COMMUNITY SUPPORTED ART: CSA Philadelphia

by Terri Saulin

Purchasing a farm share or “CSA” has developed into the perfect solution for many consumers to maintain a supply of fresh, seasonal food directly from local farms. As a result, Philadelphians have grown accustomed in recent years to a fantastic array of local produce, courtesy of our access to farmers-markets and farm-shares, citywide. 

 

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I was pleased when I found in 2012, that an organization had emerged to accomplish those same goals but that rather than bringing juicy, hand-picked heirloom tomatoes, they were bringing Art! CSA (in this case standing for Community Supported Art) is hosting spirited, creative events that include lively conversation, food, drink and, most importantly, Artists! All you have to do to be part of the party is to buy a share from CSA Philadelphia.

 

The first iteration of the Philadelphia CSA began as a collaboration between two Philly Artist Collectives: GrizzlyGrizzly and Tiger Strikes Asteroid: Philly (TSA Philly). The 2012 collection included nine artists; Sarah Kate Burgess, Anda Dubinskis, Jacob Feige, Sarah Gamble, Brian Giniewski, Ivanco Talevski, Brent Wahl, Douglas Witmer, Linda Yun

 

 The current season’s organizers include members of GrizzlyGrizzly and include two former TSA Philly members. The 2017 collection consists of works by six Artists; Grimaldi Baez, Leah Bailis, Marc Blumthal, Julianna Foster, Alexis Nutini, Lucia Thomé

 

As a member of TSA Philly I had the opportunity to participate in the 2012 launching of CSA Philadelphia. The launch was a transformative experience that opened my eyes to a new and varied array of Philadelphia artists and collectors. I was assuredly not alone in my appreciation of the CSA’s addition to the artistic landscape of Philadelphia. When I sat down to discuss CSA with Cindy Stockton Moore, Anne Schaefer and Jaime Alvarez they only reinforced my glowing admiration of the project.

 

TS: The three of you have been working together on the CSA since the beginning. Can you tell me about the origin of the program and how the collaboration all began?

 

AS: Philadelphia's Community Supported Art Program is modeled after the very successful program developed by Springboard for the Arts in Minneapolis, MN (2010). Their model has gained a lot of notoriety and has been replicated throughout the country.  In 2012, GrizzlyGrizzly partnered with Tiger Strikes Asteroid to implement the Springboard model with the goal of cultivating an open, authentic and deep connection between artists and collectors. The program sought to create dialog through a series of events that revolved around local and innovative artwork. This motivation continues with our current CSA program. The 2012 Community Supported Art was supported by a grant from Springboard for the Arts, funded in part by the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. It is one of two inaugural CSA programs in Philadelphia. This funding along with our generous local sponsors was instrumental in starting the program and enabling us to move some proceeds from that iteration forward toward the initial funding of the 2017 program. 

 

JA: What Anne said!

 

TS: Why is it important for artists to be able to sell their work through the CSA?

 

CSM:  This economic model works for artists in that it connects them directly to a viewer - and supports their project much like a grant would.  Instead of working solely on speculation, the artists have a clear idea of their recompense before embarking on an edition and can budget their time and materials accordingly.  The organizers also serve as facilitators, so artists can often try out new ideas or materials for their CSA share, many venturing into the idea of multiples for the first time.

 

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JA: I would second Cindy’s comments. I would also add that artists usually make work prior to being seen in public, or for emerging artists, it may be possible that work that is made will be put out into the public.  With the CSA, they are granted funds that allow them to create works that couldn’t be achieved otherwise. 

 

TS: Making a large edition/series or works can be a herculean task. How do the artists benefit from participating in the CSA? 

 

CSM: They are participating in a project that values and compensates their effort and vision.  They are paid for their work in advance of its production, so that's material compensation.  But they are also connected to a new audience, so that's building a community for future involvement and support.  Sometimes that takes the form of potential sales, but often it materializes socially in terms of new connections and access to techniques or material knowledge. 

