Grimaldi crafts Fleisher Art Memorial's future


As her résumé includes prominent awards and positions in such cultural havens as Barcelona, New York City and Rome, Elizabeth Grimaldi has become quite acquainted with distinction yet has never developed an elitist attitude regarding creative aptitude.

The 32-year-old has promoted her all-inclusive approach along each journey and has hoped to inspire a similar stance since her April 1 appointment as the executive director of the Fleisher Art Memorial, 719 Catharine St.

“I have so many aspirations, with all of them relating to my belief that creative outlets should be accessible to everyone,” the resident of the 700 block of South American Street said last week from her Bella Vista-based workplace. “I’m so keen on having community members realize how their artistic needs can find fulfillment here.”

The seven-year Queen Village dweller learned last winter of the opening at the 115-year-old site, the nation’s first community-based art center, and expressed her aesthetic bent over five interviews, including a 10-hour evaluation. Emerging as the board members’ choice in February, she greatly anticipated helming the location she had long known about through her same post at North Philly-situated The Village of Arts and Humanities.

“Fleisher has a reputable history working with neighborhoods and individuals to engage them in strengthening their communities, especially for children, so I’ve come to continue that great outreach,” Grimaldi said. “I’m observing and learning every day, too, just like our students.”

Her employer, the winner of a 2011 National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award, annually provides thousands of such figures with free and low-cost studio art instruction, grants beginning and established creators exhibition space and offers School District of Philadelphia pupils arts-integrated residencies. Through focus groups, interviews and surveys, it determined two years ago how to improve access and inspire participation, selecting “Come to us,” “Show us” and “Welcome us” as its top themes.

“We’re marketing those three right now, and I’m excited to see how adults and children come to realize that art, which can appear intimidating, is actually capable of relaxing and invigorating someone,” Grimaldi said, spotlighting ColorWheels, Fleisher’s mobile art studio, and the FAMbassadors initiative that aligns employees and volunteers with area inhabitants, as prosperous means.

Two months into her tenure, the leader enjoys every chance to opine that exposure to art crafts a lifetime of potential. So far she has seen enough creative curiosity, including that of learners at George Washington School, 1198 S. Fifth St., whom she recently observed benefiting from lessons, to know encouraging exploration will yield content attendees. With diverse tastes and populations to address, she welcomes the task of motivating acquaintances and strangers to think of themselves as upholders and advancers of a powerful calling.

“There are so many perceptions of what art is,” Grimaldi said. “One thing we must remember is that it’s never stagnant. It’s always encouraging us to look, react and evolve.”

The passionate hire matured among few who shared her beliefs. A native of Hong Kong, she attended its Island School, where most of her classmates elected to become bankers. With art perceived as an enriching practice that stood little chance of providing someone with a career, Grimaldi had not intended to become an artist yet could not shake her interest, especially in painting. Having visited the United States periodically, she settled here permanently in 1999 to attend Bryn Mawr College, with the Lower Merion Township institution intensifying her fine arts attraction.

“I eventually made my way to South Philly because I was looking for a spot conducive to establishing relationships with people who appreciate the city’s overall sense of loyalty in the cultural and arts scenes,” Grimaldi, who also noted her fondness for citizens’ conscientious appreciation of Philadelphia as a holistic environment for artists, said.

Three years after her move, she came to head The Village, enjoying a four-year run that included the development of a master campus plan for its 12 art parks and 14 buildings; the launch of Cred, a magazine with art and writing from contributors ages 25 and younger; the creation of the PhillyEarth environmental education center; and the receipt of an Impact100 Philadelphia honor and two Knight Arts Challenge awards.

“Through The Village, I was able to gain a great sense of how to mobilize resources,” Grimaldi, who also has guest-lectured at Drexel and Temple universities and assisted the Free Library of Philadelphia Community Advisory Committee, the last role linking her with the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia’s South Center, 2416-18 S. Seventh St., said. “Since I’ve transitioned, I’ve been able to build on relationships with all sorts of colleagues, all of whom are of the mindset that we can do even more. Of all the places I’ve been, Philadelphia has the most room to experiment because of the number of grants and other opportunities.”

Declaring that she “couldn’t be happier” with her employment situation, Grimaldi also is enjoying domestic bliss with Michael, her husband of six years, and Hayden, their 3-year-old daughter. She does, however, fear what might happen to her offspring’s generation if the district follows through with its plan to make arts programs a budgetary casualty.

“Art is supposed to be a constant, and we shouldn’t have to ponder being without it,” Grimaldi said. “Through Fleisher, I’m going to do my best to be among this area’s greatest advocates for its possibilities.”

Contact Staff Writer Joseph Myers at or ext. 124.


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Jane Kiefer
Jane Kiefer, a seasoned journalist with a rich background in digital media strategies, leads South Philly Review as its Editor-in-Chief. Originally hailing from Seattle, Jane combines her outsider perspective with a profound respect for South Philly's vibrant community, bringing fresh insights and innovative storytelling to the newspaper.