Since Olney Culture Lab was founded in January 2014, the organization has successfully shined a light on the incredibly diverse cultural expression that is found in the greater Olney neighborhood of Philadelphia - a community that otherwise would not be rightfully celebrated.
Founded by Ambrose Liu, Olney Culture Lab exists not to create something out of thin air, so to speak but aims to showcase and celebrate the arts, talents, and cultural expression of a creative community that is already present.
“In the Olney neighborhood, we saw extreme cultural diversity in an area with way more to offer than what it may seem from the outside looking in”, says Liu. “Olney Culture Lab exists because there is such an interesting mix of people living there that are really invested in the neighborhood and want to see it shine."
Liu’s work in the Olney neighborhood began under a grant with another organization, but when funds for the project ran out at the end of 2013, Liu did not. In his time working in Olney, Liu had connected with many community members and recognized something very special about the culturally diverse neighborhood. So instead of walking away when his time theoretically ended, Ambrose discerned that it was just the beginning and rallied his partners in Olney to elevate their desire to celebrate the neighborhood's rich cultural tapestry through events like the Olney Youth Arts Festival. With a growing portfolio of annual events and programs year after year, Olney Youth Arts Festival would eventually become Olney Culture Lab.
“Philadelphia neighborhoods and specific ethnic or cultural groups have a tendency to celebrate themselves and carry out their own traditions, but there aren't many organizations that try to celebrate everybody at once! Olney is the perfect place for this because it is truly a melting pot - and it’s nice to acknowledge the differences between groups while also celebrating them."
COVID-19 has halted Olney Culture Lab’s events, including their annual Olney Youth Arts Festival, Olney Choir Festival, Jazz on the Green at Fisher Park, Global is Local Ethnic Food Tours, open mic events, and more. With this push for a digital shift, Olney Culture Lab is launching the Audio Olney podcast under their Olney Embrace Project initiative which celebrates the neighborhood by inviting a myriad of artists from the Philly area to respond either to the unique diversity of the community or the public spaces in the community. The 6-episode podcast series launched on all streaming platforms on Friday, Feb 26th. Take a listen by clicking here.
Liu and his staff of mainly local residents work to provide value not only to the Olney community but to celebrate cultural diversity in Philadelphia as a whole. While their impact is far-reaching, they operate with a fairly small, tight-knit team of talented individuals. Being a member of CultureWorks allows each team member of Olney Culture Lab the freedom to focus on the individual talents they bring to the table and provides them the services needed to continue their important work with ease.
“The CultureWorks team has been nothing but amazing cheerleaders for our work, and overall great and generous people. It has been such a big weight off of our shoulders to not have to worry about the back end of things. Their efforts have allowed our vision to flourish."
The Olney Culture Lab vision is centered around the idea that culture can be a catalyst for community development and social change. Through their important work, Olney Culture Lab embodies this wholeheartedly, proving that there truly is strength in diversity.
Find out more about Olney Culture Lab here.