The Longevity Conundrum
Posted: 7/8/12

Dear Philadelphia,

I love you but I started thinking of myself.  And for that I am sorry.

I found myself in a pattern.  I was repeating the same day everyday.  Worse off, I saw myself living here for the place and not for myself. 
Most mornings (you know this), I roll over and whisper softly, “I can’t believe that this is my life.”  Some days I unintentionally wake you.  Some days I am not even next to you.  Most days you don’t even hear me.  The mere thought of the obligations that I have for the day and the very tangible dislocation from my body as a means of self-preservation… at this point, does verbally reminding myself that I have a college degree do anything? 


At the bar, Derek Frech tells me to keep my mouth shut until they officially release a statement next month.  Extra Extra is closing.  They are done.  Everyone is moving on.  However, it is not like they left though without saying goodbye.  There was a huge farewell party at the end of May and the promise that collective projects will come in the future.

Title Magazine published at the beginning of May, “Extra Extra and Possible Projects will continue their work in a culturally nomadic fashion on the net, in print, and elsewhere.” (1) I am surprised that as I talk to individuals from the now-closed collective artist-run spaces, there is little reservation.  It is sad for me to see these spaces close because I liked what they were doing.  And I’m irked because since Flux Space closed, there has been a mass exodus of artful residents leaving the city. And it seems as though the reason that everyone is leaving Philadelphia is the same reason they came.


My days are funny only because that is the only thing that they can be. I watch a little boy for a living.  He is almost two and has never slept a night not in his mother’s bed.  She pays me enough money every Thursday that I am unable to save a penny.  I have not quit because I know that I will get paid on the next Thursday and the Thursday after that and I graduated from college in the middle of a recession.  And, besides, I am not really a nanny.  I am an artist.  I am an artist because I pay for a studio space (Most days that is the only qualifier that I have to lay stake to that claim.) and I went to art school and I genuinely love art. 

But after a long while I realized, sitting in a shoebox of a room with carpet that smells like mold too many blocks north of York St, that aside from the fact that I have dental insurance because of Obama Care and that I am wearing a pair of Italian leather boots that my mother bought in Italy 15-years-ago for the equivalent of one of my weekly paychecks, there is nothing separating me from my neighbors.  Can I coin the term “culturally leveling” without sounding like an asshole?

When I first moved here six years ago, I still felt entitled to things.  It wasn’t necessarily material things, but more like the things that money brings like safe streets and a cockroach free home.  Now, I am but slightly annoyed by the police tape that was wrapped around the railing on my front stairs.  I ignore the meth-heads that wait on my front stoop.  But at some point, it has come to the point where my dentist tried to feel me up and I found myself sitting in his waiting room six-months later telling myself that the thing that happened six-months prior must have been a misunderstanding.  At some point, I just feel general apathy with all of the scum around me.  At some point here, my perspective changed.  At some point here, I stopped noticing trash.  I stopped noticing trash and I tripped on that trash that I didn’t notice as I was walking to your house last winter.  I walked almost a quarter mile before I realized that my knee was bleeding pretty badly and that it was entirely too painful to continue walking.  Months later, I trekked all the way out to West Philadelphia to have a mean Nurse Practitioner tell me that I had broke it all those months ago.  Her words cost me an afternoon of work and $113. 


Perhaps the best place to start is sitting in Anna Neighbor’s kitchen at a long, teal table.  The sentiment is strong as I am reminded of a time about a year ago when the entire staff of the Nicola Midnight St. Claire sat down at a long table (not teal, but also in Fishtown) eager and giddy to decide what we were going to be.  Clearly, we said to one another last summer, there is a lack in Philadelphia and we want to fill that space.  This is part of what I discuss with Neighbor, a prior Vox Populi member.  As she talks about her past and her interests as an activist, she reveals Philadelphia’s allure.  “People are doing things on their own terms” which, to her, is an extension of why people become artists.  “To define your own vision and to put it out there… and then to have a space to put it in” that was built with similar vision and intention is important.

