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Art gallery seeks South Philly-inspired art in new open call

“South Philly: Pretty and Gritty” (Photos by DVAA member Gary Grissom)

Calling all creators, can you depict the prettiness and grittiness of South Philly?

In one of its latest open calls, the Da Vinci Art Alliance is seeking producers of all crafts to capture the sights, sounds and savors of South Philadelphia through two new pieces of work.

“South Philly: Pretty and Gritty,” an open call to DVAA members and the general public, was announced last week by the Bella Vista gallery, welcoming all artists – or any sort of originator – to submit South Philly-centric work assembled with any medium.

“This open call is really just celebrating this area of the city and what unique flavors you taste, colors you see, people you run into,” said Jarrod Markman, the gallery’s executive director. “…It’s a celebration of where we exist and a love letter to South Philadelphia.”

Although the selected art, which will be on display from May 8-30 at DVAA, is the gallery’s first contest specifically focused on the essence of South Philadelphia, the showcase aligns with the organization’s history of community-fostered creations.

Founded in 1931, the nonprofit gallery was originally established as a haven for Italian immigrants to expose and cultivate their artistries, acting as a hub for creative refuge in South Philadelphia.

“(DVAA) served as this community building space to people who didn’t feel like they had a place for artists specifically,” Markman said.

For decades, Markman says the gallery was comprised primarily of volunteers until about three years ago, when the organization gradually shifted toward an employment-based system.  In 2016, DVAA hired Vision Driven Consulting to “explore opportunities to build capacity and create long-term sustainability through a dynamic vision for the future,” according to Da Vinci Art Alliance’s 2017 to 2019 strategic plan.  

Amidst the changes, the gallery experienced a series of revisions, including new renovations along with exhibition, audience and membership growth.

According to Markman, just in the last three years, DVAA’s membership program increased by 92 percent, and the number of exhibitions jumped from about 11 per year in one gallery space to over 45 exhibitions annually in four different venues. Last year alone, approximately 10,000 visited the space, which is up from approximately 550 in 2015, Markman says.

“I think what attracted me to Da Vinci is the fact that it’s young,” said co-chair of exhibitions John James Pron, a Philadelphia-based sketch artist, architect and retired professor from Temple University Tyler School of Art. “It’s very energetic, and it’s very diverse…Da Vinci really pulls together a much more diverse group of people than just artists.”

DVAA’s advisory board is composed of individuals from various professions, including members from Governor’s Advisory Commission on Asian Pacific American Affairs, Independence Blue Cross and even Councilman Mark Squilla.

The “South Philly: Pretty and Gritty” event satisfies the DVAA’s new chapter as the gallery aims to reprise its mission as a community-focused entity. The organization’s emphasis on diversity also surfaces in the open call, striving to showcase the authenticity of a region it aims to serve.

“Da Vinci is very committed to the community,” Markman said. “It’s very committed to South Philadelphia – to be really a resource to the people who live here.”

Submissions, which are due by April 15 at midnight, will be juried by Philadelphia-based photographer Jason Chen.

While contemplating a juror, Markman thought Chen, who is co-founder of Paradigm Gallery and Studio and production studio Juggling Wolf, was a fitting evaluator for the task.

“Jason brings a really great world view of the contemporary art market into this,” Markman said. “His knowledge of the contemporary art market juxtapositioned with his knowledge and involvement in South Philly, I thought, was just so interesting.”

The chosen candidate will be notified on April 22, with an opening reception, catered with South Philly-signature cuisine, scheduled for May 8.

Whether videography or paintings, sculptures or sketches, the winning creations will be displayed on DVAA’s second floor among about 20 to 30 other open-call selections.

Manifested in a small row home on Catharine Street, the nestled but fulfilling space that DVAA occupies further emulates true South Philadelphia nature.

“It just seemed right to have a gallery crowded with all this diverse color and texture,” Pron said.

Considering the ever-changing transitions of local neighborhoods, these new impressions of South Philadelphia could look quite different than the milieu of DVAA’s infancy, which once catered toward a predominantly Italian-American community.

These social shifts, Markman says, will naturally arise in the artwork.

‘Through the work that they submit, we will be able to see different interactions and changes in South Philadelphia,” Markman said. “From work that we will see in the show, it will be very clear what South Philly looks like…The juxtaposition of work in the space can very much tell that story.”

To submit to the open call or to learn more, visit: http://www.davinciartalliance.org/open-calls/#pretty-and-gritty


Twitter: @gracemaiorano

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