By Carol Taylor-Kearney
Back in 1991, Old City Arts Association began First Friday, a once-a-month, coordinated opening of art galleries, businesses and restaurants to make the public aware of the happenings in this part of the City of Philadelphia. Innovation induced people to come to the city for more than historic landmark trips to Independence and Carpenter’s Halls, the Liberty Bell, Betsy Ross House, Elfreth’s Alley and Christ Church, to name a few. Now it is taken for granted that this section of the city is abuzz with activity as folks flock in and out of the galleries, specialty shops and restaurants that have flourished as they stay open late every first Friday of the month.
Arts Innovation in Philadelphia
Back in 2000, Center for Emerging Visual Artists took up a mantle to connect artists with art lovers for the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours (POST). Now, what began as one special weekend has grown to two weekends of tours in four separate sections of the city. The public can visit artists’ studios, galleries and reserved spaces to look at art and speak to the creative individuals about the work they do to enhance life in the city and beyond. Moreover, it is a chance for artists to meet a public interested in their work and possibly make a sale.
In 2007, Little Berlin was founded in the Berks Warehouse. What started as raw space that artists were rehabilitating has grown into studio spaces and galleries with a collaborative team curating or choosing guest curators to exhibit in the Kensington space.
Numerous other artist-run and co-op spaces are thriving in Philadelphia. Some are newer, with a cross-disciplinary approach, and others are older, with a long history. All offer great art including Muse Gallery, 3rd Street Gallery, Vox Populi, DaVinci Art Alliance, Paradigm Gallery + Studio, BASEKAMP, Lightroom Photography Co-op, Urban Art Gallery—to name a few.
In addition, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and two galleries started by alumni from the Academy—Stanek Gallery and Cerulean Arts are noteworthy for their innovative art presentations. Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is this country’s oldest museum and art school founded in the early 19th century by Charles Wilson Peale and William Rush (see http://explorepahistory.com/hmarker.php?markerId=1-A-19D). In its many years, the Academy has has continued to train artists, with an eye toward the future. The Annual Student Exhibition (every May) shows how the students of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts maintain their hold on its history while pursuing the newest advances in making art.
Katherine Stanek, owner and founder, Deborah Fine, co-founder and gallery consultant, and Vanessa Werring, gallery manager, are all graduates of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts Certificate Program. Stanek Gallery is located on 3rd Street in Old City, Philadelphia—the area known for its art galleries.
Stanek differs from most commercial art spaces in several ways. First, Stanek founders, who are working artists, maintain studios in the same building. Second, within the gallery is a “living room,” a space set up with home furnishings, allowing prospective buyers to “see” what an artwork would look like in their home. Third, rather than presenting artwork that they have chosen for the public to consume, Stanek maintains a schedule of visiting curators who present a themed exhibition of contemporary works. In conjunction with these exhibitions, programming includes artists’ talks, coffee house chats and dinners with art to drawing and painting demonstrations.
Stanek Gallery is also media and finance savvy—an asset distinguishing many artists. For example, visitors can readily learn how to become a member of the “Family of Collectors Program” on the gallery website. After purchasing an artwork from the gallery, they are enrolled to preview new work coming into the gallery, notified of events at the gallery as well as art consultations and discounts. Moreover, through “Art Money,” buyers can receive an on-the-spot interest-free loan of $1,000 to $30,000 on the purchase of art work. A 10% deposit and 9 monthly payments of equal amounts will allow a buyer to purchase and take home an object from the gallery. Art Money is now in used at more than 600 galleries in the United States including Paradigm Gallery in Philadelphia.
Another business-savvy gallery is Cerulean Arts, which has made its home on Ridge Avenue, just down the street from the historic Divine Lorraine Hotel, since 2006. Michael Kowbuz, a painter and an art administrator at PAFA, and Tina Rocha, an architect, own and operate the gallery. Cerulean exhibits fine art, sells hand-made artisan works in an adjoining space and offers art classes by pre-eminent artists. Many have shown their work at the gallery, and some are instructors from the Pennsylvania Academy’s school.
Recently, Cerulean expanded to the building next-door and opened a six-galleried showcase with a large classroom studio. With this acquisition, they started the Cerulean Collective. Each month, in addition to their gallery exhibition, five of the collective’s members are featured. Additionally, a sixth space as well as the front windows display the work – one per artist—of each of the collective members.
Cerulean Gallery also offers independent curators the opportunity to present a show in the gallery space, and some of these exhibitions are associated with larger venues in the area. For example, Bill Scott, artist and curator, created “A Starling in Shadow” in conjunction with concurrent exhibitions of Women’s Art at Bryn Mawr College and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Cerulean also sponsors an annual juried art exhibition where a noted curator, artist or critic selects the artwork to be shown at Cerulean Arts.
Folks who have seen the artwork or are interested in viewing and buying artworks from Cerulean’s vast holdings can shop from the website either by searching from “Shop” or “Exhibitions/Artists.” Cerulean artists, and many Philadelphia-based artists, also interface with InLiquid, a vital information website on art and artists based in Philadelphia.”
As all of these galleries and owners demonstrate, a can-do and will-do spirit distinguishes the Philadelphia arts community in terms of business-smart practices.
Carol Taylor-Kearney is a southern New Jersey artist who creates reverse-glass paintings on windows, doors and frames. She is represented by Atlantic Gallery in NYC and recently displayed her work at Cerulean Arts.
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