 

JA: I would also add that the artists should feel free to attempt something new and different from their usual work, or create something that they couldn’t have afforded to otherwise. 

 

TS: How does the community benefit in supporting the project? 

 

CSM:  Shareholders benefit across the board also.  Their contribution buys them six great pieces of art -- which is a bargain from any viewpoint.  More importantly, shareholders have many chances to meet and talk to the artists.  The work that ends up in their homes will contain that extra knowledge and connection -- I know for me that makes the art even more valuable, increasing the daily enjoyment of living with contemporary art.  Also, they should feel good about what they are supporting -- this economic structure is a different way of thinking about supporting the arts, a more accessible way.  The shareholders are making that change happen.  

 

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TS: What might the editioned artworks impact on their collectors be? 

 

CSM:  I think that impact will vary as much as the shareholders themselves.  For some, it might be the start of a new collection, for others it may blend into their already well-established one.  Our hope is that the connections between artists and shareholder will continue to build over time, and lead to outcomes we cannot begin to imagine.

 

JA: I see it as a potential to open up a new collection, or to buy something as an investment into their local community, instead of adding something mass produced into their collection.  My personal hopes are that with committing to the CSA, they are also motivated to look into local artists and purchase works from them or other local artists. 

 

TS: I think there is amazing potential for the CSA, particularly in a city like Philadelphia. We are a hub of generous and diverse creative history that seems to get more energized each year. The city is alive with celebratory events like The Parkway’s 100th Anniversary, Cai Guo-Qian’s Firefly Pedicab service and The Mural Arts/Monument Lab project. The CSA is bound to gain traction and become a strong thread in the cultural fabric. 

 

TS: My fondest memory of the program was going to visit artists in their studios throughout the city. I remember being awestruck at the incredibly diverse and multi-faceted group of artists I met, it was like a “Philly Art21!” When developing the selection for the CSA, how are the artists chosen?

 

CSM: For the 2017 share, we asked local arts organizations, curators and collectives to nominate artists -- it broadened our search and introduced us to even more people working in Philadelphia.  I am always surprised by the breadth and depth of the community here.  There are so many interesting people doing interesting things.  Narrowing it down to the finalists was a daunting task! 

 

AS: Agreed! Seeing the artists in their studios is a real treat. For this selection process, not dissimilarly from the selection in 2012, we were looking for a range of artistic disciplines to be represented through the work of the final six artists. The thought process was through that range, potential collectors might gravitate to something they were familiar with or partial to and then take a risk on something they might not have considered collecting. For example, someone interested in photography might initially be intrigued by Julianna Foster's work and then though the CSA discover they love Lucia Thomé's sculptures - thereby broadening the diversity of pieces in their personal collection. 

 

JA: The choosing of the artists is probably one of the best parts of organizing the CSA. The first round list of artists usually is composed of artists via many factors.  Personally, I think people are first nominated because of their work within the arts community, their reputation, and the quality of their work.  After a few rounds of pairing down artists to a much more workable list.  From that list, we contact the artists, explain to them the project and schedule a visit if they are willing to participate. After that visit, there is quite a bit back and forth with the organizers in trying to curate a group of artists to make an artist’s share that people would be interested in purchasing. The whole process is really difficult because we would love to work with all of the artists we nominate and provide a venue for their amazing projects. 

 

TS: The “Pick Up” events are remarkable celebrations that are open to the public as well as subscribers and include demonstrations by some of the artists in the collection. The last pick up in 2012 at Second State Press featured a Printmaking demonstration by Ivanco Talevski. It was lovely to observe the public interaction. I had never been to Second State Press, it was an even more special occasion to meet Ivanco and explore the venue. Can you talk about the relationships the CSA and artists have with the pick up venues?

 

CSM: One of our goals is to introduce shareholders to organizations and spaces around the city, but we also make a point to host one 'in-house' pick-up, this year at GrizzlyGrizzly.  The pick-up will take place during a solo-exhibition by Brent Wahl, who was a 2012 CSA artist.  For me, it reflects the on-going relationships we are building between the artists, organizers and shareholders. The project is a beginning for these long-term, deeper connections.  October will also be our first month back in the 319 building after the fire [fingers crossed] so it will have personal resonance.

