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Weekly Update 2 – Bodega’s the place in Old City


This new performance and exhibition space in Old City generated buzz well before it opened in July. Today, it’s the most exciting and experimental art venue in the city’s so-called arts district, a place where it’s now easier to get good coffee than it is to see art that’s pushing the envelope.

Bodega founders, top-bottom, Lydia Okrent, James Pettengill, Ariela Kuh, Elyse Derosia

The five Hampsire College grads who run the space—Elyse Derosia, Ariela Kuh, Lydia Okrent, James Pettengill and Eric Veit—saw a need for more experimental programming than they were seeing in their trips around town. So in true Philly fashion, they decided to do it themselves—find a space, sign a lease and get it in shape for exhibits. They may be young (ages from 24-28) but they incorporated as an LLC and are now a project of Fractured Atlas, a fiscal sponsor for arts groups.  They don’t show their own work—it’s not about them.  But they do make art and perform elsewhere.  Eric Veit (pronounced Veet) performs at Extra Extra this Saturday, 8pm.

“We’re not a collective,” they insist. But they do collaborate. Because the Bodega-ites feel more kinship with Extra Extra on Frankford Avenue than anywhere else in town, they recently teamed up with that space for a double-venue exhibit by Alex Da Corte. And on May 14, they are collaborating again for BYOB (beamer), i.e projector, a one-night invitational video, slide and light festival, based on the idea originated by Rafaël Rozendaal.

Before that, Bodega will hold a fundraiser May 7 at the gallery to make some needed improvements to the space. The event will feature music by the Ducktails, food by the new truck Yumtown and an auction/raffle of specially made art for the home. Stay tuned April 1 for a new show by Chicago artists.

>>Soft Smoke Rises in Gay Rings Above the Roof: Heidi Norton, Carson Fisk-Vittori, Stephen Eichhorn & Ryan Fenchel: April 1-23, opening reception April 1, 6-10pm. Bodega, 253 N. 3rd St.

Read this at Philadelphia Weekly.

More from my conversation with Bodega
Where did Bodega name come from
We didn’t want to be “Space 253” – that’s been done. The word meant so many things. it’s a fruit stand; it means storage in Portuguese. (They like the idea of an art storage place.)

How did you find this space?
Elyse got in touch with the rest and they all agreed to look for space. Only looked at one place and took it. They have a great landlord and they will be renewing their lease for another year. They like the location and get a lot of foot traffic on First Friday.

You do exhibits that last longer than a month. Why is that?
The calendar in Philly is marked by First Friday and a month is too short. It’s hard to see a show in a month. For a small town with a small scene that’s fine but Philly is a big scene. And it prohibits seeing stuff. (So they do 6-week shows and lay fallow for 2 weeks). April 1 is our next show.

You are publishing zines now?
We just started Bodega Press. We collaborate with the artists in the show. Those publications are for sale. (They also have a browsing library in which the zines are not for sale).

How do you get artists to work with?
Most artists we showed are east coast artists. In April we have four Chicago artists.

Are you looking for another space? You’ve been here almost a year.
Rent is reasonable. It’s the first place we looked at and we took it. Getting it going was difficult. Had to paint it put some lights in…etc.  (Curiously, the basement has wooden floors).

Fractured Atlas
From the start they wanted to become a project of Fractured Atlas…for the donations. People can write off donation as charitable giving.

Are you incorporated?
We formed an LLC.

Will you show your own work?
We don’t show our own work here. (Lydia and Eric did performances at their opening but apart from that, they won’t show their own work.)

What are your day jobs?
Elyse-works at Fleisher Art Memorial
Ariela-is assistant kindergarten teacher @Friends Select
Lydia-freelances..Children’s Literacy Project…I do video editing for my dad. I’m self taught
Eric-works at Fireball printing
James-house painting and contracting stuff

What did you major in in college?
Elyse-photo and sculpture
Eric-performance and printed matter
Lydia-performance, dance. I studied dance

How do you work with artists? Do you have a light or heavy curatorial hand?
We want to give artists space and time. But we do have a curatorial hand, also organizational…it depends on artist. With Alex da Corte we could be hands off. He knows the space, he lives in Philly.. If you hated the postcard image for the show, (guy, face hidden under hat, giving you the finger) that was Alex.

How do you communicate with each other…email? meetings? Skype?
Eric, Elyse and Ariela are roommates; James lives nearby. They do a lot of emails….some meetings, about every 2 weeks or so. They even formed some committees so they don’t all have to be there at one time.

Lydia-It feels a little like playing dress up.