Allow Vox Populi to re-introduce themself, the scoop on Director Danny Orendorff and Vox’s future

Artblog Radio host Logan Cryer, sits down with Danny Orendorff, Executive Director of Vox Populi since May of 2018. This podcast gives the under-known inside scoop on Danny's career prior to Vox, the values he brings to the collective, and the slow but important changes that have been occurring within Vox since his appointment as Executive Director.

Danny Orendorff, a white man with dirty blonde, short hair, stands facing slightly to the right. He is smiling and his hands are held together in front of his chest in a clapping position. He is wearing jeans, a brownish-green tee shirt, and a blue denim jacket that is over his shoulders but not through his arms. The background of the photo is a digitally rendered blue with orange zig-zag stripes.
Danny Orendorff, Executive Director of Vox Populi. Photo courtesy Danny Orendorff. Edited for Artblog Radio.

Artblog Radio’s Logan Cryer sat down recently for a virtual interview with Vox Populi‘s Executive Director, Danny Orendorff. Though Danny has been the Executive Director of Vox since May of 2018, there’s a lot you might not know about him. Or about the slow but radical changes that have been occurring within Vox Populi before, and since, his arrival. In this 33 minute podcast episode you’ll hear why Danny left his position as the Curator of Public Programs at the Museum of Arts and Design in Manhattan, why he favors alternative artist collectives like Vox Populi, how and why Vox members are working together and with the community, and what’s in store for the future of Vox.

You can listen to Artblog Radio on Apple Podcasts and Spotify. Thank you to Kyle McKay for composing Artblog Radio’s original podcast intro and outro!


  • Transcription

    Logan Cryer: [00:00:12] Hello friends. You are listening to Artblog Radio, recorded in Philadelphia. My name is Logan Cryer and I am hosting this episode, an interview with the Executive Director of Vox Populi, Danny Orendorff. Danny Ordendorff is a curator and writer whose work explores the intersections of DIY and/ or craft oriented cultural production, histories of grassroots social justice activism, and theories of gender and sexuality.


    He has been the director of Vox populi since May, 2018, which also was the year Vox celebrated its 30th anniversary as an artist collective. In this episode, Danny and I talk about his experience in life prior to his move to Philadelphia, how Vox Populi has shifted within the last three years, and the upcoming programming that will be hosted by the gallery this spring. I started my conversation with Danny by asking about his Chicago origins.

    But I know like Chicago is like such a big part of your, kind of like professional, personal journey.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:01:26] Yeah, well, so I am born and raised in the South suburbs of Chicago. So Chicago has just been home for me, you know, in various senses of the words both professionally and personally.


    So, Chicago. I kind of came back to Chicago after a period of living on the West coast, you know, for school and sometime after school, undergrad and, you know, and I came back actually to work for this thing called the Renegade Craft Fair, which at the time was in Chicago and Brooklyn, but was looking to expand out West to San Francisco and Los Angeles.

    And these are kind of, these massive marketplaces for handmade goods. And it actually started before Etsy. So I’m dating myself a little bit, but it was very much born out of the kind of indie, DIY, craft, kind of resurgence that was happening in the late nineties and early two thousands. You know, it was a lot of makers that were organizing themselves on things like live journal (laughs) and Renegade Craft Fair really kind of took over public spaces and allowed for these vending opportunities to independent artisans and artists of all kinds. So. That to me was really my entree into Chicago, into the very kind of artist-ran DIY scene that Chicago has, which I think has a lot of overlap here in Philadelphia.

    And Chicago, you know, my time there between working for Renegade, and I was going back to school at the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, and writing a little bit for Art in america, and I was working for this amazing lesbian feminist sex shop called “Tulip,” and doing some independent curatorial work… And really, you know, the flexibility of Chicago and its kind of diversity of outlets for art and culture, both, you know, super small scale grassroots, and then hyper institutional, I found myself kind of navigating through a many of these spaces, figuring out who I was both personally and professionally.


    And you know, my career kind of took me on various paths. I did a curatorial fellowship out in Kansas City for a few years, came back to Chicago and worked for a gallery called Three Walls, and ran the Propellor Fund grant, which is Chicago’s version of the Velocity Fund grant, so it’s another one of the Warhol regranting initiatives.

