The Clay Studio has been a pivotal part of the Old City Art scene for more than 40 years. The Clay Studio welcomes both professionals and new comers alike to experience the ceramic arts in Philadelphia.
Founded in 1974, the original mission of The Clay Studio was to provide the necessary space and materials for artist who were looking to produce ceramic arts as a profession. During the studio’s early years, many graduate students would flock to The Clay Studio to take advantage of this opportunity. However, the mission quickly changed.
“It began as a starting point for graduates,” said Josie Bockelman, director of education at The Clay Studio, “but quickly the mission broadened for the organization and became much more focused on education and community involvement programs.”
While there has been a shift in focus toward community involvement and education, there are still a variety of professional programs offered for artists looking into making ceramics as a profession. There are broader programs, such as the Associate Program, which provides shared studio space for up to forty artists, and there are also programs such as the Residency Program and the Work Exchange Program, which allow for more specialized, individual studies.
Many of The Clay Studio’s community outreach programs prove that education programs are not only a learning experience, but they’re also fun. One of the studio’s most popular programs is Date Night, which provides an opportunity for friends or couples to experience ceramic arts.
“People want to have the opportunity to experience clay, but maybe they don’t want to commit to a whole five week or ten week class,” Bockelman said. “Date Night is supposed to be this very social, fun, light introduction to working with clay, and it gives everybody an opportunity to get their hands dirty.”
Date Night begins by providing participants with drinks and appetizers, and a chance to explore the several exhibits at The Clay Studio. They are then escorted to the studio space and given a quick demo on the basics of work with clay. Ideally, they will be able to make a few functional pieces, which will be fired in the kiln and shipped to them for a small fee.
Keeping with its mission of education and community outreach, another of The Clay Studio’s most successful programs is the Claymobile. There was a predecessor to this mobile program known as “Mornings at the Clay Studio,” which generated a lot of interest but wasn’t the most viable option back in the early 90s.
Kathryn Narrow, founder of the Claymobile program in 1994, has seen the Claymobile program change over the years.
“When I first came here, I knew that I wanted to teach kids classes,” Narrow said.
But the Claymobie, which primarily serves kindergarten through 8th grade students, has now extended beyond grade schools. They provide ceramic education to high schools, summer camps, senior centers and even juvenile detention centers.
One of the most important elements behind the Claymobile program is that The Clay Studio wants to bring ceramic arts and education to those who would not be able to experience it otherwise. The Clay Studio offers subsidized rates for schools and organizations. Considering Philadelphia has one of the highest poverty rates, 12.9 percent or roughly 200,000 citizens, there is no denying many people would not be able to afford these programs otherwise.
The Philadelphia public school system’s future has been a hot issue for several years now. Between building closings, mass layoffs and program cuts, opportunities such as the Claymobile are needed. There are more than 40 public schools in Philadelphia that have no form of visual arts anymore thanks to budget cuts and program closures.
“We’re aware that not everyone can come to us, so we’re are bringing ceramic education to them,” said Mia DeCrescenzo, the outreach coordinator. “We bring everything necessary for a ceramics class into classrooms or community centers. Our goal is really to try to match our curriculum with the needs of the students and the organization.”
In order to achieve this goal, The Clay Studio has developed four different curricula for teachers and organizations to choose from. The first of these programs is know as Creative Clay, which is more of a free-form, open forum for students to practice creative expression. Next there is a Claymation program, which focuses on building creatures and objects and then manipulating them with still photography to make short videos. Then there is the S.T.E.A.M track, which stands for science, technology, engineering, arts and math, which adds an artistic twist to standard STEM curriculums. Finally, there is Collaborative Clay, which allows classroom teachers to incorporate their own specific curriculum into the Claymobile’s program.
In the near future, The Clay Studio will begin providing free access to all of these curriculum tracks on First Friday every month, further proving the studio’s dedication to bringing ceramic education to all walks of life in Philadelphia.
– Text, video and images by Joey McDougall.