Old City’s art exiles look toward Fishtown

Cit­ing an in­creas­ingly sterile and un­in­vit­ing en­vir­on­ment, some Old City artists are look­ing to Frank­ford Av­en­ue for a new First Fri­day stomp­ing ground.

Bri­an Se­dowsky, left, with his son Bri­an, daugh­ter Mead­ow and their friend Gabby, check out the pho­to­graphy of Brad Cox dur­ing First Fri­day on Frank­ford Ave near E. Nor­ris, Fri­day, Ju­ly 1, 2011.

Phil­adelphia First Fri­day events, the monthly art gal­lery open­ings and com­munity gath­er­ings seen across the city, star­ted about 20 years ago in the Old City.

Now, one artist, Clin­ton Meister, a former Fishtown­er who now resides in Queen Vil­lage, is mak­ing a push to move the monthly event north to Frank­ford Av­en­ue in Fishtown.

There is no deny­ing the emer­ging art cul­ture in the river wards. On Frank­ford Av­en­ue alone there are at least 10 gal­ler­ies and busi­nesses that par­ti­cip­ate reg­u­larly in First Fri­day events, and Meister said it’s time for vendors in Old City to make the trek to be part of the grow­ing arts move­ment.

“Artists need to sur­vive,” said Meister last week.

While work­ing with a group of fel­low artists dur­ing the May First Fri­day event, Meister was ous­ted from selling works on the side­walks of Old City.

A June 16 re­port from City Pa­per’s Holly Ot­ter­bein noted that the city’s Li­censes and In­spec­tions De­part­ment was re­spond­ing to busi­ness own­ers’ com­plaints about vendors tak­ing up too much of the side­walk.

Re­call­ing that in­cid­ent, Meister said the side­walks along Frank­ford Av­en­ue — which were re­cently re­fur­bished — are much wider and al­lowed for more room for vendors and pat­rons alike.

“Fishtown just has a bet­ter scene. It’s big­ger, it’s easi­er to get to and the people here are awe­some,” he said.

Im­me­di­ately after his ouster from Old City, Meister cre­ated an event on Face­book called “Go North! Cel­eb­rate First Fri­day in Fishtown!” to gath­er al­lies to his cause.

In the neigh­bor­hood, Meister would join an already act­ive arts scene. In fact, at Ex­tra Ex­tra, an art gal­lery at 1524 Frank­ford Ave. that opened in Janu­ary, First Fri­days have been re­l­at­ively suc­cess­ful events.

Even though Ex­tra Ex­tra doesn’t pro­gram spe­cific­ally for the event, Derek Frech, co-cur­at­or of the gal­lery, said last week’s event did co­in­cide with the open­ing of a new show — Low­beam by artist Zachary Dav­is.

“We don’t like it to des­ig­nate how we pro­gram,” said Frech. “But, I think it’s dif­fer­ent than Old City. It’s a more com­mer­cial thing down­town. Here, we’re not strictly fo­cused on mak­ing sales.”

Dav­is said the gal­lery saw about 100-200 vis­it­ors on First Fri­day and said the event on Frank­ford Av­en­ue has been good for busi­ness.

“It’s been cer­tainly good for foot traffic and it brings in a di­verse audi­ence,” said Dav­is.

On Fri­day, Ju­ly 1, this month’s First Fri­day event kicked off on Frank­ford Av­en­ue at Nor­ris Street, near Rock­et Cat Caf&ea­cute;, where Meister gathered with a group of like­minded artists to present their goods.

All along the strip vendors were set up on the wide side­walks on both sides of the street, selling art and pho­to­graphs as well as T-shirts, toys and knick-knacks.

Jim Hor­wat, a 34-year-old artist from Levit­town, said he sup­por­ted Meister in this move north to Frank­ford Av­en­ue.

He said he’s been an artist for about 10-15 years and for at least the last six years he’s been meet­ing with Meister and their small group of friends to sell art on First Fri­day in Old City.

But after a month — the group cel­eb­rated First Fri­day on Frank­ford Av­en­ue in June as well — he already likes hav­ing his works for sale in Fishtown.

“It’s been like a re­birth,” he said with a grin. “Fishtown really seems more in­vit­ing.”

But, as the event kicked off, the street seemed quiet and not many pat­rons were per­us­ing the stand.

“It’s go­ing to take awhile,” said Meister as he re-ar­ranged items on his table. “But, I’ve been talk­ing to loc­al busi­ness own­ers and every­one seems really sup­port­ive.”

Mov­ing for­ward, Meister said he plans to con­tin­ue spend­ing First Fri­day’s on Frank­ford Av­en­ue and he’s hop­ing to see the event grow as oth­er artists see the wel­com­ing at­ti­tude that ex­ists along the av­en­ue.

“I want to bring people’s at­ten­tion to Fishtown,” he said. “This place is full of artists.”

For more in­form­a­tion or to join Meister’s move­ment to bring artists to Frank­ford Av­en­ue for First Fri­days, search Face­book for “Go North!! Cel­eb­rate First Fri­day in Fishtown.”

Re­port­er Hay­den Mit­man can be reached at 215-354-3124 or hmit­man@bsmphilly.com 

You can reach at hmitman@bsmphilly.com.

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