journalism_small

Homework

For Your “Me” Time

Kat Zagaria has long been one of the most active members of the Philly arts community I know. A founding member of Paperclips215, Kat acted for a long time as their writer, which made sense, since she made it a point to be out and about, attending gallery openings in Kensington, Fishtown, North Philly, and Old City. Kat took me to my very first First Friday, where I made connections with theartblog, Little Berlin—where I’ve since performed—and Curate This co-founder Amanda V. Wagner.

Kat is leaving Philadelphia for at least a while, stepping away from her job at the Barnes Foundation to pursue an advanced degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We wanted to make sure to get her perspective on Philadelphia, as someone who knows and has seen more artists and art than most in her relatively brief tenure here.

-Julius Ferraro, co-founder

My confession is that I am a podcast and long-form journalism junkie. If I have down time, I am hooking up to one of those things. Below is a list of some of the most fascinating things I’ve read and listened to. Some of these articles are old, some are new, but all have kept me breathlessly entranced, and all have been reread and enjoyed by me time after time. All of them are enlightening and feature wonderful production and storytelling. I find myself telling friends about these stories, breathlessly recounting them at parties, on bike rides, at work – they all have struck a chord deep in me and I feel privileged to be able to share them with a wider audience.

To Read

Everything was fake but her wealth. This story has everything. Diamonds in a cereal box! Carriage rides in the evening in Central Park! Gambling! And a mystery identity?

How Not to Get Away with Murder. Take someone normal, now he’s having an affair, but feels like he can’t leave his wife, so what does he do? He hires a hit man. But the hit man has no intention of carrying out the job, so he strings him along . . . millions of dollars later . . . so crazy, you will talk about this for years to come.

New Yorker Article on Peter Paul Biro. Science meets art! How great that science can revolutionize the authentication process! But wait, something is lurking…wait…

What would happen if you drank water from the Gowanus Canal? The story of how one of the country’s most polluted waterways came to be located in one of the country’s most expensive neighborhoods. Also: dysentery, cancer, and arsenic poisoning.

I have sent this article to most, if not all, of my friends. It’s filled with fascinating science history, and is generally just a wonderful piece of journalism.

To Listen

The Allusionist – Mountweazel. Everything you thought you knew about dictionaries is WRONG.

Love + Radio –  The Living Room. This episode will make you laugh, and cry, and leave you absolutely stunned at a story that seems simple on its surface. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that makes the listener realize the subtle stereotypes that lurk within us all, and the ability to be pulled in by a story as a voyeur.

The Urbanist – Museums. Can a museum exist without a centralized space? Can it be a loosely connected network of cities? What happens when a museum sounds like a terrible idea to everyone but the citizens that it serves? These are all important questions, and this podcast should be sufficiently fascinating to even those outside of the museum world.

Criminal – Dropping Like Flies. This was a difficult choice, because Criminal is such an well-researched and impeccably produced podcast that I highly recommend all of its episodes. This one is about a crime ring in North Carolina that steals venus fly traps. Who knew! These things are in such high demand that people run into the woods with spoons to dig ’em up. Why? You’ll have to listen to learn more.

Canicular Door Interior_large

My Problem with the Arts in Philadelphia

Philadelphia’s Stepchild Syndrome

Kat Zagaria has long been one of the most active members of the Philly arts community I know. A founding member of Paperclips215, Kat acted for a long time as their writer, which made sense, since she made it a point to be out and about, attending gallery openings in Kensington, Fishtown, North Philly, and Old City. Kat took me to my very first First Friday, where I made connections with theartblog, Little Berlin—where I’ve since performed—and Curate This co-founder Amanda V. Wagner.

Kat is leaving Philadelphia for at least a while, stepping away from her job at the Barnes Foundation to pursue an advanced degree in Modern and Contemporary Art History at The School of the Art Institute of Chicago. We wanted to make sure to get her perspective on Philadelphia, as someone who knows and has seen more artists and art than most in her relatively brief tenure here.

