South Philadelphia is one of those artist enclaves that never gets publicized, never gets a sort of Latin Quarter reputation and will hopefully never turn into one of those places where the boutiques outnumber the bodegas, where coffee is some sort of religious event and where the cost of studio space turns the neighborhood into — please forgive me — New Hope.
The qualities of life in South Philadelphia are precisely those qualities that attract artists — reasonable rents, good markets, proximity to Center City, family values and great street food. Still, the creation of art is sustained mostly by the consumption of art, i.e. the art world and its associated merchandising. Thus, New York has spawned the uptown Madison Avenue art scene and the catchy phrases of SoHo and Tribeca (for the uninitiated, these stand for South of Houston Street and Triangle Below Canal).
So far, South Philadelphia has remained somewhat underground. A number of artists maintain studios in zoning districts where studios are not allowed or, if they are, they are unknown to the authorities who might tax them as businesses. We have had some art studios and artists’ homes as part of an annual tour that includes South Philadelphia in a citywide sweep but, for the most part, our "art world" is below the radar screen.
Now, however, critical mass cannot be denied. There is no question that "South of South: The Community of Artists" is a long overdue concept. Simply put, seven local art venues are throwing out the welcome mat to art buyers. The good news is that the project is intelligently organized.
The project consists of South Philadelphia artists working off a standard form — a plywood cutout of a home — to demonstrate each artist’s idea of what home and community mean. The project launched May 9 and continues through the end of the month. Each venue has different hours of operation, so call for details.
The impetus for the simultaneous art exhibitions was James Dupree of the Dupree Gallery. He is an accomplished artist who was born in Pittsburgh and received his bachelor’s degree in fine arts in Ohio and his master’s from the University of Pennsylvania. Dupree has been a Philadelphia resident for more than 20 years. He has had some success locally and in Europe. The artist shown locally at the Fleisher Art Memorial, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts and the Painted Bride.
According to Dupree, "The event will stimulate artistic awareness in our neighborhood, identify artists in the community, stimulate business, support the ideal of home ownership and maintain the rich artistic culture that already exists here." He noted that his commitment is such that he’ll keep the exhibition going through June 15.
One of the exciting parts of this project is that most of the participating artists will be creating new works especially for this series of exhibitions. David Foss, coordinator of the Da Vinci Art Alliance, expects more than 60 artists to be involved at his venue alone. While this kind of project makes a review extraordinarily difficult, it does provide an opportunity for South Philadelphia residents to find out more about the artist down the street and possibly to purchase a piece of art that would cost 10 times the price in Center City.
One note: The majority of the artists is expected to be from the Queen Village and Bella Vista neighborhoods. This, by a long shot, doesn’t include a vast number of artists elsewhere and those more established artists long in residence in South Philadelphia who are working on their own agendas.
A second note: This is not meant to be political, but the community was founded by Swedes, built up by Jewish Americans and Italian Americans, and will probably be driven forward by a coalition of Asians. This means great food will continue, but I warn of shop signs in French or in pseudo-Olde English — these are clear signs of high prices and a time to move on.
South of South: The Community
B. Square Gallery,
South Ninth Street
Beau Monde Restaurant,
624 S. Sixth St.,
Da Vinci Art Alliance,
704 Catharine St.,
703 S. Sixth St.,
Hand Impressions Gallery,
759 S. Fourth St.,
510 Bainbridge St., 215-238-0840
622 S. Fifth St.,