 

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AS: I'm so glad you have a great memory of that event. Not only was that event and venue special as a result of the demonstration that Ivanco Talevski did, but Second State was instrumental in the production of Anda Dubinskis' edition.  She worked with Second State to complete the silk screened portion of her 2012 CSA edition.

 

This time around we have found other local venues to be just as positive and excited about the project. To preview the work of the 2017 artists, get the current shareholders together for a fun social gathering, and expose new collectors to the program and an exciting local studio building, we had an event at Globe Dye Works. Until recently, my studio was located there and Globe Dye Works is home to so many amazing artists and small businesses - it is a lively mix of dynamic art and commerce. We were able to host a pop-up exhibition of our 6 CSA artists' works as well as many members of the Globe Dye Works community opened up their studios. I created a limited edition print to commemorate the 2017 CSA which is available for our early subscribers to the 2017 CSA (there are some still available).  In upcoming events, a raffle and our three pick-up events, we will continue to partner with venues that complement our mission of making opportunities for our community to come together over local, innovative artwork.

 

JA: As organizers that have come from artist collective, or artist run galleries, connecting the new collectors with the artists, and other creative spaces within the city became an integral part of the CSA program.  In the Farm Share analogy, I guess it would be inviting the Shareholders to where the food is grown/art is created.  The spaces that have been involved in organizing the CSA, Tiger Strikes Asteroid (TSA) and GrizzlyGrizzly, are always looking to open up their doors to anyone who wants to know more.  The way that TSA and GrizzlyGrizzly came around, creating spaces that contrasted with commercial gallery spaces, in order to get more artists work viewed. So it seemed natural to bring the buyers into our spaces, and other spaces around the city in order to educate the larger community.  

 

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TS: Participating in the CSA Program exponentially widened my circle of friends, brought on two new colleagues at Tiger Strikes Asteroid Philadelphia, introduced me to new venues and neighborhoods and literally opened my eyes to the vast talent pool in Philadelphia. Can you speak specifically about “Philadelphia” and how you feel about supporting Philadelphia Artists?

 

AS: We have already touched on the incredible volume of talented artists living and working in this city and I have been proud to be part of this community for the better part of the last 17 years, so, it has been particularly meaningful to be a part of a program that has Philadelphia artists at its core.  I believe buying artwork is an investment in culture. The promise of our community depends on our commitment to each other and the recognition of the value in what we do.  I think that it is essential that we consider ways in which we can do this beyond the conventional art market as well as find ways to increase the depth and breadth of our community. The hope is that, the Community Supported Art Program is an option toward this endeavor.

 

JA: While Philadelphia may seem small compared to New York’s vast artist community, being an organizer for the CSA really did help me realize that Philadelphia offers so much more than I originally expected.  At times criticism of how the Philadelphia arts community seemed very compartmentalized, or “cliquey”, but the CSA project, and the Citywide exhibition of 2013 looked to break down those walls by extending invitation to all our contacts, and their contacts in a way to open up more dialogue.

 

CSM: The great thing about the CSA program is that it helped connect new potential collectors with artists. I remember meeting people who came as far from Cape May and Baltimore to collect their pieces. If we can reach out to those people, and show what Philly artists spaces have to offer to the public. 

 

TS: The 2012 CSA left me feeling joyful and thoroughly nourished by the community that exists here in Philly. I was thrilled to see the program make another appearance. I understand that the care and development of a project like this is a gigantic investment. What do you see as the future of CSA Philadelphia?

 

CSM: We are already talking about the next iteration of the CSA - and what local organization will organize the next round. Stay tuned for an official announcement in December!