—Julius Ferraro, co-founder

It is justifiable that many artists, curators, and art-lovers alike think they cannot do anything to change the entrenched infrastructure of Philadelphia’s art world, of which complaining about being excluded from the national arts scene is something of a pastime. It is frustrating that many issues in the arts community in Philadelphia stubbornly remain despite the best intentions. One person alone likely would not be able to affect change. But there is a larger, more insidious problem at work that causes Philadelphia’s non-competitive status to stagnate, and it is the lack of collaboration on artistic endeavors.

As excited as I am about the individuals that surround me, I cannot help but feel that in Philadelphia we often pigeonhole ourselves through complaints about exclusion from the international art scene. We box ourselves in and create a self-fulfilling prophecy of never being quite able to compete with our big brother and sister cities, with us taking the role of the poor stepchild forever excluded through no fault of our own. I see it every day when curators, artists, writers, and anyone involved in the art scene offers a myriad of reasons as to why Philadelphia is not competing, not being reviewed, not being talked about. As angry we are about our situation, years of living here have beaten us down into complacency. Many of us no longer bother to look at national publications, and the latest ICA show’s snippet in Art in America goes undiscussed by the very city that wanted the press coverage so badly.

During the past five years in Philadelphia, I have found a small community of collaborators that I was looking for when I arrived. I came to the city after graduating from art school in search of new experiences, and the most intriguing people I’ve found have one primary thing in common: they are doers, and doers attract others to collaborate and make their projects bigger, better, more innovative, and more fulfilling than they ever could have dreamed them to be. I have watched as Conrad Brenner built partnerships between his blog, StreetsDept.com, and many mainstream institutions in the city, such as the Philadelphia Museum of Art. I have watched a (still budding) collaboration grow between FringeArts, our IndeGo bike share program, and the Women Bike PHL Community, which will enable more theater lovers and adventurous bikers to see the shows together this year. These are examples of the doers, who recognize that great art does not exist in a vacuum.

Collaborative projects have, in the last few years, produced some of the most interesting initiatives our city has to offer. Canicular at The Print Center in 2014 featured a collaboration with the Franklin Institute in order to fully realize artist Demetrius Oliver’s vision. Viewers watched a live feed of the Franklin Institute’s telescope view of the star Sirius—but only once they had crawled through a small doggie-door (Sirius is also known as the dog-star). As the star can only be seen at night, the Print Center had to change its hours just for the exhibit. This was not initially planned as part of Oliver’s piece, but the institution remained flexible in order for the exhibition—the collaboration—to work. It produced one of the most interesting collaborations the city has seen. Both institutions went outside of their comfort zones to produce something more intricate and beautiful than either could have done alone.

Little Berlin is a collaborative art space run by its contributor-curators. The space has no board of trustees or overseeing governing organization apart from the collaborators themselves, each of whom curates a show on a rotating basis. The result is one of the most innovative spaces that Philadelphia offers, one that is not beholden to any particular type of art. Theater, contemporary fiber installation, and interactive art all share the stage. Sometimes, Little Berlin’s shows fall flat. Other times, they are extraordinary, reflecting the diverse range of tastes that the curator-collaborators have. They are a testament to the interesting complexity that can arise when doers meet each other and make truly original art.

Collaborative art spaces need to multiply and build off of their success. Philadelphia needs more spaces that welcome a diverse audience by showcasing different types of art in innovative ways. We need spaces that encourage collaboration on an individual and institutional level. To achieve such a goal takes fiscal sponsorship, of course, but we as an arts community have to be willing to show how we support each other in our common goals. Instead of squabbling over our right to be compared to other cities, we should focus on improving ourselves. Improving our collaborative spirit will lead toward greater projects, gains in our cultural sector, and most importantly of all, great art.

Collaborations are messy. They are not a succinct process, and often the results that they yield are less than what their creators intended. But all of that is the beauty of the process.

