This September makes five years that Mt. Airy Art Garage has brought artists out of isolation and provided a sanctuary for the creative-minded to commune, inspire and support one another in the Northwest communities of Germantown, Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. Located at West Mt. Airy and Germantown Avenues, the site includes creative space for several artists-in-residence, a fine art and handcraft shop, art galleries and room for art-related events.
President and cofounder Linda Slodki knew this neighborhood would be an incubator for an artistic community to thrive. “The Germantown corridor is home to the second-largest number of artists in Philadelphia,” noted Slodki. “There are hundreds of artists reported as living here, but we think the actual number is into the thousands.”
For cofounder and artist Arleen Olshan, opening a space where she could cultivate her work in community with other artists was extremely important for the next phase in her career. Olshan’s workshop is filled with fine handcrafted leather bags and belts of every color and texture, sharp black and white photographs and canvases with her creations. Having her workshop literally next door to other creators allows an ease of collaboration and process.
“It’s really important for us to build community through art,” said Olshan. “We are looking forward to making progress with some of our community partnerships and youth programming, offering more to young people. I have had several apprentices and it is rewarding to pass knowledge on.”
Mt. Airy resident and musician Tank Keitt was not surprised by the community’s consistent patronage of the arts. He credited MAAG’s success to the area’s diversity and history of tolerance.
“When I was growing up here in the 70’s I had LGBTQI neighbors, mixed race friends,” Keitt reminisced. “There was a level of acceptance here that you did not get in other parts of Philadelphia.”
Keitt has been playing the drums at MAAG since it began treating the community to jam sessions in 2011. Former musicians who had hung up their instruments came together to play straight-ahead jazz in a supportive and casual environment. The jam sessions have grown into what is now called The Swerve, a poetry slam conceptualized by MAAG’s growing community of writers.
“There are a lot of great things happening here,” said Olshan. “We are participating in the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours on October 11th and 12th. We are very excited about collaborating with students at Moore College of Art and Design on an 2015 exhibit called Gender Weave, and in March 2015 we will have an event for International Women’s Day.”
– Text and images by Gabrielle S. Clark.