 

JA: I hope it inspires other up and coming artists to create their own spaces and programs.  Philadelphia is a great space for the arts and it feels like its growing more every year

 

TS: TSA Philly purchased a 2012 share as a group. We “shared” the spoils in a random lottery. When I opened my treasure, I found that I received #1 in Anda Dubinskis’ edition Flora & Fauna : Memory & Hope. I had Anda as a drawing teacher when I was a student at Moore College of Art and Design and have long admired her magnificent work. This was a magical moment for me. Can you share some of your magic CSA moments?

 

CSM:This spring we had a CSA event at Martha in Kensington where we made an insane amount of donuts.  While I was working the fryer downstairs, it turns out that my five-year son was upstairs doing a collaborative drawing with Jaime and 2017 artist, Grimaldi Baez -- this amazing scene with aliens and spaceships.  It showed me that my CSA experience is one small facet of what happens at these events.  Otto will have a special relationship with Grimaldi's work when we get in from the share -- he's met the artist, worked with him, probably climbed on his lap.  That's magic in my book.

 

AS: In 2012, I was closely involved with helping the artists assemble and package their editions.  It was so special to see the care and attention each put in to this process. The consideration of how shareholders would experience the work from the moment they picked it up through the time they would spend with it in their homes was really lovely.  Many artists included labels or inserts that thanked the shareholders and explained their project. Additionally, I loved being able to see each work in the editions, as nearly all (and many in 2017) were unique or variable editions.  I felt privileged to be a part of this process as I believe I was one of the few to see all 50 of the works by each artist in one place at a time.  Seeing their commitment to the project and their talent manifest in their editions was really magical. 

 

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JA: I worked as the official photographer of the CSA in 2012, and have been working together with GrizzlyGrizzly documenting the 2017 edition, partly because the birth of my son had made me stay at home more than I expected.  They have really done an amazing job putting together a great group of artists and events that people will enjoy.  The Martha event that Cindy mentioned really showed how much of a community can come together to enjoy a good time, and raise some funds for artists. Participating in the 2012, and seeing that collectors from all over came to pick up their shares was something that I felt was magical and that we had hit the goal of getting these artists works out for the people.  Lastly, the friendships made from the experience, of the organizers and buyers, and the events, all was just super amazing. I’m looking forward to the new “Pick Ups” and seeing what people will think when they receive their works. 

 

TS: Thank you all so much for your dedication to Philadelphia Art, Artists and Collectors and for enriching our community us with this abundant experience! I look forward to the next robust season!

 

 

The First Community Supported Art Viewing & Shareholder Pick-up is on Sunday, September 24, 3-5pm at the Esther Klein Gallery, 3600 Market Street, Philadelphia PA. 

 

Be sure to follow @csaartphilly on Instagram. You will find fantastic in- progress shots and video of all of the 2017 artists’ season and Pick Up dates and events!

 https://www.instagram.com/csartphilly/

 

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Interview Series: Sarah McEneaney

A Philadelphia luminary discusses her art and life in the city.

By Leigh Werrell


Entering through the tall metal doors into Sarah McEneaney’s large front garden, one is greeted by three lounging cats who bask in the enclosed, sun-dappled space – unless disturbed by a small black and brown dog named Mango. Through the kitchen is a large, bright studio with a table and walls covered by  sketches and works in progress.  One painting captures her living room, including Mango sitting on a chair and walls adorned with works from her large art collection (including work by many local artists). Another, larger painting depicts a view of Philadelphia from above, the abandoned train tracks near her house sketched in red and green.

Sarah McEneaney in her studio

McEneaney’s name has resounded throughout the Philadelphia art world for many years, and her paintings shout back from the rooftops, echoing the history  and character of the city through personal narratives and her distinct perspective. Her recent exhibition at Philadelphia’s Locks Gallery was an earnest and attentive ode to her “Trestletown” neighborhood, her home, and her pets.

McEneaney came to the city from Larchemont, New York in 1973, attending Philadelphia College of Art (now University of the Arts) and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts. Her colorful egg tempera and acrylic paintings tell her story through direct and sincere marks that chronicle the routine of her life at home and in the neighborhood, as well as her trips to residencies all over the world. McEneaney is on the board of Vox Populi and has also been a great force behind the development of the currently under-construction Rail Park project, an elevated greenway being built on the Reading Viaduct which runs through the Chinatown North/Callowhill neighborhood where she lives. We sat down at her dining room table to discuss her life in Philadelphia and the work that has come from it.


