The beginning of the end…

Before I get into this, I want to take a moment to thank everyone for their help along the way with the starting, running and now ending of the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. I have learned so much throughout the process and have met so many amazing people because of this space. I truly could not have done it alone and every single little bit helped this idea along, from the biggest acts of kindness and support, down to the smallest ones. So thank you, from the bottom of my heart for all of it. And in order to properly talk about the end, I feel like I need to start at the beginning…

In 2010, Kara (aka the PSG Fairy Godmother) told me I should apply for a Knight Arts Challenge Grant, which consisted of coming up with an amazing idea for the arts in Philadelphia, in 160 words or less. So I, an artist with a nearly one year old baby, applied with the idea of the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, a membership based sculpture studio that would run classes and show sculpture in its gallery, “helping the artists of Philadelphia get their art made and out into the world… without chopping off their fingers or catching on fire.” Yes. I wrote that. At the end of 2010, despite my eloquent and, ahem, straightforward writing style, I found out I was one of 63 finalists. While answering the required second round questions, I assumed I was up against a bunch of people like myself… individual artists with ideas they thought would be exciting to see come to realization, talking about people not catching on fire in their grant applications. It wasn’t until after those answers were sent in that the full list of semi finalists was released…and included big name arts organizations like the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Barnes Foundation… So, naturally I panicked and assumed I wouldn’t win.

AND THEN I WON.  I was one of 36 winners among a group of organizations I respect and admire. So, naturally I panicked and assumed I would fail. I mean, look at the photo I sent them when they asked for photos for the press…me and a shark in birthday hats. Birthday hats! Obviously I was not cut out for running a business based on this photo alone.

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Not to mention that I didn’t know how to run a business or raise money or be a boss or talk to lawyers or accountants or any or those things one thinks of when someone says “I have my own business.” And did I mention that I had a small child? Yep. Perfect recipe for complete and total failure. But what I did not consider are the following two points: 1. That being stubborn will get you very far. and 2. That there are so many people who want to see you succeed. People who don’t know you. People who have never met and maybe never will meet you. In addition to all the people who already know and love you, there are so many amazingly good people out there who want to help. And if it were not for these two things, my stubbornness and amazing people, I probably would have failed.
So instead of failing, I started to raise money to match the funds from the Knight Foundation, because that was a requirement of the grant. I had chosen $20,000 solely because I thought I could probably raise that much. I figured I knew at least 2,000 people who would want to give me $10 for what I thought was a cool idea. So T-shirts and mugs and tote bags were made and tables were set up at various events and there I was talking about this thing that didn’t really exist yet. AND PEOPLE THOUGHT IT WAS A GOOD IDEA. Between all these events PSG had raised over $2,000 in individual donations, which was amazing to me, because it still really was just an idea.

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So next we did a Kickstarter. (Naturally I took it very seriously and wore cat ears in the video.) And it was a hellish month because I worried the whole way through, but we hit our goal with 3 days left and in the end raised over $10,000. And then (!) someone called me out of the clear blue sky and said they would like to anonymously donate $10,000. I nearly died. It floored me to have people I knew supporting a space that didn’t exist yet, but perfect strangers? Madness. It made me believe in this crazy idea even more than I already had.
Now at this point funds were matched (in less than a year I might add) so the next step was to find a building. We looked at practically every warehouse building that had a roof (and some that didn’t) in Fishtown and beyond. Some were amazing but out of the budgeted price range. Some were in the price range but missing key elements, like big doors, concrete floors, a roof, etc. Some were perfect but just not somewhere people wanted to be late at night. And then at the end of 2011, 1834 Frankford came along…and I fell in love. Mind you it was a shit hole. Literally, as in there was dog poop and car parts everywhere. But I knew right away THIS WAS IT. So naturally everyone thought I was crazy but I persisted (have I mentioned being stubborn?) and after ALOT of help on the (scarily long term) lease from a PVLA appointed lawyer, in March of 2012 this building became PSG’s future home. So let’s just take a moment to look over what I first saw upon entering this space:
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Needless to say we had our work cut out for us. So I put out a call for volunteers on the blog I’d been keeping and people showed up to help. Every. Single. Weekend. And again, I was floored because no one had to be there. They just showed up. And most of them kept coming back. For a year and a half while we put up walls and plumbing and electrical and cleaned and swept and built things and rebuilt other things. For a year and a half. While we all waited for giant walls and a new electrical service, they came back, fed only on pizza, beer and the prospect of this place that we were building together.
So by June 28th, 2013, within a week of PECO finally connecting the new service, we opened with a great party and 50 (!) Charter Members. Our Charter Members are members who had signed up before we opened, some even before we had a location. Volunteers turned into monitors and we kept the shop going for memberships and classes and events. And like any business, we’ve had ups and downs, or “growing pains” as I’ve heard it referred to as, over the last almost 3 years that we’ve been open. I have certainly wanted to quit multiple times, but pushed through (ahem, stubborn) and kept going thanks to the kind words and support from everyone around me. And our membership continued and while people have come and go, a core group of people remained that feels like a weird little PSG family. Our classes continued to grow and we’ve taught hundreds of people how to weld, forge and more. Our gallery has consistently shown sculptors who are focused on creating beautiful, meaningful work throughout almost 50 exhibitions over the last 4 years. We have participated in tons of events with organizations like the Barnes Foundation, Fresh Artists, Art Star, Indy Hall, Ignite Philly, Philly Fixers Guild, Philly Give & Get, Here’s My Chance, CFEVA, PVLA, NKCDC and so many more.  So many amazing accomplishments… And I love you all for supporting this space and being a part of it in whichever way you have been able.  You all made it possible in some way, through monitoring, volunteering, lending or donating tools, time and money, being a member, teaching classes, taking classes, telling friends to take classes, buying a t-shirt, sharing information, providing grants, fiscal sponsorships, official business advice, unofficial business advice, words of kindness, encouragement, opportunities, showing artwork here, buying artwork here, building something out of nothing over and over again… Every little bit helped this place be what it was, so thank you from the bottom of my heart. We did damn well for a scrappy bunch of artists.
Unfortunately, the era of PSG is coming to an end as our building has been sold. I fought for it and  looked into relocating, but in the end, the reality of moving into a newer, more expensive space or starting from scratch in another old warehouse was not feasible. After taking a good long look at what I’ve done and what I want to do, I’ve decided to take some time to focus on myself, to make art, and spend more time with my daughter, who doesn’t know what life is like without this place. So, while on some level it kills me to do so, I have made the choice that I believe to be best for my little family.
Moving forward, we will end membership access as of April 30th. We will run classes scheduled for the month of May. We will sell off equipment and materials throughout May and early June, unless someone fancies themselves an entrepreneur and wants to buy the Sculpture Gym to open it up somewhere else, which would make a lot of people very happy to see it continue.  I’m also in the process of researching suitable studio options and/or makerspaces for our remaining members. If you have or know of a space I can tell them about, please let me know via email. I am here to talk if anyone would like to. So far the support from those who I’ve told about this has been overwhelming.
We will celebrate together at the opening reception of process: CASTING IV on Friday, May 6th from 6-9pm and I would love for all of you to join us.
Thank you again for the support you have shown throughout. It truly means the world to me.
Darla

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