Nina Valdera, a senior Art Education major who won one of two grants to participate in the festival, had to be nudged into applying.
“I wasn’t going to, but my friend sent me another notice about [the festival], and I was thinking about it, but I didn’t think I would get in,” she said. “I was excited when I got the email in July that I won the micro grant, then it hit me — now I have to make [the sculpture].”
Her railroad track light sculpture can be seen at the kickoff party October 5 at Baldwin Park, 429 N. 19 Street, from 6 to 9 pm. The public unveiling is set for October 6 from 1 to 4 pm as part of the daylong Site/Sound Voices of the Neighborhood event at 1300 Noble Street. The full festival — presented by Friends of the Rail Park, Mural Arts Philadelphia and the Philadelphia Chapter of the American Composers Forum — runs October 5–19.
“Being from Philly and having something shown in Philly, that’s amazing,” Valdera said.
The festival that Valdera is part of celebrates the creation of The Rail Park. Situated on two obsolete trains lines that served the Reading Terminal, the park is a planned 3-mile public greenway that will be twice the length and width of the High Line in New York City. The completed first phase is an elevated quarter-mile section running along Noble Street east of Broad, then up onto the Viaduct toward Callowhill Street.
BECOMING AN ARTIST
Valdera said when she was younger, she dreamed of having her own art studio in Center City Philadelphia.
“My great aunt used to live near Moore, and I would always see the blue neon light of the Moore sign from her back patio,” she said. “When I found out it was an art school, I thought I was going to go there.”
But that dream was crushed in middle school when she wasn’t accepted at the Philadelphia School District’s High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. Even though she won an art scholarship in high school for a watercolor painting, she went in a different direction. She studied medical assistance at ultrasound diagnostic school and has worked as a registered medical assistant for the past 11 years for Nemours/Alfred I. duPont Hospital for Children.
“I was taking the pre-requirements for nursing, and I took a drawing elective class,” she said. “I realized, ‘Uh oh, I miss this.’ After the class, I changed my major to fine arts.” She took some art courses at a couple of community colleges.
“Then I saw this portfolio day at Moore and I came here to check out the school,” she said. “I showed them my portfolio that day and I transferred here in 2017.”
She’s been deeply involved in art ever since. Valdera taught a summer camp clay animation class this year for the Clay Studio on Second Street in Philadelphia, and is an assistant teacher for the studio’s Claymobile.
The installation Valdera made for the Site/Sound exhibition looks like a lit-up section of railroad track that disappears into the distance. It’s 8 feet long and 5 feet wide, made from wood, acrylic sheet and LED lights.
“The light changes, and slowly fades into another color,” she said. The main rails are white light, and the ties turn from purple to green to red and other colors. “It’s about the history, present and future of the Rail Park, so I paid homage to the past by working with wood, and the LED light technology is the future that we’re going toward.”
This spring, Valdera marks a milestone in her future.
“In May, I will be the first college graduate out of my mom, dad and siblings,” she said. “It’s kind of a big deal.”
She plans to apply in the spring for a low-residency program at the Vermont College of Fine Arts, and one day would like to teach art at the college level.
“Since I transferred here, everything fell into place,” she said. “It’s been all good opportunities and experiences for me here.”