Artspace Unconventional

Philadelphia has long been a vibrant and unique city for art. Without a single concentration of galleries (aside from Old City, maybe) and the lack of a Chelsea, a bevy of atypical art spaces fills the void. The spawning of these unorthodox galleries, collectives, and studios is a testament to the consciousness and creative wealth of Philadelphia artists.

In a review of the Onward ‘10 exhibition for City Paper, Jonathan Wallis pointed to this progression:

“One of the laudable aspects of Project Basho’s annual exhibition is that it reveals a churning engine of creativity at work outside of commercial art galleries and other institutional venues, and functions as a single, small piece of evidence that there is a bottleneck between a surplus of artistic production and the very narrow and selective world of those able to gain commercial representation.”

Just down the street from Project Basho is the Crane Arts building, a converted industrial space that houses artist studios and a number of art galleries and large project spaces, such as ICE. The building’s monthly exhibitions and lecture events inspires interaction and discourse. By uniting all of the galleries under one roof, the openings become a place to meet artists, share ideas, and congregate – something that rarely happens inside art institutions like large museums. A similar converted warehouse space exists at 319 N 11th Street in Philly, which is home to tons of studios and around a dozen galleries including one of Philadelphia’s oldest and most respected artist collectives, Vox Populi. The First Friday openings in this building are always one of the best places to be in the city with all the galleries usually participating, artists opening their doors to the public, and even pop-up record stores sprouting in empty studios.


A tintype of the outside of Project Basho, host of ONWARD.

Another unique-to-Philadelphia entity is Space 1026, a young artist-run collective that focuses largely on printmaking. It serves as a model for a large portion of similar fledgling artists looking to have their own place where studio space can be shared and the gallery can host monthly exhibitions and events. Project Basho is also one of Philadelphia’s unconventional art spaces. What started as a small darkroom now exists as a largely volunteer-run photography center that houses darkrooms, classroom space, and the photography gallery that is home to Onward. Project Basho is made up of students, workshop and lecture attendees, volunteers, and staff that all come together for events, classes and critiques to be part of, and to contribute to, a dynamic photography community.

Without spaces like these, the large creative pool in Philadelphia would certainly dry up with only a few large museums and commercial galleries to act as the reservoir. If you are curious about fining more out about art spaces in Philadelphia, a good starting point is Libby and Roberta’s Artblog. You can also check out their reviews from the Onward ‘08 and ‘09 exhibitions.

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