Little Berlin, hidden in the Viking Mill building located between Boston and Coral streets, is an undefined exhibition art space providing the Kensington neighborhood with a place for creative expression. Housing everything from art exhibitions to benefit concerts and badminton tournaments, Little Berlin puts the historic, 19th century textile-mill building to good use.
Little Berlin was founded in 2007 and has since grown adding new members who make up a collective for the non-profit organization. New members are always welcome to join the team of creative individuals who help run the art space. Members pay a monthly fee of $50 and are given complete control of a month-long exhibition as well as attend meetings and participate in extra events that Little Berlin participates in like the annual Trenton Avenue Arts Festival.
“Little Berlin provides an awesome and unique outlet for artists and musicians within our community to express themselves creatively. It is also a great place to see high quality shows for donation based prices. [This allows] the members of our neighborhood to bear witness to all that is cool and happening in our time,” said Andy Molholt, music show coordinator at Little Berlin.
During the spring, Little Berlin housed an exhibition titled, “Escapement” by Temple University’s Tyler School of Art students Nathaniel Mell and John Shoemaker. Having heard about Little Berlin through one of its founders and a technician of the glass studios at Tyler, Mell and Shoemaker were excited to have their senior thesis exhibition held in this space. While their artwork is separate there are enough similarities through materials and themes to find common ground and produce a cohesive exhibit in one space.
Mell said his pieces are based around the idea of “mythology, heroes and wanderlust.” Through personal childhood experiences and visionaries, Mell took the ideas of traveling, wondering and exploring to put together his display. His main piece is of a cement mold, which is actually his father’s head, vomiting out a nautical rope.
When Mell was a child his father built a sailboat even though his family lived nowhere near a large body of water. His father’s sailboat only got a few tries in a local lake. The idea was big, but the result was underwhelming. This experience led to inspiration for exactly what Mell was attempting to portray in his exhibition–the idolization of a person or way of life.
Shoemaker’s art is more focused on the ideas of mechanical advantage. He uses large-scale installations with pulley and blocks-and-tackle systems to design his work. Shoemaker plays with the ideas of mass interpretation through a large wooden object that is being hoisted through the air.
“The art isn’t exactly functional, but it is rather a drawing of itself. The thought is that you could crank it up and wind it down, but I didn’t actually let people mess with it because it is a lot of responsibility to give someone that much control,” Shoemaker said.
By having their senior thesis at Little Berlin, Mell and Shoemaker embraced finding a larger audience away from just the Tyler Art School community. Their goal was to take full advantage of the type of space Little Berlin provided.
“It was really important with this show to activate this space (Little Berlin) and utilize the fact that it was built over 130 years ago. It’s just nice to make a connection back to the space and tie the work back into the history and the idea of a place. Overall it is very positive and if people inhabit a space like Little Berlin then they can do things and hold community events,” Shoemaker said.
“Little Berlin, I think its great for the area and is really on the boarder of a rough neighborhood, but things like this make people try to reinvigorate a neighborhood that has been rough for a long time,” Shoemaker added.
Little Berlin always has something in the works for its next event or exhibition. While finishing up the current art exhibition the group is simultaneously working on the fairground project outside. To kick start community involvement in the newly cleaned open space adjacent to Little Berlin BITBY.TV is collaborating with the members of Little Berlin to put on a Cinco De Mayo party.
Kyle Costill, who runs the music Web series Bands in the Backyard at BITBY.TV is helping Little Berlin raise money to do more with arts and music communities in Philadelphia by releasing a 12-inch vinyl of the full, first year of bands in the backyard.
“Little Berlin gives people a perfect example of what people can accomplish when you just do what you are passionate about. Every member of Little Berlin is fully dedicated to creating a great space and community for artists and musicians,” Costill said. “I think the positive vibe around Little Berlin benefits the community more than anything. They are just creative talented people creating a space for artists and musicians to reach the masses. It’s truly a place built on rewarding artistic vision.”