Blessed big bucks are one step behind

adria bibiloni
Andria Bibiloni’s Blaster Bike at FLUX

Of the 10 Philadelphia arts organizations receiving a total of $5.3 million from the Wallace Foundation to attract a bigger audience, visual arts, which is red hot in Philadelphia right now, got two of the grants (see article in Philadelphia Inquirer).

To be specific, Fleisher Art Memorial will receive $320,000 over four years, and the Clay Studio will receive $375,000 over four years. Of the other organizations, only the Fringe Festival, at $365,000, received in this relatively low dollar range. Here’s the list of other awards:


Philadelphia Teatre Company, $410,000
Arden Theater Company $425,000
Wilma Theater $480,000
Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia $692,000
Annenberg Center $750,000
Opera Company of Philadelphia $750,000

At the grand opening of Rebekah Templeton Gallery. On the left is Ben Will, who with Sarah Eberle is one of the owners. That’s Maggie Van Scoyk on the right. She came with us to the opening there of Sara Gates’ work.

It’s a reflection of the failure of the city and all players in the arts power structure to take in the importance of what is going on right now in the visual arts in this city. On Thursday, Roberta and I went to four art exhibits off the beaten track in Philadelphia, at four artist-run galleries–Rebekah Templeton, Flux Space (AAMS), Bobo’s on 9th and Padlock. Only one of those galleries has been around for more than a month or two, and one of them just opened that very night. That same night we visited Jenny Jaskey/Tower, which is about a year old and has been professional to the core. We didn’t get to all the gallery spaces at the fabulous Crane Arts Center or to Projects Gallery, Project Basho spaces that also had Second Thursday receptions. There may have been more, but these were on my radar.


These are just a sampling of what’s been going on, with new art spaces–galleries, studios–showing up all over the place, giving their walls over to cutting edge art. Some is great, some is not, but the all-important conversation on what’s got merit that these spaces are participating in gets little coverage in the print media (except for Roberta’s Philadelphia Weekly columns, which provide only limited space). Here on artblog, we try to keep up, but the stream of art making and art showing is so enormous, that we cannot.

Colt Hausmann
Colt Hausmann’s silk-screened paper bracelets–commentary on rubber bracelet fundraisers for various causes, at Bobo’s on 9th.

The heart of the visual arts revolution is not in the non-profit institutions with track records. I am not saying that these institutions don’t deserve the money or don’t play important parts in the city’s cultural life. What I’m saying is the financial powers that be just don’t get the excitement that’s going on here, and because they are weighed down by boards and bean-counter requirements to show “results” that are quantifiable, they are missing the boat on encouraging what is most exciting and potentially fruitful.


To put it another way, foundations are conservative institutions and are therefore unable to capitalize on–and encourage–the local visual art revolution.

In addition, the Wallace Foundation is collaborating with The Philadelphia Foundation and the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance to create a learning network for all Philadelphia arts organizations and to foster arts engagement in Philadelphia. The collaboration, funded by a $1.9 million grant, will inform and support the participation-building work of many arts organizations throughout the city. This will benefit many mid-sized arts organizations not included in the awards listed here.

Jon Olivieri's painted recreation of an animation he developed on the computer, at Jenny Jaskey/Tower Gallery
Jon Olivieri’s painted recreation of an animation he developed on the computer, at Jenny Jaskey/Tower Gallery

Again, while I love all these organizations to death for the good works they do for large and mid-sized non-profit arts organizations, I am lamenting the support for that bubbling up coming from the grass roots.

What is happening here caught more attention in the New York Times than it has in any local print media. Where’s the trend story in the Philadelphia Inquirer? Here on the hoof, what we ourselves see is more and more artists making Philadelphia their home–not second string artists but first rate ones. They are not coming here because of the venerable, funded institutions, but
1) because of the relatively low cost of living compared to New York,
2) the increasingly networked groups of artists who are making things happen here, and
3) the fabulous new spaces where they can show their work at the drop of a hat.

Annette Monnier
Annette Monnier, detail (foreground) of Portal of History, an installation at Padlock Gallery

They know about this not from the Philadelphia print media but from the word-of-mouth artists network and also from Artblog. How is Philadelphia going to capitalize on this–a high quality, low-cost primary art market? A bigger audience is one piece of the picture, but it needs to be a bigger audience for the small locales with big thinker artists. And it needs to be an audience who’s not afraid to collect, locally. (Hey, I don’t get that failure of local collectors to buy in Philadelphia. What’s the risk in investing on art that’s so reasonably priced?) That would build on the sizzle and the talent that’s here right under our noses.