Leigh Werrell: When did you buy this house, and how has the neighborhood changed since you’ve lived here?

Sarah McEneaney: I purchased this property in 1979, right when I was finishing at PAFA. The Vine Street expressway hadn’t been built yet; the viaduct still went across Vine Street.  So, it was sort of industrial - busy during the day, but totally desolate and empty at night. It has changed, although it took a little while to change; it didn’t really start changing until the late 90’s.  I must have been here almost 20 years before it changed significantly.

LW: I’ve been seeing the change even just in the last few years.

SM: Yeah, in the last few years it’s changed a lot - the last 10 years, and even the last 5 years.

LW: Can you speak a little about what the art scene was like when you graduated from PAFA, and how you’ve seen it evolve throughout the years?

SM: When I was still a student, I joined a new artist co-op that was called 3rd Street Gallery – it still exists on 2nd Street. It was originally at 3rd and Bainbridge, and it was originally a women’s co-op. I joined that and had my first show the fall after I graduated from PAFA. I really liked being a part of that and getting to show quickly; it was really important to me. [PAFA] does a lot of student shows...  [including]  the end of the year shows, but they also encouraged us to apply to regional shows, so you got used to putting your work out there early. You might get in and you might not, and you get used to rejection.

Night, 2008, egg tempera on linen, 48 x 48 inches. Courtesy of Locks Gallery

LW: So you went into 3rd  Street Gallery and then what happened?

SM: I had maybe three shows there, over a period of five years, something like that, and then I had a Fleisher Wind Challenge show in ‘85. After that I joined the Charles Moore gallery; it doesn’t exist anymore, [but it was] on Walnut Street for years and years. It was a strong gallery, mostly representational painters. Some sculptors.

Right when I got out of school I was in – it was then called Marian Locks gallery – I was in her [annual summer] show called “New Talent”, but I was doing things like showing in little cafés. I was just sort of doing whatever I could to get my work out there.

LW: So have you seen a big change in the way that people think about art in Philly in the transition between those galleries and the new galleries?

SM: Well, I would say that the artist collective scene has grown exponentially and become very strong.  Like when 3rd Street Gallery started, Nexus was already in operation, and of course Nexus ended a couple of years ago, but they had a good long run. I think that’s the way these things tend to go, they sort of have a life span.  Vox Populi is going to be 30 next year, which is interesting to think about.  The presence on the scene varies, like 3rd Street Gallery doesn’t have a huge presence on the scene but I’m sure it provides an outlet for artists. I think the artist collective scene has grown in really good, strong ways, and the commercial gallery scene is probably not that different from what it was back in the day. You know, I think it’s always been a bit of a struggle in Philadelphia for commercial galleries.

LW: Have you seen the art actually change though, because of those galleries?

SM: I don't know that the gallery scene has anything to do with how art changes. I think the kind of art that’s getting made is related more to a much bigger world. You know, what’s happening in the rest of the country and the rest of the world, especially today with everything being so accessible.

LW: Do you think it’s important for Philly to have a diverse set of galleries- in terms of commercial, co-op, or those in-between galleries?

SM: Sure, I definitely think that makes for a healthier scene, healthier environment, but I think at commercial galleries it’s really hard. You know, you have Locks, which is great, a sort of blue chip standard, and then you have galleries like Gross McCleaf, but it’s unfortunate that galleries like Gallery Joe don’t have a physical space anymore.* It’s hard, the commercial scene.

Our museum scene is strong, I would say, and that’s getting stronger with the Barnes being in town and doing contemporary shows as well as the collection, and the ICA (Institute of Contemporary Art)…

LW: So what do you think that that does for artists in the community, to have that diverse set of spaces?

