Founded in 1898, the Fleisher Art Memorial, which was previously known as the Graphic Sketch Club, had a relatively simple mission—to provide arts education and instruction to individuals within the community. Although the name and the location of the institution have changed over the years, not much else differs in terms of the focus and the mission of Fleisher today.
For over a century, Fleisher has been providing the community with dozens of class and workshop options for both adults and youth alike. On a daily basis there is a wide variety of students and interested parties who contact Fleisher with respect to attending classes, some of whom have absolutely no background in art whatsoever and others who are artistically apt in at least one area or another. These individuals share at least one common thread though—a palpable appreciation for the arts.
Fleisher’s employees are very much aware of the community of people who participate in its classes and programs. A good majority of these individuals are living in or around the Southeast. With this being the case, the staff at Fleisher finds it extremely important to spread the word about the institution and provide elements of outreach in order to get more individuals in the surrounding neighborhood interested and learn how to access all that is offered at Fleisher. Currently, the staff is in the process of creating and implementing new ways of reaching out to the community and directly getting involved with the neighborhood.
“We want Fleisher to be a word-of-mouth kind of organization in our neighborhoods, like it has been throughout its 113 year-old history,” explained Joseph Gonzales, the Manager of Research and Community Engagement Strategies.
Options vary at Fleisher and include introductory-type classes, which are free, as well as tuition-based workshops that offer more of an intimate setting and correspondence between the students and instructor. Both classes and workshops offer hands-on learning opportunities in areas such as photography, painting, drawing, lithography, sculpting and many more.
“The classes offered are wide in artistic scope, but you never need to dig deep in your pockets to pay for them. I have been able to take a 10-session course for $5 and have been able to learn from and study with professional artists from all over Philadelphia,” explained Bella Vista resident and Fleisher student, Lana Kovnot.
The individuals who partake in some of the options that Fleisher offers come from all economic backgrounds and walks of life. For little to no cost these individuals get to try their hand at a new area of art and explore the use of different media with the help of experienced and passionate instructors.
“It’s more than just their [the instructors’] job. You can tell that it’s something they love to do,” said assistant store manager Frank Barbella.
What is most important to note about Fleisher is its overwhelmingly democratic nature. From the time of its inception, Fleisher has been an institution rooted in equality and opportunity. Today, just as it was when Fleisher’s doors first opened, it is not unlikely to share a classroom with both doctors and union workers alike. It is a place where education and passion supersede any political and social inequality and stereotypes.
Currently, Fleisher is located at 719 Catharine St. in Bella Vista. It is barely tucked away from the countless businesses and restaurants that line the streets surrounding the area and is very much a known entity around the Southeast due mostly to a mixture of word of mouth, legacy and outreach. It is a staple in the Bella Vista and Queen Village areas, as it has and continues to implement art education and the importance of education throughout neighborhoods through various outlets and partnerships within the community.
“Fleisher has invested in our community by brightening our streets with murals and sculptures. Moreover, this organization has made art accessible to children and adults alike through its free tuition course every season of the year,” Kovnot said.
Aside from in-house programs and classes that are offered, Fleisher has also set up residencies with over a handful of Southeast Philadelphia public schools and community organizations to provide them with instruction and guidance in formulating curricula that appropriately incorporates the arts.
Fleisher is a place as rich in passion as it is in relationships, both in the art community as well as the surrounding neighborhoods. It continues to follow the same precedent as was originally set by its founder—a feat that has not only survived the test of time but has done so quite artfully.