Kensington: Affordable Artist Collective Seeks to Change Community

Resident artist Mareck Danielewski contemplated some of his sketches.]

A large, colorful mural allowed the Papermill to stand out.

Papermill Community of Artists provides dozens of artists with affordable and community-based studio and performance space.

Karyn Vetter, 44, is the owner and property manager of the Papermill Community of Artists, located at 2825 Ormes St. in the heart of Kensington. The building was once one of many such century-old, abandoned warehouses dotted around Kensington, inevitably doomed to burn down or collapse.

“No matter how bad the neighborhood was or what was going on outside, the moment I came in I felt safe,” Luisa Velasquez, 32, a painter who has been at the Papermill since the beginning said.

Three years have passed since Vetter purchased the 30,000-square-foot building for $150,000 through an ad on Craigslist. Since then, she’s spent thousands fitting new windows, plumbing, electricity and fire safety equipment, not to mention the dozens of studios and performance spaces already built or planned. Vetter predicts by the time the Papermill is complete she will have invested over $500,000.

The cost and level of investment is astounding, especially when considering the area. An investment of $500,000 in Rittenhouse doesn’t mean much, but it’s quite a commitment in Kensington. Equally impressive is the affordability and flexibility of the Papermill to artists seeking a studio or gallery space.

Each of the five floors in the Papermill building are huge, and each is cut apart by walls for dozens of studios or several large gallery or performance spaces. The studios come in a variety of sizes, shapes and prices, and artists are able to pick what suits them.

Resident artist Mareck Danielewski contemplated some of his sketches.

As the building stands now, there are 42 studios with only five that haven’t been filled. Due to cost restrictions, two of the five floors still have not been developed. Vetter has plans to construct either about 20 more studios and several performance spaces.

One of the main attractions of the Papermill is cost. Studios rent for as low as $100 a month. With studio cost renting for less than most people’s cell phone bills, it’s no doubt that the Papermill allows artists to take up residence in a studio where they previously may not have been able to afford to.

Beyond investing in a building and providing residence for artists, Vetter and volunteer artists at Papermill hope to make a change in the surrounding community. Vetter and the artists have plans “to volunteer a few hours of their time every week to teach the local kids in the community their medium” through programs at various neighborhood schools, just one of which is the Visitation School on Lehigh Avenue and B Street.

Using vacant lots adjacent to the Papermill, Vetter is also “looking to create some community projects, like a community garden . . . where we can teach children and the people in the neighborhood, and maybe they can teach us, how to cultivate different products.”

The “community of artists” at the the Papermill appear dedicated to cleaning up their neighborhood. Painted by volunteers, the huge mural on the side of the building seems to evidence this, and Vetter claims it inspired neighbors to repaint their properties as well.

For more information on the Papermill Community of Artists, contact Karyn Vetter at(215) 687-8391 or visit

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