Ludlow: Art Gallery Works to Make Photography Available to All

Sarah Stolfa shows off photos from Kensington Capa Student Exhibition.
Sarah Stolfa shows off photos from Kensington Capa Student Exhibition.

When Sarah Stolfa created the business plan for the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center, she thought it would be a commercial enterprise. But she soon realized that the community needed something more.

“For profit galleries represent artists, they have exhibitions and they sell work,” Stolfa said. “Institutions like museums, like this photo center are for the public.”

PPAC is located in the Crane Arts Building, a historic art space nestled on the corner of North American Street and Master Street in North Philadelphia. The non-profit opened in 2009 with a mission to promote the “study, practice and appreciation of photography.” Stolfa is the organization’s executive director.

The training space at PPAC.

“It was really important when we started this that we offer something to the community that we live in,” Stolfa said. “All arts are extremely important and photography is an art.”

PPAC offers free artist lectures, free training programs for students, low cost education and access to cameras, software and printers. The Kensington Capa Teen Program is one of the free student programs that PPAC offers.

Each week, Stolfa teaches eight students from Kensington Creative and Performing Arts School the basics of photography, including photo composition and processing using software such as Photoshop and Bridge. The free class meets from January through May for an hour-and-a-half.

“They have a photo class,” said Stolfa. “But they have limited resources– maybe four cameras to share between 30 to 36 students.”

One of the students in the program took more than 100 portraits at her school.

Each student is allowed to use a PPAC camera to take pictures of their world. One student took pictures of dandelions. Another took more than 100 portraits of students at her school.

“At the end we have a potluck style exhibition,” said Stolfa as she walked around showing off the students’ work. “It’s our highest selling exhibition.”

PPAC sells the photographs for $25 each and splits the monies earned on the student photos with the student. Seventy percent goes to the student artists. Thirty percent goes to the gallery to help offset the cost of the program.

“One student sold four or five pieces,” Stolfa said. “But that part is not important, we don’t even talk about it until the end.”

PPAC financed the five-month program and plans to expand the program to eight months for next year so that the students have more time to learn.

Stolfa showing off a photo where a student was able to depict a boy doing a handstand in mid-air.

“I think it is really important to know that art is for everybody,” Stolfa said. “You do not have a Ph.D. in art history to relate to art. We are all built with the tools to that enable us to talk about art and to feel art.”

The students’ work is available for viewing at PPAC until June 4th. For more information visit the PPAC website.

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