Northern Liberties began its rise to the top as one of Philadelphia’s trendiest areas only in the last few decades, when dozens of young artists and designers, attracted to the area for its vacated properties and cheap prices, began establishing studios and galleries here. This creative vibe has remained, and the neighborhood is now known for its excellent artistic venues. We profile ten of the best.
Owned and run by Tylor School of Art graduates Erin Waxman and Megan Brewster, the Art Star Gallery and Boutique is a one-stop shop for a range of artworks and handmade, unique items by local, national and international artists. The gallery supports new and up-and-coming artists by featuring their work in rotating exhibitions, while the boutique works closely with its artists in order to create one-of-a-kind, limited products, its stock ranging from prints and paintings to jewelery and quirky homewares. In addition to a boutique and gallery, Waxman and Brewster also put on the affiliated Art Star Craft Bazaar, Philadelphia’s largest outdoor craft fair, which was voted Best Shopping Event by Philadelphia Magazine in 2010.
Bahdeebahdu is a design studio turned art gallery set up by designers RJ Thornburg, an interior decorator, and Warren Muller, an innovative lighting designer. The venue is open and possesses a strong industrial aesthetic, which contrasts wonderfully with the art and design work on display. The gallery features design elements from both of its owners, and has become famous particularly for its astonishing, unique lighting designs created from vintage and recycled pieces reinvented as sculptures of modernity and light. As well as their own work, Thornburh and Muller encourage and support burgeoning artistic talent by featuring regular exhibitions.
Bambi Gallery is one of Northern Liberties’, and indeed Philadelphia’s, more eclectic galleries. Established in 2005, the gallery’s aim is to promote independent artists within the Philadelphia community, and to expand preconceptions of what art is. To this end, the gallery features a number of uniquely creative works, from dramatic installation pieces to mixed media works hanging from ceilings, as well as more classic concepts such as photography. The gallery has moved a few times, but is now located in the prime artistic spot of the Piazza at Schmidts, a trendy plaza at the heart of Northern Liberties filled with art galleries, cafés and boutiques.
The Indigo Arts Gallery is located in the Crane Arts Building, a large center devoted to promoting artists and establishing partnerships with galleries and artistically oriented non-profit organizations. Indigo Arts is dedicated to bringing tribal and folk art from Asia, Africa and the Americas to the attention of the contemporary arts scene. The diverse range of exhibitions include contemporary Haitian painting, magical realism in Mexican collages and mixed media, and Oceanic tribal masks. The gallery aims to display a mix of traditional and antique pieces as well as more modern work, with a focus on vibrancy, culture, and uniqueness. The gallery also features regular exhibitions and retrospectives on specific artists and styles, allowing the viewer to truly come to grips with the details of the culture and art they view.
InLiquid is another of Crane Arts’ associated organizations; a primarily web based non-profit organisation dedicated to creating exposure for unheard of artists and establishing a dialogue between the art world and the public. The organisation works with over 280 artists, exhibiting their profiles both online and in their gallery spaces in order to broaden the reach of visual culture. InLiquid has a permanent office in the Crane Arts Building, and regularly runs four or five rotating exhibitions in the hall space each year. They also run The Benefit, a silent auction fundraising event every February, as well as Art for the Cash Poor, a summer art sale.
Khmer Art Gallery focuses solely on the acquisition, exhibition and sale of Cambodian art, making it a one-of-a-kind gallery within the Philadelphia arts scene. Each piece of the collection is hand selected by the owners for quality and uniqueness, ranges from traditional, antique examples to contemporary works, all originating from a number of different artists and created in many different mediums, from stone sculptures to copper to textiles. The owners have a deep-rooted appreciation of Cambodian design and culture, and the art here often adapts traditional techniques and iconography to create contemporary pieces.
Masthead Print Studio is devoted to boosting the art of printmaking, and providing a space for artists to create and promote their work. The focus is on nurturing local talent and building a connection with the surrounding artistic community, as Masthead not only provides a studio and exhibition space, but also allows gallery visitors to observe artists as they work and to get an insight into the printmaking process. The studio also regularly holds artist events, guest lectures, and exhibitions, such as their retrospective of over 250 hand-printed gig posters by over 80 of the country’s most outstanding poster designers, and many of the finished works are available for sale.
Another outstanding gallery in the Crane Arts Building, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center is a non-profit organization that focuses on bringing photography to the public, whether through the study of photography, encouraging new and developing photographers, or hosting exhibitions which open up new perspectives on the medium. The organization makes photography accessible by hosting educational programs, lectures and demonstrations by emerging artists, and providing affordable access to high-tech equipment. Its exhibitions vary from audience participation events, such as Philly Photo Day or contemporary photography competitions, to exhibitions by established photographers demonstrating striking and inspirational techniques and visions.
Founded in 2007 by Sarah Aberle and Ben Will, Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art certainly benefits from its owners’ impressive resumés and experiences within the arts world. Aberle and Will have a combined 20 years worth of experience of curatorial projects and assisting in the running of various galleries throughout the United States. They have used this joint experience to place RTCA on the cutting edge of the art world in Philadelphia and beyond. From profiling emerging big names in contemporary art to organizing exhibitions on challenging perceptions of the way artists use their surroundings and materials, the gallery has become integral in presenting and exploring new developments in the contemporary art scene. RTCA has won a number of grants and awards for its work, including the H. V. Hawley Award for Excellence from Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts.