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New Creative Credo: A Celebration of the 2009 Philadelphia Art Scene

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Photo courtesy of Bambi2009 has been a year of enormous artistic explosion for the city of Philadelphia. While Old City’s First Friday still carries its impressive dog and pony show, much of the energy for the avant-garde has dispersed from the higher-brow storefronts and Second Street mainstays to bike its dusty high tops and Frye boots to Chinatown, Fishtown, and Kensington. 

Don’t get me wrong; art is certainly not dead at the usual suspects of Old City. But many practicing Philadelphia artists who use contemporary methods such as film/video, mixed media, crafting and ephemeral materials can’t find their comfortable niche there, causing a dichotomy between the traditional and those pioneering supplies for self-expression. 

In these less-touristy creative corridors, studio spaces teem with city and suburb natives side-by-side Philly transplants from New York, Chicago, Boston, and beyond. Art collectives, galleries, and alternative exhibition spaces have consequently formed, where real artistic experimentation, camaraderie, and collaboration are always in full bloom. 

Without further ado, here are some of the 2009 salutable spaces for cutting-edge artistic adventures. Be sure to add art to your 2010 agenda.

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Bambi, 1001 North 2nd Ave. Suite 7

In 2009, Bambi Gallery moved from its location on Frankford Ave. into its slick spot on the Piazza in Northern Liberties. Self-proclaimed “campy and elegant,” Bambi could have changed its clever glam-kitsch appeal for its new neighborhood but has managed to retain this distinct and trademarked popstar persona.

 

FLUXspace, 3000 N. Hope Street

With rapidly expanding programs, FLUXspace now offers exhibition space, an artist residency program, and many forms of public programming. FLUX provides arts "practioners” (a.k.a. artists, curators, etc.) the opportunity for unrestricted and uncensored experimentation. In short, this place displays raw and intelligent creativity in shows like Salad Days, a celebration of “inexperience, indiscretion and charming ignorance of an idealized youth.”

 

Photo Courtesy of HighwireHighwire, 2040 Frankford Ave.

An arts co-op that features monthly visual arts exhibitions paired with live music and video arts, Highwire removes common restrictions and collaborates with other Philadelphia groups such as Northwest Artists’ Collective and Fire Museum Records. In November, Highwire took its cozy space to a notable level with Melissa Maddonni Haims’ installation Heaven, Hell, & Original Sin.

 

Little Berlin, 119 West Montgomery

An “undefined exhibition space,” Little Berlin became a non-profit with a permanent site just this year and has been home to six group shows, including summer show Offerings which brought in over 70+ artists and filled the space with both group collaborative projects made on tight budgets along with hordes of curious arts supporters.

 

Space 1026, 1026 Arch Street 2nd Floor

Often whimsical, always exploratory, the attitude of this large art collective and studio space is best summed up in its own statement, “Space 1026 is a community - a creative community - not an institution.” Demonstrating its very Duchampian attitude, the exhibition space is home to visitor-friendly playhouses, exquisite corpses, and other forms of artistic merrymaking.

 

NEXUS, 1400 N. American St.

While NEXUS shares the common goal of incorporating fresh forms of media, it adds the goal of facilitating “public conversation regarding the meanings and methods behind today’s art.” Founded in 1975, NEXUS has grown and morphed to include TV and radio programs. Member artists have received nine Pew Fellowships in the arts, ten Independence Foundation Fellowships, and seven Leeway Foundation Emerging Artist awards, but one visit to a NEXUS event will make it clear why they have these feathers in their collective’s bonnet.

 

Skybox at 2424 Studios, 2424 East York Avenue

Perhaps the most beautiful space on this list, 2424 Studios opened in 2009 in a recently renovated industrial space that includes lofty ceilings, beautifully sandblasted original wooden beams, and natural light filtering down from the high windows. Exhibitions range greatly from the University of the Arts Book Arts thesis show to Jason Hackenwerth’s unbelievable balloon installations to the recent Philagrafika benefit event.

 

Studio 34, 4522 Baltimore Ave.

A yoga and wellness center by day, Studio 34 has adopted a secondary mission to serve up visual, performance, and musical arts for West Philadelphia to “celebrate, connect and create communities through healing and creative arts.” While that may sound too holistic for some, Studio 34 has held several interesting exhibitions such as the annual Bike Part Art Show benefit, DesignPhiladelphia, and Fringe Festival performances.

 

Tiger Strikes Asteroid, 319A North 11th Street, 4th Floor

Managed and curated by six local artists, Tiger Strikes Asteroid is a single room in the same building that holds Vox Populi. Featuring both group exhibitions and solo shows, Tiger serves up a healthy monthly dose of installation, new media, and/or more traditional art forms from local Philadelphians and out-of-state artists. It’s amazing what can happen in such a small space.

 

Vox Populi, 319 North 11th Street, 3rd Floor

For over 20 years, Vox Populi has invited out-of-town under-represented artists to highlight their work with monthly exhibitions, gallery talks, performances, lectures, and related programming. Often exhibiting many forms of digital media, Vox continues to push the boundaries between the polished world of gallery art and the creative process.

To watch for 2010: Airspace (4013 Chestnut Street), MBN Studios (725 N. 4TH St. Philadelphia, PA), and Porkchop (1536 North American Street)

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Ellen Owens is a guest writer for Philly2philly.com. She is a Philadelphia-based educator, writer, and artist. Ellen's current role as the Executive Director of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens allows her to explore and connect public and collaborative art, diversity, and Philadelphia history through educational programs, exhibitions, and performances.  She is a founding member of locally-based HomeSkooled Gallery, as well as a committee member for Plays & Players theater and a board member of the Museum Council of Philadelphia and the Delaware Valley

Owens graduated with honors from Penn State University, earning a BA in Art Education with a concentration on Museums and Cultural Institutions and a BFA in Painting and Drawing.  She received her MA in Museum Education from the University of the Arts. Owens’ experience in museum programming and education includes the Palmer Museum of Art, the Matson Museum of Anthropology, the Franklin Institute, and the American Philosophical Society Museum.  

Owens’ past arts experience includes teaching and coordinating programs at the Creative Oasis (a public art studio/gallery), along with Pennsylvania State University’s Center for Arts and Crafts and the Palmer Museum of Art.  Owens has assisted installation artists Winifred Lutz and Stacy Levy on large-scale projects and has exhibited artworks in State College, Harrisburg, and Philadelphia.