    But then I kind of found myself after, you know, handful of years in and out of gallery spaces, DIY spaces, craft fair institutional spaces, working for a museum in Manhattan, the Museum of Arts and Design. So I took a job there as the Curator of Public Programs and was in that job for just about two years before it was very clear to me that this was not– for me– the kind of vision or the dream of going to work for this established big budget Manhattan museum with the curatorial title. It was demystified for me very quickly.

    And I found myself so drawn to coming back to work for spaces like Vox Populi, which were not so hierarchical or bureaucratic, where I still could be hands-on with my projects. That’s always been super important to me. And, and also where artists really had a real say and investment in the culture of the place and the operations of the place and the artistic and creative direction of it. So I… yeah, that’s my kind of long winding road in a nutshell.

    But I think that, to me, it was really a kind of return to form because it has always been artist-ran spaces, DIY spaces, that I’ve felt most at home and have felt most of a kind of, creative and political allegiance to throughout my career.

    Logan Cryer: [00:05:44] Yeah, something that’s so interesting about your kind of professional trajectory is how you’ve both operated in DIY and institutional spaces.

    I think Vox is probably a pretty unique amalgamation of both of those things. But I, especially in Philadelphia, there’s so much DIY art culture and a lot of DIY or independent curation And not always clear pathways of what it means to be an independent curator and what are actually the career moves that people can do.

    So I’m curious what made you want to apply to be the Executive Director at Vox? You know, what was it about that position session in particular that you felt like really called to all the things that you had done before? Both institutional and DIY?

    Danny Orendorff: [00:06:30] Yeah. Well, it’s funny because my curatorial work had always really been independent and really an extension of my journalism.

    So I got started as a writer and I was in and out of you know, different art publications, local city papers, just kind of freelancing around and really for me, and part of why my interest in DIY and craft has always remained is I’ve been very interested in kind of what the situation of artists is in any given place, or at any given time. So the kind of the broader structures at play, you know, that determine the viability of a life as an artist in a particular place or time.

    So the Bay area was a really formative place for me in that regard, you know, when I was there in the early two thousands. Just with the kind of influx of money from the tech industry, and the pressure it was putting on real estate for artists, for communities of color, for immigrant communities. And that, for me, has been the thing that fascinates me. Is how artists resist through their own organizing. So whether that’s through living cooperatively, opening a collective space, fundraising in really unique and amazing ways, and…. Chicago, the Bay area and Philadelphia, I think are really similar, in that, a lot of the art scene is overlapping with a lot of the activists scene, is overlapping with a lot of the queer scene, and that Venn diagram for me has been my place in the world. (Logan and Danny laugh)

    And so yeah, so that’s just to say that my curatorial projects– the ones that I’ve really put my name, and my energy, and all my love, and all of my research, and my thought, and my care into– were ones that address social political and economic issues, and that I did for institutions that got to know me or my work through my writing or other small-scale organizing I was doing. It was supported by those institutions, really, in more of a guest curator relationship. So working for the Museum of Arts and Design in New York, which is where I was at before here, was my first on-staff curatorial position.

    And the dynamics of that were really different, in that I was working within a department that had certain kind of goals, or ambitions, or promises to funders or, you know, programmatic commitments that they needed to fulfill. And my work was really to help the institution fulfill those things.

    You know, that being said, I could innovate and make certain choices within that framework. But a lot of what I did as a curator in an institutional role was a little bit predetermined by the mission and the ambitions of the institution. So, yeah, so I, I felt like getting out of that situation also freed me up to pursue, again, some of the independent curatorial endeavors that really are my lives work. Like that’s my creative outlet, that’s my journalistic outlet. And Vox, I think, can provide that kind of platform for artists and organizers and curators here in Philadelphia. And I really believe it, in it, as a space that folks can kinda sort out for themselves, who they are, what they want to say, and how they want to say it in exhibition form. If exhibitions are their chosen mode of communication.