SM: Well I think it’s important for a lot of things. For one, I think that one of the jobs of an artist is to see everything that is going on, and to be out. So the more there is to see, from commercial galleries to collectives to museums, the better. It’s great that there’s a lot to see and engage with.

LW: To many in the Philly art scene it seems clear that there has been a recent influx of artists and collectors from different places into Philadelphia. Do you believe that this will impact the artist community that is here already?

SM: Yeah, I guess it would have to. I think it’s great that people move here because they see this as a good place to live, work and show as an artist. I’m not familiar with new collectors coming to town but I’m thrilled to hear you say that!

LW: Well, I do think that a lot of people with money might be moving to the city…

SM: Exactly, people moving to the city, and younger people starting out, and because there are opportunities to become a collector on a starting level because of these artist collectives. People are really “do it yourself” getting their work out there. That’s a really good way to build or grow collectors.

LW: You’ve been showing at Tibor de Nagy since 2005. What’s the most outstanding difference you’ve noticed between the New York community and the one here?

SM: Well, the sheer number of galleries is something, and collectors, and  because there are more people there are more artists in New York.   I think more work sells in New York, but in terms of the sort of dialogue and community of artists, I don’t think it’s that different - and that’s a good thing. I see a lot of conversation between Philadelphia and New York (and Philadelphia and other cities) among artists.  I think that the artists are really fluid in terms of how they move around in different cities and worlds.  The economy of New York is so different than Philadelphia. I don’t know that Philadelphia would ever catch up in terms of collectors and art sales.

Trestletown, 13th and Noble, 2012, acrylic on linen, 48 x 36 inches. Image courtesy of Locks Gallery

LW: It’s clear that your environment is very important to your work. Can you tell me about how the city of Philadelphia affects your paintings as opposed to other environments you’ve worked in such as Ireland or Texas?

SM: So even when I was a student, I was starting to make autobiographical work by sort of looking around me and painting say, portraits of fellow students in their studio - as well as self portraits of myself in my studio - and the things happening in the school. Then, when I graduated and was just working in my home studio, I continued that for a while -  like visiting other artists in their studios. [Eventually,]  it became more and more focused on the world that I live in. My home, my studio, my neighborhood. So then over the years I realized, oh, I’m really doing something here that’s specific, but I also see it as something like - it’s a story that has similarities to other people’s stories, and people can bring their stories to it.

When I do residencies I do the same thing, but it’s for a short term so it’s different in that way; it doesn’t have the sort of history behind it. It’s kind of like a snippet. A chapter. Whereas, what I’ve done with my own life in Philadelphia,  you can see the changes - like in this neighborhood - painting the neighborhood over the years, painting the progress on the rail park…  I think of all the work as being connected, and that the travel and residencies are kind of like chapters away.

LW: Some of your most recent visions of the city include the abandoned railway line that runs through your neighborhood. You've been a driving force behind the upcoming construction of the rail park. How do you feel this park will affect the local neighborhood and artistic community that is already here?

SM: Well, I’m super excited, and looking forward to the park opening. Now it’s supposed to open in December, this first small section- it’s only a quarter mile of the whole three mile vision. But I think it’s going to be great for the neighborhood because this neighborhood has more and more residents - more and more people out walking their dogs like I do several times every day. It’s going to be a gathering place, and I also think it’s going to draw people from other parts of the city and visitors to the city. In terms of artists specifically, I don’t know, I mean there’s going to be art happening on and around the rail park. That’s been our goal. In fact we [the Friends of the Rail Park] have already been working with mural arts on some temporary things that happen near the site to help draw attention to it and talk about its history. For instance, in phase one there’s going to be a 1% for art project – Brent Wahl and Laynie Browne – he’s a sculptor, she’s a poet; they’re collaborating on a piece, it was through the city’s 1% for art program. Through a series of jurying they got the commission. Even the Incamminati school at 12th and Callowhill contacted us years ago saying that they wanted to do plein air painting out there, and that was when it would be illegal to be up there. But they thought about it as a way to raise funds, so we might revisit an idea like that - why not?  You know... have a day of painting on the rail park.

