Put away your water bottles, sneakers and hand weights and take out your paint brushes and beads. The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym on Frankford Avenue is inspiring people to take off their sweaty socks and pull on a painter’s smock.
The facility opened more than two years ago when founder Darla Jackson did not have access to large-scale art equipment. She took one look at the large open warehouse and immediately pictured an art community workshop space, one that acted as a gym for artists – they pay a membership fee to gain access to equipment they need.
Today, there are 37 members of the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, as well as day-to-day customers and novices looking to learn a new craft.
A day pass for the gym costs $35 and a full-time membership is $150. The facilities available include a jewelry shop, mold-making and casting area, ceramics area, weld shop, forging area, metal shop and wood shop. Each offers tools an artist needs for a project. For example, the jewelry shop includes a spin caster, kiln, wax injector, brake, shear, drill press, soldering station, polishing station and various hand tools.
Jackson also offers lockers, private and semi-private studios for rent, as well as a member lounge and kitchenette. There is also minimal waste in the studio as Jackson maintains that someone’s trash can be turned into a new project. Even when constructing the facility, she used old storage crates to make doors and other fixtures.
The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym also helps its members by maintaining an open gallery space in its storefront, an area to showcase exhibitions by its artists. The current work on display is Joshua Parker Coombs’ eclectic sculpture feature From Within (pictured above). From Within is the result of a year-long project started and completed at the gym. However, the gym does not favor its experienced members and offers workshops to teach new trades to either novices or artists looking to learn a new skill. Workshops include Welding 101, Blanket Molds 101 and Forging 101.
Jackson said there are many similar facilities opening in the Philadelphia area after seeing the positive feedback from the local art community.
“There are a few spaces in the city and they are all set up a little differently,” Jackson said. “Everybody is kind of seeing how this model is really successful in terms of arts and making things that are expensive accessible to artists.”
The Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is located at 1834 E. Frankford Ave. and is open Tuesday-Thursday 11 a.m. to 11 p.m. and Friday-Sunday 11 a.m. to 9 p.m.
– Text, video and images by Chynna Mela