to be part of the National Museum Assessment Program.

It’s a year-long process where the museum has its practices evaluated and then works to improve them to meet the highest professional standards for a museum on a national level.

Specifically, the museum enrolled in the Collections Stewardship portion of the program, which, according to Museum Director Donna McCloskey, will help them ensure they’re properly caring for the 100 or so personal objects from the Grundy family that the museum houses.

“What sets the Grundy Museum apart is that our museum contains actual items that were owned and used by the family,” she explained. “Some of the objects are quite old and require great care.”

Those objects range from small personal effects to large items like family portraits and even a jeweled glass window. “There are so many items that are magnificent and beautiful,” said McCloskey.

The museum staff will spend the rest of the year building a report on how it currently operates. That report, and the museum itself, will be assessed by museum professionals in a process that includes an on-site review in the spring before a final report next summer.

In the short term, the assessment and review ensures the Grundy Museum is doing everything it possibly can to preserve its historical items. But it’s also the first step in the larger goal of becoming an accredited museum, which would make it more recognizable on a national scale and more attractive for grant funding.

Over the past 50 years, the museum has taken some unofficial steps toward accreditation, like adopting a code of ethics and crafting a mission statement. This program, however, is the first effort to have its work formally recognized.

And, it comes on the heels of an especially fruitful year: in 2015, the Grundy Museum was voted Best Museum in Bucks County by readers of Bucks Happening, and received a grant to purchase touchable items for children.

“We’re very excited,” said McCloskey. “It’s a great time for us.”

For information, visit www.facebook.com/BristolCFA and www.grundymuseum.org.