Collaboration unlocks creative potential of Philadelphia youth

SOURCE: Alexis Brown/Unsplash
The TRIPOD at Writers Room programme aims to cultivate creative collaboration among students and community members.

By U2B Staff 

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Budding young writers and photographers in Philadelphia will get another shot at becoming published artists, with Drexel University and Canon Solutions America extending their partnership programme for a third year.

The TRIPOD at Writers Room programme is a unique, inter-generational initiative that brings school and university students, as well as community members, together on a collaborative project that involves writing and an element of photography.

Co-founded and supported by Canon, programming is conducted on campus at the Drexel University College of Arts and Sciences, as well as at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships.


The TRIPOD at Writers Room was born in 2017 when the university and the multinational imaging equipment manufacturer discussed ways to collaborate and bring positive impact to Drexel students and the wider West Philadelphia community.

The result was a decision to combine and enhance two existing initiatives by both organisations: Canon’s Future Authors Project and Drexel’s Writers Room

Under previous iterations of the TRIPOD at Writers room programme, groups or “triads” comprising a university student, a high school student, and a member of the local community worked together to document West Philadelphia and other parts of the city through photography, stories, poems, and essays. 

community outreach depends the relationship between different generations
The TRIPOD at Writers Room programme encourages creative collaboration between different generations to inspire one another in documenting community stories. Source: Unsplash

As part of their project, members used Canon’s imaging equipment and gained from photography education, field trips and cultural events, weekly meetings, and monthly workshops.

Their final works were compiled into books published by Canon Solutions America; “TRIPOD: People, Places, Portraits” in 2018 and “Notes to Self” earlier this year.

Images from each programme were also blown up and put on proud display in the Art & Literature Department at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Images from “Notes to Self” have also been included as part of a current printed mural installation in Drexel’s MacAlister Hall.

In addition, artist Michelle Angela Ortiz and, Jordan McCullough and Carol Richardson McCullough, both TRIPOD writers-in-residence, collaborated on a mural painting session inspired by “Notes to Self”. The mural is now at the Free Library of Philadelphia and was part of the national Conference on Community Writing hosted by Drexel University and the University of Pennsylvania earlier this month.


In the two years since launch, the TRIPOD at Writers Room programme has grown in both size and reputation. According to a media release, more local organisations have enquired after the programme and sought participation.

Returning members, meanwhile, are joined by additional students from other area schools. Alumni from the community are coming forward to play mentorship roles, while undergraduate alumni play leadership roles.

“Last year we expanded beyond the bounds of our initial vision,” said Writers Room Founding Director Rachel Wenrick.

“In addition to their creative work, TRIPOD members embarked on a two-year, community-led participatory action research study funded by the Corporation for National and Community Service.

“The project, ‘Anti-Displacement: The Untapped Potential of University-Community Cooperative Living’, investigates alternate affordable housing options in West Philadelphia.”


The much anticipated third run of the programme will see more community outreach and will serve as an exemplar for other university-business partnerships seeking to expand on community-building efforts.

Wenrick said the third year of TRIPOD at Writers Room will offer participants the opportunity to serve as the official documentarians for the national Conference on Community Writing. They will also benefit from many more collaborations in the pipeline.

“Canon Solutions America is thrilled to begin a third year of collaboration with Drexel University and the TRIPOD at Writers Room programme,” said Canon Solutions America President Peter Kowalczuk.

“We are proud to support a programme that offers a platform for such unbounded creativity and touches so many areas of Philadelphia.”