Newsletter

Philadelphia whiplash, Forman Arts Initiative’s new Kensington arts project, University of the Arts’s sudden dagger to the heart

It’s not often that a community is whiplashed by the good news bad news bears. We are elated and optimistic about Forman Arts Initiative's new campus in North Philadelphia, announced on Thursday, May 30, 2024. We are upset and disheartened by the announcement Saturday, June 1, that University of the Arts is closing down for good on Friday, June 7, 2024.

GOOD NEWS

A large, empty, high-ceilinged interior space with large windows and an open stairway to a second floor has a shiny concrete floor.
Inside 2201 N. American St., one of Forman Arts Initiative’s buildings soon to be retrofitted for their planned arts campus. The building is a former Philadelphia Electric Company building.

Whiplash happened in Philadelphia this week, and to say the arts community is reeling is an understatement.

First, on the joy and optimism side – on Thursday, May 30, Forman Arts Initiative announced their new, 100,000 square-foot multi-building campus project on North American Street (yay! Support for the arts and the community!). This bold and pro-Philly arts move was received with joy, and as the leaders of FAI (Michael Forman, Jennifer Rice and Executive Director Adjoa Jones de Almeida) talked openly about their project with their project leader, artist and community advocate Theaster Gates, it was clear they were thinking community first, programming later, a wonderful thing to hear about a multi-million dollar project in a community that is gentrifying and may be wary of a new project. They were clear they will engage with the surrounding community from the ground up, and we all cheered and thought ‘Good luck, that’s going to be a hard job, but we are here to help if you need us.’

Four people sit on chairs in front of a wall filled with names of donors and others who have helped the event’s host, Taller Puertorriqueño.
Panel speaking at Taller Puertorriqueño on Thursday, May 30, 2024, about the new Forman Arts Initiative campus envisioned for North American Street. Left to Right, Adjoa Jones de Almeida, Executive Director, FAI, artist Roberto Lugo, Denise Brown, Executive Director of Leeway Foundation, and artist, social innovator, and urban planner Theaster Gates.

Read More Here
FAI Press release

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BAD NEWS

A photo shows a group of five African male cut out figures standing together in a corner of a room, all are wearing military uniforms and at attention.
Works by Samson Kambalu, part of the “Crossing Borders” installation at Rosenwald Wolf Gallery, University of the Arts, 2022

On the shock and despair side, on Saturday, June 1, 2024, University of the Arts — in a disheartening and unprecedented development — announced they’re closing down, forever, on June 7, 2024. Say what!? Due to an unspecified financial crisis, was their less than clear reason for this move. The disturbing action leaves students, faculty, staff, families, and we who love Philadelphia art, artists and arts community, in confusion and sadness. A rumor mill’s worth of angry speculations and questions arise, and we need answers.

We smell a cover up. What is the financial crisis? Why and how did it spin out of control? Where did the money go? Who’s responsible?

Our Instagram feed is filled with shock, anger and despair. The heartless business move suggests what we have long thought, that college and university level arts education is first and foremost a big business, and oh yes, a tool to support the arts, the artists and grow a thriving arts community. The action UArts took is spreadsheet-forward and completely out of touch with the artists and arts community the institution said it was serving.

Register to attend the online town hall this afternoon. It’s not clear any more “news” will be forthcoming but we will be there to support all those who are affected. (Transparency: Libby and Roberta taught Professional Practices for one semester at UArts, a number of years ago. We also were jurors of another year’s MFA exhibition, and Roberta has been a thesis advisor for several UArts MFA students.)

Read more here
UArts shuts its doors abruptly due to ‘unspecified “urgent crisis”’ – Philadelphia Inquirer
NY Times article this morning, June 3, 2024. (email editor@theartblog.org if you would like a “gift” of this article.)
Register for the June 3, 2024, 4PM Town Hall webinar.

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