Further, Neighbor states that, “not having career ambitions really frees up the studio,” and that she has “no sympathy for moving to become more visible”.  She is ambitious only for her work. (2)  There is little emphasis on the selling of work here and this is an attitude that is definitely unique to Philadelphia.  Last year, Nicola’s own, M Rooney, wrote that Philadelphia offers “a penetrable decentralized gallery scene—one that is independent of a substantial art economy.” (3)

The owners of Rebekah Templeton aim to change that.  The gallery, which came to Philadelphia about 5-years-ago, operates somewhere between a non-profit and a commercial gallery (because they don’t always have a sellable show every month).  Yet, owners, Sarah Eberle and Ben Will, clearly define the gallery as a commercial space.  They bought the property with a 10-year plan, a strong mission, and an intense dedication to the Philadelphia arts community.  The impetus, Eberle tells me, stems from a general wish that there were more commercial galleries who supported emerging to mid-career artists.  Further, she wishes that a place similar to Rebekah Templeton was there to support her a couple of years back.  But also, Will is quick to tell me that they both worked in the commercial art world for a number of years and this is what they know.  So far, they know it well.  They went into the space wanting to try to avoid “fizzling out” and now, they are about three-quarters of the way to their goal of making the space sustainable.

But, Will laments, there is no commercial scene in Philadelphia.  They opened Rebekah Templeton in an effort to spark that, but he is frustrated as he says that sometimes he feels like he has to “teach people to buy art,” (4) Larry Mangel, current owner of Cereal Art and previous owner of Bozart and of Lawrence Oliver (which closed its doors in 1992) tells me flat out that a commercial scene can’t and won’t happen in Philadelphia because Philadelphia is just too close to New York City.  (See Emily Rooney’s piece, The Philadelphia Story: A Check-Up and the follow up.)  Mangel recalls a time when he was a private dealer.  He tells me that he used to rent a car service to drive up to New York City and with a good driver, he could take collectors to see about 50 galleries in a day.  “In Philadelphia there weren’t even 50 galleries that I could have taken them to.”  And in the midst the big name shows that he put together at Lawrence Oliver, “I made an effort to show Philadelphia artists, but I couldn’t pay the bills without doing blue chip shows every third month and dealing the secondary market”.  I ask why he stayed in Philadelphia and he smiles, “Debbie.  She didn’t want to raise a family in New York City.  She told me anywhere but New York.” (5)

Trevor and Rachel Reese, the directors of Possible Projects, decided to move their gallery from New York to Philadelphia to increase their visibility after Rachel’s job at Deitch Projects ended (when the gallery closed).  However, Possible Projects was looking for an artist community like what exists in Philadelphia.  “We were interested in buying property (impossible in NYC) and wanted to be a part of a smaller community where chance encounters with friends/acquaintances happen more frequently than NYC… We were very excited about all of the small artist-run spaces in Philly and it seemed like a tight-knit community of artists and arts professionals.” (6) Their mission was to “curate small, selective group exhibitions and solo presentations by emerging and underappreciated artists.” (7) Along side the gallery space was Possible Press, “a free curated newsprint periodical of artists' writings” (8), which they will be able to continue regardless of their location.  However, Possible Projects is the anomaly, citing family, not the constraints of Philadelphia’s artist community, as their ultimate reason for leaving the city.  “We have a young baby and all of our family is in the greater Atlanta area.  Having a child gives you a whole new perspective.” (9)

