(Photo by M. Kennedy for Visit Philadelphia)
A small store attached to an old bank converted to a gallery in Olney will soon be the home of the African American Museum in Philadelphia’s (AAMP) new artist residency program.
AAMP’s forthcoming 18-month Residency for Art and Change is funded by a $60,000 grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. The program seeks to advance the work of emerging Black artists in the Philadelphia area, provide them affordable studio and exhibition space, opportunities to collaborate with the community and greater exposure.
Rush’s New York-based residency program was launched in 2011 and “provided a good model for us,” said Patricia Wilson Aden, president and CEO of AAMP.
Wilson Aden said the program will “lay groundwork” in late summer or early fall of this year and aims to select artists and establish a presence in the community within the next nine months.
"We need institutions specific to telling the African American story."
Danny Simmons, co founder and vice chairman of Rush, said the old store attached to the gallery will be renovated into studios and storage space for artists in the program. The 1,200 square feet will accommodate two artists.
The program stems from a need to provide more opportunities to Black artists. A lack of opportunity is an issue not only in Philly, but throughout the country, Wilson Aden said: There is a noticeable disparity in the participation of African American artists in residency programs and AAMP seeks to address that disparity in a structured way.
While there has been increased inclusion in mainstream galleries over time, not many institutions are dedicated specifically to artists of color, Simmons said. Because of this, a large number of Black artists are overlooked or struggling to be recognized for their work.
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“Most African American museums are underfunded and struggling to survive,” he said. “We need institutions specific to telling the African American story.”
Wilson Aden also emphasized the importance of growing and contributing to Philly’s artistic community.
“Art can contribute to the economic and social revitalization of Philly,” she said. “The program could be a component in growing that [and] provides the opportunity to advance AAMP’s mission in a neighborhood that can use art as part of its economic development strategy.”
The residency program is seeking “emerging artists who have demonstrated a commitment to using their work to comment on social change” and are in the process of “growing and maturing their practice,” Wilson Aden said.
While AAMP was inspired by Rush’s own New York program as well as by the Studio Museum of Harlem which “served as an incubator of artists of color,” it was important that the program was specific to AAMP and to Philly in an “authentic, trusted and respectful way,” she said; all museums have a social responsibility “to be aware of and be responsive to the community in which they reside.”
Expanding diversity in art can mean greater inclusion in exhibitions and the subjects covered, having a diverse staff, curators and administrators, and accurately reflecting the community through audiences and museum board members.
“AAMP is committed to making an imprint across the landscape in Philly,” she said, adding that ideally, artists in the program would “work in Philly to improve their craft [and] thrive so that they are not compelled to move to New York to earn a living.”