In this, we can take a lesson from Pittsburgh and its Charm Bracelet Project, where smaller institutions are pooling their resources together to do greater projects. The project has seen a once-desolate concrete wasteland become a green space called Buhl Community Park, featuring a piece of public art by Ned Kahn called Cloud Arbor. The model that Pittsburgh has built is being touted as an example of creative collaboration and was recently featured in an American Alliance of Museums webinar on engaging new museum audiences. They are now looking at renovating the former Carnegie Library into a space fit for even more artistic collaboration and community engagement.

To take this line of thinking a step further, our city should actively collaborate with other cities on art projects—and not simply on traveling exhibitions. Artistic exchanges, residencies, and works that are created through cross-city communication should become the norm. Other cities must be invited to the table to see how wonderful the arts scene here truly is. As recognition of the communicative collaborative scene here spreads, so too will Philadelphia’s reputation as a city serious about its art.

We do nothing but hinder ourselves when we complain that we are always compared to New York and LA. Let’s give someone a reason to focus on us over New York. Let’s build something different, unique, and beautiful, and ignore anyone who says that New York is doing it better. We’re not them. But our cities have a rich, collaborative history, and it’s time for us to capitalize on that individually, institutionally, and internationally with an eye towards our inseparable artistic future.

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Disposable Life

Reject Nothing

Keristin Gaber is a photographer and a colleague of mine. All of the work I have seen of hers has been professional or scholarly in nature, and taken with a digital camera. I was curious to see what she would do with an analog camera and without the helpful hand of editing. – Kat Zagaria, Curator

 

A dumpster that says Art Museum

Caption This

Tweeting My Way Thru #ArtSchool

Suzanne Maruska once made a skirt with a repeated pattern of William Shatner’s head. Most of what I have to say about Suzanne is summed up in that sentence. I lived with her in Baltimore, and partially with her urging ended up in Philadelphia. She always brings a playful perspective to situations and thinks deeply about most anything she sees. She is a talented fibers artist and a great writer. She can be found out and about at many First Fridays and museum nights in Philadelphia, and really cares about our city and its art scene. – Kat Zagaria, Curator

 

View of Philly from Le Bok Fin

Suspicious Content

Describing Ourselves

In a recent interview with FringeArts CEO Nick Stuccio, The PEW Center for Arts and Heritage asked how mobile technology has changed outreach and audience relations for Fringe. “The availability of information at our fingertips at any time,” says Stuccio, “has raised the bar on the sophistication and depth of context materials we need to offer. Audiences know more and seek to know more about what they want to consume or have consumed.”

God he’s right. My mobile phone has me reading more reviews, previews, interviews, and overviews than ever before, and I wonder if this is a good thing. Recently I was reading Jerzy Peterkiewicz’s biographical introduction to Witold Gombrowicz‘s Three Plays, where he concludes that the Polish playwright/novelist/journalist “tended to over-explain” himself. Gombrowicz enjoyed a minor vogue in Philly, with a major production of his Operetta as a curated Fringe show in 2009 and a Pig Iron adaptation of one of his novels the same year, followed by a few productions in the Fringe regular.

Gombrowicz wrote meticulously in his Diary, a weekly column for Polish literary journal Kultura. Alongside pieces of poetic prose and to-do lists, he included essays and op-eds, fulminating against the Polish literary establishment (among many other things). He used the column to outline his philosophy, and to cement his own place in the future of philosophy and art, basing these predictions on patterns he had recognized in history. The present, of course, was not quite prepared for him.

Basically, he wrote his novels and plays, then interpreted them for us. And Peterkiewicz believes that this constant self-editorializing eventually hurt Gombrowicz’s career and his reception. “Gombrowicz was so much preparing himself for the hostile world that he tended to over-explain himself,” Peterkiewicz recalls. “Sometimes he seemed to forget that words too have their built-in obsolescence. They corrupt the sincerity that pushed them out.”

And then just yesterday, before I saw Nick’s interview, I read about Peter Zadek’s 1958 production of Jean Vauthier’s Captain Bada, where the young German director had an actress speak a single line, “Where is the exit here?” 300 times. Lots of audience members left, apparently, some responding that they knew where the exit was. Reading this, I couldn’t help but think that if someone were to do that today in Philly, they would announce it first. Everyone would know, going into the show, that there was a line which, in a slight tweak of the original script, would be recited hundreds of times, and that the director is “not sure if people will leave,” but “that’s not a part of the consideration for the moment.” Maybe they “hope people will have diverse reactions to the moment.”

Discussion is vital to theater, and previews, press releases, and interviews can comprise a key part of that discussion. But in attempting to answer to the increasing demands of mobile media, and intensifying “hype” trends in entertainment, artists struggle to define the unique selling point of their production in tweetable statements. Some things, when revealed out of context, come across as gimmicks. And reduced to that level, they lose their ability to be compelling, insulting, moving, beautiful, or strange.

Julius Ferraro is a journalist, performer, playwright, and administrator based in Philadelphia. He is co-founder of Curate This, has served as theater editor of Phindie, and writes for thINKingDANCE, Philly.com, The Smart Set, and the FringeArts blog. His recent performances include Micromania, The Death and Painful Dismemberment of Paul W. Auster, and The Mysteries of Jean the Birdcatcher with {HTP}, On the Road for 17,527 Miles with 14th Street, and his Phindie Fringe Bike Tours. With the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Restored Spaces Initiative he coordinates community-led environmental arts projects.
Photo by B. Krist for GPTMC

Take Your Shoes Off at the Door

First Friday Is Still Flawed

First Friday in Old City is reappearing on the radar. There has been a staple group of visitors for First Fridays, yet the event has a reputation for discouraging local artists from participating. “In art school, we used to go to Old City for examples of what not to do,” a friend told me as we shoved through the crowd this past Friday.

When you have a chance to actually look at the work you see that the majority is skill focused, not informed by contemporary interests, says very little about the art community in Philadelphia, and (perhaps the biggest complaint) it is overly commercial. Why go to First Friday in Old City when you can go to Frankford Ave Arts’ First Friday, or to a show at Vox Populi, and be a part of something that reflects the art community and displays relevant work?

The First Friday tradition in Philadelphia has branched out, in part because Old City was only representing a small portion of the contemporary art scene in Philadelphia. Granted, a good portion of the art showing in the 40+ galleries at Old City’s First Friday is created by local artists, and the same can be said about the street vendors—who scale from pandering flea-market-esque venders to actual artists trying to support themselves through their work.

There is a distinct difference in the crowd at Old City and Frankford Ave Arts. In Old City you are confronted by people who are traveling from outside of the city, where Frankford Ave Arts caters to and supports their North Philly community. Community (and competition) seems scarce in Old City, but there are exceptions.

Surprisingly, some non-gallery spaces in Old City are drawing on their clientele to support local talent. This past Friday Indy Hall opened its doors to the public and invited people to KIN: “a collaborative exhibition featuring the creative endeavors of an evolving artistic community.” Indy Hall is not a gallery but a member based cooperative working space. All showing artists were Indy Hall members. A wider Indy Hall community was in attendance, supporting them, and as a result, purchasing local work and advocating for our creative economy.

Art in the Age, a store that sells an array of artisanal products, featured the work of Eric Kenney. His T-shirts, flags, paintings, and prints straddle the line between commercial and art, which sits well with a shop that does the same. Art in the Age is not stepping outside of their wheelhouse when they show and sell work like Kenney’s, but what they are doing is encouraging their customers to buy from a local artist.

Support for Philadelphia’s larger art community is why people like me are returning to Old City for First Friday. There are only so many Facebook invites from friends that you can ignore, but there is still a lot of room for First Friday to become more relevant. It will never be a noncommercial experience, but it has the ear of communities outside of the arts, so it is vital for those of us involved in the art scene to look at it critically.

Amanda is an artist and writer living in Philadelphia. Her work has been displayed at the Philadelphia Institute of Contemporary Art, featured at festivals, and in events with Fait Du Vide Collective. Amanda has published with Philly.com, the Philadelphia Daily News, Art Attack, and VICE Media. In her spare time she likes to drink and draw naked ladies.