    So that for me is, is part of what the transition was about as well. And so, you know, just to, you know, put the period at the end of this sentence, is that I still do independent curatorial projects outside of Vox for different museums and galleries around the country when those opportunities come up or when I’ve really got the (laughs) capacity to pursue them.

    Logan Cryer: [00:10:45] (laughs) Yeah. Like something I want to ask about with Vox, and talking about kind of the intersection of art, and activism, and queerness, and all the things you’ve kind of mentioned… One, I want to ask you to kind of talk about what the structure of Vox Populi is, for people who either may not know, or it might have changed in the last few years since they last heard about it.

    And you’ve been at Vox for the last three or so years? And so kind of, what is the structure of Vox? What were you kind of coming into when you started as the Executive Director in 2018? And then also kind of going into, what are some of the changes that are happening now due to the pandemic? And, you know, a lot of arts organizations have had to restructure themselves or have chosen to creatively reconsider what it is that they’re doing.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:11:39] Yeah. Wow. It’s so. I’ll say. So I started at Vox in June of 2018, and I had known about Vox previously, actually, when I was working for Three Walls back in Chicago, we were part of an exchange that Vox had hosted. So that was my first experience, so I had put up some work that was Three Walls supported by Cauleen Smith and Claire Pentecost, back in, I think that was 2015. And I was kind of just so taken by the space, and the scale, and… it was a clunky experience, of course, (laughs) you know, like I didn’t really know who was, you know, stewarding the project… but I think that I, you know, I was able to fit in, in that context in a way, because I had been in and out of other DIY spaces.

    So anyway, it, I guess for me, I, I was a little naive when I came to Vox. I’ll admit, I think that, you know, I… assumed a lot more about Vox’s role within the communities (chuckles) of Philadelphia then might have actually been consistent for the organization prior to my arrival.

    So, you know, and part of, I think why I, to, to kind of speak to your earlier question as well, why I think museums and galleries were interested in me and my work when I was younger, was that community engagement and involvement and you know, using the kind of free and publicly subsidized spaces of non-profit galleries to host conversations about pressing social and political and you know, economic issues has just been part of my process as an organizer and a curator.

    So, I really felt when I came to Vox that the organization had, despite, you know, calling itself alternative space, had almost felt a little more traditional in some of its choices of who it was supporting and who was there. I was noticing it was a lot of folks that were recent graduates from MFA and BFA programs, and while maybe they were working in sculpture and installation or multimedia in some way, I thought to myself, you know, how alternative really is that when you see that kind of stuff at museums, major museums, at this point anymore?

    So a big kind of meta question for me has been about, what is really the alternative space anymore? And who is it for? And… and how is it structured? So I think another big thing that I learned about Philadelphia is that, unfortunately, because the arts are not very well publicly supported in this city, it can feel like a real pay-to-play kind of environment. So you have a lot of these collective spaces, of which Vox was one, that you had to be a member and pay member dues in order to really have access to it.

    And I really committed myself to undoing that for the organization. So whether that was kind of trying to minimize the reliance that the organization has on member dues as part of its operating revenue, or by innovating within that model, kind of work your dues, or earn your dues opportunities for different artists that couldn’t afford a monthly fee to be part of this organization.

    And so a lot of those changes kind of happened in these informal experiments over time. And then alongside of that, I really hit the ground with like creating partnerships, bringing in more people to produce events in our space. We have, you know, 4,300 square feet. I’m like, this place should be popping all the time with activity! And I just wanted more life in the venue on a weekly basis! So before the pandemic, we were doing sometimes four or five events a week, whether those were our own organized, you know, performances, or concerts, or film screenings, where they were rentals of pop-up marketplaces or poetry readings, or other sorts of community events, or drag shows, or, you know, or student engagements, like… I, I just wanted to undo all of those barriers to participation and lower them.

    And then the last thing I’ll say is that Vox never had a Community Engagement Committee. You know, the committee structure here, as a collective, we ran the space with usually around 25 artists at a time in the organization. You know, it was kind of structured between performance and exhibitions.

