A new Bella Vista gallery space is striving to bridge fine art photography and artisan crafts with the interests and needs of the local community.
Seeking a place to implement this vision while also fusing their own passions, jewelry curator Andrea Appel and her husband, photographer Christopher Brown, recently opened the doors of The SPACE, 749 S. 8th St.
Showcasing a wall of worldwide photographic images hanging opposite from a display of locally made exquisite crafts, the emerging South Philadelphia shop plans to highlight local artists while also cultivating charitable outreach.
“I’m very mindful of that fact that even for artists…they don’t have a place to show,” Appel said.
Having always had an interest in artisan creations, Appel, an attorney and Northeast Philadelphia native who now resides in Bella Vista, established a small business called Dim Sum: Little Bits of Art in 2010, which features handmade jewelry and gifts from local to international artists.
As her living room became too cramped to highlight the works, Appel says she was always looking for places, such as local coffee shops, to host pop-up exhibits and trunk shows.
For Appel, not only did she desire a space to feature her own curated work, but she dreamt of a place she could offer to other creative individuals.
“I was very dependent on existing businesses that would allow me to use their space…I realize the value of having a space,” Appel said. “Now that we have one, we let people use it free of charge and in ways that benefit them that they can’t do, because they don’t have their own space.”
During a Dim Sum event several years ago, a PR firm sent an Art Institute of Philadelphia photography student to shoot Appel’s collection.
The photographer, a native of Newcastle, England named Christopher Brown, had recently left his corporate job as an engineering manager for the Boeing Company to dedicate his life to photography.
While serving as an aircraft engineer for the Royal Air Force, Brown unearthed his zeal for photography in Afghanistan from 2010 to 2012.
Seeking an escape from the horrors he witnessed in the Middle East, Brown spontaneously purchased a Canon EOS Rebel T3i to capture breathtaking sunrises and sunsets unfolding in the deserts.
“I just used it as an outlet,” he said. “I didn’t think anything of it.”
Eventually, though, that extempore practice led him to serendipitously wander into the Art Institute of Philadelphia in 2013 while visiting Philadelphia on a busy trip.
Almost instinctively, Brown says he resigned from his job and signed up on the spot for a four-year degree at the school.
Brown, who travels the world capturing images while also working in corporate photography, says he has identified obstacles emerging fine art photographers tend to face.
“One of the biggest things about being a photographer is – you can’t get represented by a gallery until you’re represented by a gallery,” he said.
Like Appel, whom he married two years ago, Brown also dreamt of his own gallery space where he could highlight emerging artists.
Eventually, the newlyweds, along with Appel’s daughter, Evyn, a sophomore at Julia R. Masterman Laboratory and Demonstration School, sought out a space to bring these aspirations into fruition.
Last year, after discovering a vacant building just north of 8th and Catharine streets, the family says they built the gallery primarily themselves, including installing an artisan jigsaw floor.
While The SPACE started operating in December, an official grand opening is scheduled for June 19 through the 22.
In the past few months, the gallery owners have been cultivating a philanthropic approach to their for-profit business.
“When you’re a for-profit business, you need to make that money, but we’re far more about – if we’re good, then let’s try to make sure we can actually do something for the greater good,” Brown said.
Aside from promoting creative individuals, another cornerstone mission of The SPACE is teaming up with schools and nonprofits for fundraising opportunities.
Throughout the month of May, 15 percent of wholesale prices are being donated to the nonprofit Trinity PlayGroup in celebration of the organization’s 50th anniversary. The Center City childcare facility is scheduled to host a fundraising event at the gallery on Wednesday, May 29.
Also recently, The SPACE hosted an event for General George A. McCall Elementary and Middle School where a certain number of proceeds went to the kindergarten to eighth grade school in Society Hill.
“The Philadelphia public schools are always in need of money,” Appel said. “They all do auctions and fundraisers but they’re always looking for other ways.”
Of course, a fundamental part of The SPACE’s mission is partnering with fine art photographers to help them reach their creative goals. This includes establishing three- to six-month installations in the gallery. Brown notices that, often, art collectors seek a significant duration of consideration before purchasing a piece of work.
“People want to come over and over and visit artwork like they do in a museum, and then go, ‘I want to buy that piece,” Brown said. “…That allows the collector to enable or to grow a relationship with the piece of artwork, so they want to take that piece of artwork home.”
But, Appel and Brown say they are especially seeking photographers whose work sheds light on compassion for humanity.
Locally, Brown is perhaps most well-known for his works depicting homelessness, particularly his solo project called “Perseverance With Dignity,” which was collected into a publication with all proceeds going toward the Bethesda Project.
The SPACE plans to follow a similar process, featuring exhibitions that capture the realities of a certain issue, such as mental health, with a certain percentage of proceeds going toward awareness and research surrounding that concern.
“With any of our artists, we’d say, ‘Hey, you’re a great artist, but you ought to think on a different level, as well,” Brown said. “Not just commercial but what are the other sides of you, and what really touches you? And, can you work that in?”
To learn more about The SPACE, visit: www.thespacephiladelphia.com/.