LW: What paintings are you working on now?

SM: I’m, working on a large neighborhood painting, from one of the last neighborhood buildings that I hadn’t gotten on the roof of. And I’m working on an interior of my house and a couple of exteriors of the yard. There was one painting that started out with snow in it and now it’s a spring painting because I couldn’t hold on to the snow in my head.

LW: Where is your next exhibition?

SM: I’m going to be in a two person show in Los Angeles at Zevitas Marcus in the fall with an artist named Ann Toebbe, who also recently started showing with Tibor, whose work is really interesting.

Trestletown from the Wolf, 2016, acrylic on wood, diptych, 35 3/4 x 95 5/8 inches. Courtesy of Locks Gallery

View more of McEneaney’s work by visiting the Locks Gallery or Tibor De Nagy websites. Keep up with the Rail Park events on their Facebook page.

Thank you to Sarah McEneaney for agreeing to this interview, and to Mango for being so darn cute!

Mango

 

*Correction: Gallery Joe does have a physical gallery space with rotating exhibitions, openings and artist's talks. The setting is at 2 St James Court. The gallery is open from September through May by appointment. Becky Kerlin the director continues to promote her artists from Philadelphia and elsewhere both here at the gallery and at fairs internationally. 

http://www.galleryjoe.com

Puppet-adelphia

A Visit to Spiral Q

by Kristina Centore


It’s easy for me to get lost in the Philadelphia of 2017, even after living here for the better part of a decade. The construction downtown creates new labyrinths each day, cordoning off familiar walking paths with scaffolding and yellow tape. Condos and luxury student housing developments are replacing West Philadelphia single-family homes at a rapid rate, creating looming precipices that box in the sky.  Yet, as a city with over one-fourth of its residents living below the poverty line, Philadelphia seems at cross purposes with itself, a giant puppet with its strings being pulled in opposite directions that threaten to rip it apart.

 

Spiral Q is an organization that has been broadcasting these concerns for over 20 years by distilling them into the form of impossibly huge puppets that are paraded down the streets of Philadelphia. According to the organization’s website, Spiral Q was established in 1996, “to promote social and political change through giant puppetry, pageantry and direct action that told powerful stories and lifted up community voices.” A quick look at the organization’s history proves the point.: At its inception, Spiral Q worked alongside ACT-UP (the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power), helping to raise awareness of the AIDS crisis in particular. Perhaps the organization’s most notorious moment was when, in the year 2000, 75 Spiral Q “puppetistas” were arrested for creating puppets in protest of the Philadelphia RNC (the charges were later dismissed). Over the years, Spiral Q has solidified into official nonprofit status, and now hosts an array of workshops that benefit marginalized communities. Spiral Q also continues to hold its annual Peoplehood parade in West Philadelphia to celebrate community voices.

 

I attended a Spiral Q pop-up open house this past April and, while it was in a temporary gallery space and not in the warehouse that currently houses the puppet collection, it was a fascinating experience to see many examples of the puppeteers’ craft and learn firsthand about the organization and its work.

We saw “The Giant,” a puppet that takes a village to create and manipulate. The Giant holds a hammer that represents the force of all of the good things a community can create, and during a performance uses it to smash a boulder of repression.

 

There was also a larger-than life representation of the Honduran environmental activist Berta Cáceres, who was assassinated in 2016 because of her work. The puppet, with outstretched arms and a thoughtful expression, honored her memory at protests following her death.

 

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In addition to being works of art, the puppets are monuments to creative problem solving. Most of the puppets are made of materials that you could find for free, like cardboard, scraps of fabric, and bottle caps. But they also must be functional, and have complex armatures that are designed to find the right balance of sturdiness without being too heavy for performers to handle.