    And any more, I’m like, there’s so many folks in the organization that are organizers, you know? They’ve got a foot in the art scene, that they’ve got a foot in the nightlife scene, they’ve got a foot in the activist scene, and I felt like the space could be such a resource to those, those individuals as well.

    So. We dedicated a section of our venue to community engagement projects um, space where, you know, outside of our performance venue known as Black Box– which is literally a black box with no windows, and it can be very sweaty and very stuffy and hot in there as many of you probably know, so– I wanted to dedicate a more comfortable part of her venue that was, you know, flushed with natural light and that you could have the windows open and some breeze going through the space to those kinds of community oriented projects, whether they be workshops or round table discussions. So yeah. So during the pandemic, that’s really been part of what we’ve developed. We’ve done some renovating in order to open up even more of that space for workshops and community projects.

    And I think as well, because the pandemic has been such a political time between all of the racial justice uprisings, the economic crises that have been tandem with this pandemic, I really felt where are the artists’ voices in this? Like, we are an alternative, independent space. We should be taking a position. We should be issuing our messages. And I’m really so grateful to the fact that I think because of some of the changes we. Initiated and that, you know, had really been initiated even before I got here by very crucial members for the organization, I think like Lane Speidel, and Imani Roach, and E. Maude Haak-Frendscho and Maddie Hewitt, lots of people that you know, are doing different kind of organizing, involved in different kinds of conversations around Philadelphia.

    We had the right team to kind of launch some public messaging campaigns around these issues, like No To Zero For The Arts. We partnered and reached out and connected with other small scale grassroots, progressive arts organizations in the city, like Spiral Q and Girls Rock Philly, Applied Mechanics, Bearded Ladies Cabaret, and really formed a coalition, an artist coalition. We call ourselves The Artists Coalition for Just Philadelphia, and we talk through a number of these issues and concerns and produce demonstrations and infographics.

    And, you know, while we were. So kind of sequestered to our homes and our laptops. That really felt like a great way to get this voice from artists out and into the world and make sure that Vox Populi um, with our values were part of the conversation.

    Logan Cryer: [00:19:47] Hmm.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:19:47] Yeah.

    Logan Cryer: [00:19:49] It’s been really nice seeing the advocacy work that Vox has been doing, especially in the last year. And even to make changes you know, so far as to be making renovations to the building is kind of a huge shift. (laughs)

    Danny Orendorff: [00:20:02] Yeah. I mean, I think it really, you know, Vox was kind of structured as a gallery for so long. And what was crazy to me was, unless you really were putting up or taking them on a show, you know, an exhibition, or you were participating in a performance that night, you didn’t really have a reason to be here.

    And that bothered me. I’m like, we’re a collective, like where is the collective? Why aren’t they hanging out here at the venue on a weekly basis? And sure we were coming together for openings and for meetings, but where was the space to ideate and share skills and share ideas and resources?

    And that was really kind of a driving force for tearing down at least two walls that surrounded one of our galleries. So we went down by a gallery and then opened up additional floor space that we’re developing over time, over the course of this year, into more of an evergreen kind of lounge environment within Vox with some tables for people to do workshops, we’ve got some screen printing equipment and the dream project, which Maddie Hewitt, one of our artists and is really taking the lead on facilitating is, the dream is to kind of create a medicinal herb garden within the, within the venue. Yes. Something that’s like solar powered and you know, we call it “The Dream Machine” just as this kind of metaphor for sustainability. So, you know, we’re going to collect rain water, purify it, pump it through some sort of solar powered irrigation system into this hydroponic garden that we’re designing.

    So that’s our big project for this year. It’ll kind of live in a more evergreen way at the center of our, of our space. So we hope we’ll get there. We’re doing lots of workshops along the way in the process. And that’s really what our Community Engagement Committee is working on is kind of structuring that this long-term goal of this long-term project. So.

    Logan Cryer: [00:22:05] Mm. Yeah. When you brought up the Dream- Dream Machine, right?

    Danny Orendorff: [00:22:09] Yes. That’s a work- that’s the (chuckles) work in progress title. Yeah.