On the contrary, spaces like Extra Extra and Flux waned and their members went onto new ventures.  In an email, Jennie Shanker, an artist living, working, and teaching in Philadelphia, writes that she thinks that the “support system may not be big enough to sustain the efforts that have built in problems.” (10) It is no surprise that showing work is a difficult feat.  Venues like Extra Extra ran with only three members organizing, curating, and supporting the space.  “Over the years what I’ve noticed is that grass-roots efforts that have survived are often membership driven.  Vox, Nexus, Muse and Highwire are a few long-lived examples.  If there is a structure in place, and a community, the original founding members can move onto other things without causing the demise of the entity.” (11) Referring to Flux Space, which like Extra Extra was also held together by the handful of founding members, Nike Desis believes that:
“Flux had perhaps stopped pumping fresh blood into the veins of it’s own body. I think it was carrying oxygen to the art communities of Philly, but our collective core was tired… I felt it was getting rough to continue it when it seemed like we needed a break or yet another total internal face-lift.  At the end we were constantly trying to redefine our creative process or our priorities or consider a new home or a new email program or find some new blood or new whatever, in a way that was less fun and exploratory and more as a result of being unsure of our ultimate goals.” (12)

Another common issue is, of course, funding.  Frech states that Extra Extra was never supported “in any real financial way” because they decided to be a non-profit LLC, “Which for most grant giving institutions isn’t ideal.” (13)   And, Possible Projects and Extra Extra both cited that they thought that “more funding opportunities specifically for small spaces’ operating expenses” (14) is something that the city needs. (15) This is where many of those that I interviewed, pointed a finger toward Vox Populi as though they were the older child who wouldn’t share their toys.  When speaking with Andrew Suggs, Vox Populi’s current director, he attributed the amount of funding that Vox Populi receives to a plethora of foundations.  Because Vox Populi has a much larger operating budget, they are eligible to apply for many more grants, which smaller spaces would never have the opportunity to do.  Suggs did tell me that Vox Populi receives money from the state in the amount of “like $2,000” a year, (16) which is a “small portion of their operating budget”. (17) “Granting agencies,” Neighbor tells me, “are funding what they want to see.” (18) And it is my impression that $2,000 could be a lot for smaller spaces (It could be a mortgage payment or a month less of rent that does not come straight from personal paychecks.), but it really isn’t enough money to share with an entire city of artist spaces holding their hands out.

Possible Projects believes, from 6-years of commercial gallery experience in New York City and in Philadelphia (19) that “the established art community must support non-traditional and alternative approaches to art”. (20) The Reese’s have “seen it happen successfully time and again in New York.” (21) But, how does it happen in Philadelphia?  The established art community in Philadelphia fluctuates constantly and there is such a large divide, evident simply by the way spaces are funded, between artist-run spaces and larger institutions.  From my perspective, there seems to be a gap in communication and infrastructure that needs to be addressed first before the collective arts community can begin to support one another.  As Will from Rebekah Templeton pointed out, “there is no consensus, no conversation, no clear trajectory” between spaces. (22) And Desis, from Flux Space, said something similar, that “it would be great if there was… more collaboration between cultural institutions of all kinds.” (23)


But even that first winter that I really loved you was so hard.  You hit a car because your car has really bad traction.  You called me and asked me what to do.  And it was only a little damage so you left it and you felt really bad.  You felt bad all night but a storm came and we bought a case of beer and we got snowed in and watched Twin Peaks.  But that was that time that everyone was watching Twin Peaks so I don’t think that it was that special that we were watching Twin Peaks.  I remember that we had a lot of really drunk, really stoned sex in between episodes.  I wish that I could remember what that sex felt like now that more than two years have passed.

Already, I try to remember you.  Already, I am so far gone.  I hate to throw in the towel, Philadelphia, because I’m not usually a quitter, but fuck!  I’m too young to be this tired and jaded.  As much as this move is fueled by my unfulfilled desires, you have to realize that you are pushing me away as well.  Philadelphia, I just kept thinking that I could be happy here because there is the potential for any kind of change to happen.  I am sorry that I grew impatient waiting for that change and that doing so caused me to begin to change away from you, to see myself living in other ways.


