From the Bok Building to 1241 Carpenter Studios and Artspace, South Philadelphia is amidst a renaissance of creativity.
The region’s recent artistic emergence could be partially attributed to CraftNOW Philadelphia, an organization connecting prominent institutions and artists throughout the city’s craft community, which celebrated its fifth anniversary at the University of the Arts last Thursday.
The celebration, which was hosted among a pop-up craft exhibition curated by the college, was an opportunity for the organization to announce a slew of upcoming programs and events planned through 2020, including its hosting of the American Craft Council conference set for Philadelphia in October.
Several CraftNOW associates and artists are based in South Philadelphia, including executive director Leila Cartier, who works out of a studio in the Hawthorne neighborhood.
“The mission is to unite, promote and support our partners, artists, collectors, art enthusiasts – to bring everyone together to elevate the contemporary craft movement in Philadelphia,” Cartier said. “…We’re the only movement of its kind that we’ve been able to find where we’re literally providing a bridge to partners and generating new opportunity that’s not necessarily attainable single-handedly.”
The majority of CraftNOW programs orbit around the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s annual Contemporary Craft Show, presented every November, which is one of the largest fundraising events for the museum.
Throughout the year, CraftNOW provides satellite opportunities that unify artists across Philadelphia, drawing citywide attention to contemporary crafts as well as exhibitions, programs and places, like The Center For Art in Wood, The Clay Studio and Paradigm Gallery and Studio in Queen Village.
“There’s so much already happening in the city,” Cartier said. “The idea is – when you bring everyone together, audiences increase, exposure increases and everything just is more successful in general.”
Further cultivating these objectives, CraftNOW’s catalog of new programming revolves around the organization’s ongoing objective to make Philadelphia the “Craft Capital of the world,” which actually serves as its theme this year.
This capital-centric commission does not solely imply a particular place but also a wellspring for ongoing economic, intellectual, historical and educational resources reserved for the craft community.
“Philadelphia is one of the most exciting cities with a tremendous craft history and resources and capitalizing crafts is a brilliant idea – not only for our field of crafts but also for the future generations,” said Lower Moyamensing resident Mi-Kyoung Lee, director of UArts’ Fiber Program. “CraftNOW Philadelphia has an undeniable mission to educate and influence our younger generations to be able to experience making crafts.”
In addition to the “Craft Capital” citywide exhibitions planned for galleries across the city, including one showcase destined for City Hall, this year’s theme resonates in the organization’s other upcoming projects.
One venture includes its partnership with the American Craft Council, a national organization “committed to connecting and galvanizing diverse craft communities” scheduled to host its yearly event at the Loews Philadelphia Hotel from Oct. 10 to 12.
“CraftNOW Philadelphia has created a community of individuals and institutions who together raise the profile of contemporary craft for the entire city,” said Kelly Lee, Philadelphia’s chief cultural officer. “Philadelphia has a national reputation as a great place to live, work and play. Now, thanks to the success and the ability of CraftNOW, Philadelphia can proudly boast that it’s a great place to live, work, play and make.”
In other endeavors, the organization will publish a second book titled, “Craft Capital: Philadelphia’s Cultures of Making,” which encompasses contributions from local authors discussing the city’s craft history and current state.
CraftNOW has even commissioned Econsult Solutions Inc. to conduct an analysis of Philadelphia’s artisanal sector, as the research aims to direct how the city can “support existing makers, grow and diversify local artists, and attract national talent over the next few years.”
The organization also announced a partnership with the Reading Terminal Market for the summer season, as local craft artists will have the opportunity to display their works on vendor carts along Filbert Street every Saturday from 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. through Oct. 11.
“As you can see how CraftNOW has been growing and moving forward, it’s been a really great resource for (University of the Arts),” Mi-Kyoung Lee said. “…And to really put it out to what a craft does, to what a craft is – particularly the contemporary crafts.”
CraftNOW’s lineup of activities will be coupled with its signature events, including its reprisial of a symposium, which provides a platform for “critical discourse in contemporary craft.” The Nov. 8 event will feature keynote speaker Michelle Millar Fisher.
And on Nov. 9 at the Kimmel Center, the organization will once again host its CraftNOW Create event, which offers free and family-friendly hands-on exploration and take-home activities.
As South Philadelphia – and the city in general – continues to flourish as a creative destination, local artists say CraftNOW elevates the authenticity of craftsmanship as a medium.
“People’ve sort of dissociated with crafts in the past, because they see it as something that’s less than – a younger brother to the art field,” said Passyunk Square resident and textile artist Kelly Dzioba, who’s been involved with CraftNOW since its inception. “But, I feel like there’s a lot of artists now who are working in deeply material-based practices who are just hopefully finding a home within the craft field and creating this new exciting energy in the craft field. More so than ever, I feel like craft-based practices are just really popular and just really a strong part of the art movement.”