    Logan Cryer: [00:22:13] I mean, I think you’ve nailed it.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:22:15] Thanks. (laughs)

    Logan Cryer: [00:22:18] With that project that you said Maddie is running, and then also Sarah Kim‘s project that’s also happening as a Black Box Curatorial Fellow, when you look at the upcoming events at Vox, there’s a lot of things that are around environmentalism. And I was like, is that because earth day in in April? (Danny laughs) Or is maybe Vox going towards you know, every month we kind of have a theme where we’re kind of, we want to do programming around this theme? It might be neither of those things.

    But can you talk a little bit about (laughs)… Can you talk a little bit about the upcoming programming from April? And maybe, as someone from the outside, who’s like speculating what this means, maybe I’m reading too much into it, or is it maybe indicative of some of the things Vox is moving towards for the future?

    Danny Orendorff: [00:23:03] I think it is. I think it really came organically from interest throughout the collective, so… And I should say, it’s a mix of kind of horticultural related projects, but also projects that explore the kind of animal world, and flora and fauna through queer, and I kind of interpretations of, you know, life on earth and, and all of the hierarchies that separate the human from the non-human and really trying to intervene within that.

    But that’s something that I’d say, you know, has been running through the work of various collective members, like Lane Speidel, and Marion Horowitz, and Raúl Romero, as well as our previous curatorial fellow Malachi Lily, and our current curatorial fellow, Sarah Kim. And I think that’s just something that is happening in Philadelphia.

    I think that people are realizing that our relationship to the land, our relationship to the non-human, our relationship to nature, is political. And it’s indicative of particular kinds of values and ethics with which people treat, and really invest, in the local. So for me, it’s like, the idea of having this garden within Vox is so appealing because it really requires care, but that care yields, you know, a bounty that then is sustaining and, and stimulating and sus-taining, you know, and.

    And what we can do with that, whether it’s making syrups, or sodas or, you know, tinctures, or whatever, I’m really excited to see what comes out of it, whether it’s, you know, doing more things with natural dye or you know, there’s just a range of ways that we can go, you know, if by investing in, in a, in a amenity like that for the space.

    But to speak specifically about Sarah Kim’s project, which I’m so excited about reopening the galleries with this month, they, you know, proposed this idea for the Black Box Curatorial Fellowship– which is historically, one that’s more dedicated to performance based work, but we shifted some of the language around to be more accommodating of time-based practices, so whether that’s workshops, education, fashion gardening, horticulture, et cetera– we really wanted to widen the scope of what time-based work means. And Sarah came at that time with this really great project looking at the way different QTBIPOC artists and designers in Philadelphia are working with sustainable textile and garment design, and presenting their work in these kind of fantastical installation environment.

    So there will be five key main artists in the show, plus some additional work by other artists throughout Philadelphia that are all exploring these concepts and these techniques and these practices through a variety of different strategies. So it, and as it kind of happens at Vox, things just turn out a little simpatico, like w we, you don’t even plan for it, but it just kind of turns out that the same people that show at the same time kind of have this nice resonance with one another.

    So the other shows we’re opening really have a lot to do with issues related to identity, to nature, and to sustainability, and to intimacy. So. Blanche Brown and Cristina Keiffer are showing some great new installation and sculptural furniture work, exploring concepts of proximity using a lot of the kind of ephemera of the pandemic, like masks and things like that. Maddie is launching the kind of first iteration of this Dream Machine Ideation lab, which we’re calling the Collective Visioning Space, Raúl Romero is showing his work related to the kind of Sonic experience of the Coqui frog of uh, Puerto Rico, and how that maintains the sort of connection to place. And then we have a guest artist, Stephanie Powell, who is doing a multi-channel video installation called “I can see it in your eyes.” And it really explores her experience as a Japanese American woman.

    So it’s going to be this really great kind of array of projects that all are using a lot of atmospheric and environmental elements to explore issues of identity and issues of place.