I also learned about Spiral Q’s “rent a puppet” program, which has allowed some of the puppets to be exhibited at institutions such as the Atwater Kent Museum, Temple Contemporary, and the Philadelphia International Airport. Spiral Q is aware of the need for preserving and conserving their unique collection and the organization is searching for a permanent home for its array of countless puppets that have accumulated over the years. Preserving a collection like this is a challenge, since the puppets themselves are performative creations that are meant to be moved by many hands, not kept hidden away or only displayed in a vitrine. But like many ancient relics that were once used ceremonially, there is still a need to preserve these objects and take note of their status as an important part of history. 

 

Hopefully, the legacy of these puppets will continue to travel far and wide.

 

 

 

References

Spiral Q

Shaffer, Gwen. “ Curtain Call for the Puppet Show.” The Nation.  17 Sept. 2002. Web 11 June 2017. 

Pew Charitable Trusts, The. “A Report from the Pew Charitable Trusts.” The Pew Charitable Trusts. March 2016. Web 11 June 2017.

 

 

A Momentous Hoard

The Life and Times of an Iconic Philadelphia Art Collection

by Heath Ballowe


Much has been written about art collectors, and much has been said about the long-time Philadelphia Collectors Vicente Lim and Robert Tooey. In 2004, Helen Drutt English wrote in American Craft Magazine, “Like collectors before them, Vicente Lim and Robert Tooey hold the reigns of history, as they pursue an affinity with the art of their time.” Thirteen years later, their commitment to preserving the legacy of 20th century American Craft still has not waned.

 

With the media’s constant coverage of the record breaking auction prices being paid for contemporary art it is hard to maintain the frame of reference that the vast majority of art collectors are real people, with real jobs, that live average lives. That case rings even more true when it comes to the demographics of art collectors in Philadelphia. Vicente, a graduate of Thomas Jefferson University who works in an area hospital, and Robert, now a retired US Postal Supervisor, have never been grouped in with the high society collectors tripping over themselves to pay a record breaking price for a work of art. They are, and always have been, modest collectors that understood the important cultural legacy of visual art and saved their pennies for the opportunity to live with beautiful handmade objects. 

 

In the early 1980s Lim and Tooey started their collection small, collecting inexpensive prints and drawings, but it wasn’t long before they were both seduced by the potentially endless possibilities of art in clay. Vicente in particular, was taken by the work of Viola Frey. So, when he made a trip to her studio he brought back one of her masterpieces, ‘Woman With Orange Hands’, not even stopping to consider that the small home they lived in at the time wasn’t equipped to display it. Vicente and Bob didn’t panic when the ceilings in their home weren’t high enough to fit her massive 8-foot scale. They simply made the obvious choice to them at the time - they modified their home to fit the sculpture. 

 

 

Eventually, Vicente and Robert saved up enough money to purchase a home that could accommodate ‘Woman With Orange Hands’, which also made it possible for them to grow their collection even larger, as well as allowed their interests to expand further than just the work itself. Their ferocious desire to understand the history of the art they had surrounded themselves with drove them to read every magazine, visit every exhibition and read every book about contemporary ceramics they could get their hands on. What started out as merely documenting the provenance of the Lim/Tooey Collection has become a massive collection of ephemera, cataloguing the history of American Craft. It has also given Vicente an encyclopedic comprehension of ceramics history. In a field of study that often seems separate from the rest of the art historical cannon, Vicente’s extensive body of knowledge has become a valuable resource for ceramics historians and artists. This has garnered him a substantial social media following, as a result.

 

In recent years, as square-footage in their home has seemingly evaporated, Vicente and Bob have greatly decreased their rate of collection. They continue, but choose to add only a few pieces here and there comprised mostly of works they believe managed to slip through their fingers the first go round. Their role as “contemporary collectors” has shifted to “stewards of a historical collection.” They have generously chosen to become mentors to the next generation of Philadelphia art collectors by employing the legacy they have acquired as a teaching tool by loaning works for exhibitions and using their experience to teach aspiring collectors how to begin. As a person gets to know these two incredible men, it is difficult to not become inspired by their passion and commitment to the art community in Philadelphia. We can all be certain that they, and their collection, will continue to inspire for generations to come.