It seems that this city is especially attractive to those wanting to pull themselves up and create, or reestablish themselves in, the environment that they want.  It is enticing to start collective spaces here because of the mobility that a space can attain within the art scene by simply putting forth an honest effort.  Shanker reminds me that, “There have been many many projects initiated by individuals over the years that have come and gone.  This isn’t necessarily a bad thing.  A gallery may disappear, but the energy that sparked it can ultimately move on.” (24) Maybe all that Philadelphia can be is an incubator, a place where people come to grow but eventually have to leave?

Thumbing through the catalog of artist-run-spaces that Richard Torchia put together in Vox Populi’s publication for their 21st Anniversary, We’re Working On It, I have a melodramatic we’re-all-going-to-die-sometime moment for the past, present, and future collective artist run spaces of Philadelphia.  The pull-yourself-up-by-your-bootstraps attitude that makes anything feasible in Philadelphia becomes a disadvantage for collective artist-run spaces as these spaces exist on the fringes of one another and without a solid infrastructure.  The supportive network is a mash of connections that are “ultimately more flash than stone.” (25)


Still, I know, the women at that one Post Office know me by name, and you… your smile when you turn around, it still stops my heart.  I see how limitlessly, angrily, and tirelessly you have loved me for so long.  I see that out of that love, you have fostered an environment where I have discovered myself and discovered what I believed in.  You taught me that anything could happen, Philadelphia.  Words can never express how deeply and profoundly grateful I am to you for that.  For the trash, the lawless-ness, the police brutality, and the bickering has nothing to do with what we are when we come together.

Now more than ever, I realize that we have done everything that we could for one another.  I also realize that this is our limit.  Philadelphia, I love you unconditionally.  Thank you for loving me and supporting me through my formidable years.  I will take you with me in some way wherever I go.

Forever yours,



1. Feige, Jacob.  “Gone, at least from this city: Extra Extra and Possible Projects.” Title Magazine 2 May 2012.
2. Neighbor, Anna.  Personal Interview.  21 June 2012.
3.  Rooney, Emily. “The Philadelphia Story: A Check-up”. The Nicola Midnight St. Claire 10 June 2011.
4. Eberle, Sarah and Ben Will.  Personal Interview. 23 June 2012.
5. Mangel, Larry.  Personal Interview.  25 June 2012.
6. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “Closing of Possible Projects”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   19 June 2012.
9. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “Closing of Possible Projects”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   19 June 2012.
10. Shanker, Jennie.  “article for the Nicola Midnight St. Claire”.  Email to Nicole Wilson.  18 June 2012.
11. Shanker, Jennie.  “article for the Nicola Midnight St. Claire”.  Email to Nicole Wilson.  18 June 2012.
12. Desis, Nike.  “article for the Nicola Midnight St. Claire.” Email to Nicole Wilson.  25 June 2012.
13. Frech, Derek. “here it is”. Email to Nicole Wilson. 27 June 2012.
14. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “Closing of Possible Projects”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   19 June 2012.
15. Frech, Derek.  “here it is”.  Email to Nicole Wilson.  27 June 2012.
16. Suggs, Andrew.  Personal Interview. 28 June 2012.
17. Suggs, Andrew.  Voicemail to Nicole Wilson. 6 July 2012.
18. Neighbor, Anna.  Personal Interview.  21 June 2012.
19. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “NMSC Story.” Email to Nicole Wilson.  5 July 2012.
20. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “Closing of Possible Projects”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   19 June 2012.
21. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “NMSC Story.” Email to Nicole Wilson.  5 July 2012.
22. Reese, Trevor and Rachel.  “Closing of Possible Projects”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   19 June 2012.
23. Desis, Nike.  “article for the Nicola Midnight St. Claire.” Email to Nicole Wilson.  25 June 2012.
24. Shanker, Jennie.  “article for the Nicola Midnight St. Claire”.  Email to Nicole Wilson.  18 June 2012.
25. Treffehn, Mike.  “PHILLY_otherTREFFEHNEDIT.doc”. Email to Nicole Wilson.   2 July 2012.



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