    Logan Cryer: [00:27:45] Hmm. Yeah. Well, we’re getting ready to wrap up now. And something I wanted to just draw attention to and I guess give gratitude towards, is that in the way you’re talking about how Vox is changing, you’re really centering your language and attention and focus towards what Vox members are doing to change from the inside out rather than kind of, you know, advertising to everyone like, “please we’re different. We’re trying to do this, come do this thing.” Like, it seems like you are, you’re really doing deep internal work and are okay with the slowness of that. And so I just really admire that so much. I wanted to shout that out.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:28:25] Thanks so much! Yeah. I mean, and that’s, again, I just want to give credit to the artists who, you know, over the course of this pandemic really initiated….

    I mean, we were doing a lot of this internal work prior to, but you know, when I think we were… kind of relieved of the, you know, the grind of putting up and taking down shows and doing so many events, it really gave us so much space and time to do a lot of that interrogation, and we drafted this, you know, eight page value statement document that outlined certain commitments as things more explicitly than I think Vox had said previously.

    We’ve committed ourselves to different kind of recruitment methods for both the membership and the board. We initiated a lot of turnover at the board level and we’ll be recruiting new leadership in that regard to the organization as well this year. So it does feel like the past year or two in this one as well will be these watershed transformational moments for the organization.

    And I hope one that sets it on a path that you know, Is more accessible and it is more transparent between what has been, in my opinion, like a very kind of. You know hard to Vox has always been such a moving target. You know, I think it’s always been determined by who’s there at any given time, but I think, you know, we’re really investing in the place in one another and, and that, you know, I’m here, but I have one amongst I work for the membership, honestly.

    So I followed their lead in terms of you know, what we’re working on and how we’re doing it.

    Logan Cryer: [00:30:07] Yeah. So while all this transformation is happening, Vox still is opening for the first time while this month. And I know there’s a lot of different avenues for engagement that people can have with Vox, so I, you know, if it’s a long list, feel free to shorten it to what makes the most sense, but what are the ways that people can become involved with Vox Populi?

    What are some maybe, close coming events and things that people can have access to? Where can people find you on social media? If they want to ideate with you or their process for that?

    Danny Orendorff: [00:30:43] Yeah. So we’ll do, I’ll do some plugs here at the end. I feel like it’s yeah, this is, this is my moment for my like elevator pitch, but . So the new show is opening on Friday, April 16th, and we’ll be opening through May 23rd and we have open gallery hours from noon to six Fridays through Sundays, or you can make an appointment that comes through the space And we really, you know, are trying to direct people to or Instagram, which is @VoxPopuliGallery.

    To schedule a visit because you know, this building typically has these massive First Friday openings, and it’s just the doors open and you can come and go. And obviously, unfortunately, we can’t do that right now, so people can schedule a visit to come and see us and get to know what we’re doing in the space.

    But. Yeah, we’re going to be launching some outdoor events over April and may. Some things to do with Sarah Kim’s project, an outdoor paper-making workshop, and outdoor fashion show, hopefully, and then as well, Raúl Romero, we’ll be doing some sound walks with his um, Coqui sound sculpture tricycle.

    So that’ll be really fun, but then more on a kind of ongoing way, we’re going to be launching our new open call for both board and collective members at Vox Populi in the next month. So we’ll be having some info sessions. Those will probably be virtual. So, you know, you can find out information about those on the website and following us on social media.

    And what else, what else? And then there will probably be some other open calls where our little backlogged with exhibitions and projects, because we were closed for a year, but Yeah, there will. We’re hoping to open up a open call specifically for an opportunity for local artists. And then our solo exhibition open call is typically for artists from all over the country and beyond.

    So those will roll out over the course of the year. And hopefully as things go smoothly with reopening and you know, both for us, but you know, all over the country and the world. So yeah, so just stay tuned that those are things that are. You know, we always kind of work on the most looming deadline and then the next one gets announced, but there will be plenty going on this spring and summer.

    Logan Cryer: [00:33:06] That’s so exciting.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:33:08] Yay.

    Logan Cryer: [00:33:10] Well, thank you so much for doing this interview. This was great.

    Danny Orendorff: [00:33:13] Yeah. Thank you, Logan. Thanks so much for your interest in the time.

    Logan Cryer: [00:33:18] Thank you for listening to Artblog Radio. Please be sure to listen to our other episodes and to check out for more content on Philadelphia arts and culture.