Not just a ‘Pile of Bricks’

There's been a lot of bad news for the arts in the River Wards lately, with loc­al artist spaces clos­ing left and right. But East Kens­ing­ton artist Sarah Finestone says she feels mo­tiv­ated to keep up the neigh­bor­hood's artist­ic en­ergy. 

Sarah Finestone in­side the gal­lery space at “Pile of Bricks,” her Frank­ford Av­en­ue ware­house that will host an art show this week be­fore clos­ing for a year of planned renov­a­tions. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

Sarah Finestone sees plenty of room for growth on Frank­ford Av­en­ue.

While the tight-knit arts com­munity in Fishtown and Kens­ing­ton has re­cently been rocked by a lot of bad news – the clos­ures of the 3rd Ward in­struc­tion and co-work­ing space, Vik­ing Mill work­space, and most re­cently, High­wire Gal­lery – new artist­ic en­ergy is still flow­ing in­to the neigh­bor­hood.

“Per­son­ally, I feel very mo­tiv­ated,” said Finestone, who owns a ware­house gal­lery space known as “Pile of Bricks,” of the neigh­bor­hood’s artist­ic at­mo­sphere. “I’m put­ting so much en­ergy in­to this, and I don’t want it to get shut down – that’s push­ing me.” 

This Fri­day, Finestone, 33, a nat­ive of Mont­gomery County, is open­ing up “Pile of Bricks,” a former ware­house at Frank­ford Av­en­ue and Ser­geant Street in East Kens­ing­ton that she has been renov­at­ing for four years, from 6 to 10 p.m. for a show of art by fel­low artists. En­titled “Me and Earth,” the show in­cludes work by 20 artists themed around their re­la­tion­ships with the nat­ur­al world.

“’Me and Earth’ is go­ing to bring a bunch of people up to Ser­geant Street that may have nev­er been north of York Street,” said video artist Jesse En­gaard, who has work in the show. “When I had my show [here] last year, it was hard to get people to come up this far on Frank­ford, but with places like Fjord … and Sarah hav­ing her show a few blocks north, there will be more and more in­ter­ested folks walk­ing around, and I think the more the mer­ri­er.”

The area already boasts Fjord Gal­lery, but many artists said that Finestone’s gal­lery will be a much needed source of hope for the neigh­bor­hood.

“That girl works her butt off,” said artist Kaitlin Kylie Pom­er­antz, who has work in the new show, of Finestone. “Watch­ing the changes she’s made to her build­ing, and the risks she’s taken in mov­ing to­wards open­ing a gal­lery, has been in­spir­ing.”

Es­tab­lish­ing Pile of Bricks has taken a massive ef­fort, both in terms of the renov­a­tion and ob­tain­ing zon­ing changes and build­ing per­mits from the city. 

“I want to have a leg­al space,” Finestone said. “I have ideas for the fu­ture and I want it to con­tin­ue.”

But she’s com­mit­ted to the com­munity and has in­vited artists in­to this show who share that at­ti­tude. 

“We the Weeds,” made up of Pom­er­antz and bot­an­ist Zya Levy, will be lead­ing a free pub­lic botan­ic­al tour of the neigh­bor­hood’s plant life on Sunday, Nov. 17 at 2 p.m., leav­ing from Pile of Bricks.

“Areas stig­mat­ized as ‘blighted’ take on new in­terest when you start to re­cog­nize the di­versity and re­si­li­ency of the plant life that thrives with­in them,” Pom­er­antz said of the mo­tiv­a­tion be­hind the tour.

To oth­er artists, just hav­ing a loc­al gal­lery is in­cred­ibly valu­able.

“It is im­port­ant to have a gal­lery in the neigh­bor­hood that rep­res­ents artists in the neigh­bor­hood,” said artist Jen Brown, who has an in­stall­a­tion in the up­com­ing show. 

Finestone’s work won’t end with just host­ing art shows. “Me and Earth” will be up for one week, after which Finestone will close the build­ing to the pub­lic and dive in­to a full year of planned renov­a­tions. “Pile of Bricks” is planned to even­tu­ally boast two res­id­en­tial units, a gal­lery, and stu­dio space for six artists.

“I found this build­ing just by work­ing across the street,” Finestone said of the pro­ject’s ori­gins. 

Finestone, who works pro­fes­sion­ally in con­struc­tion and car­pentry, is the gen­er­al con­tract­or and build­er at Pile of Bricks. If all goes well, it could be­come a prom­in­ent arts cen­ter on up­per Frank­ford Av­en­ue and for all of Fishtown and East Kens­ing­ton.

“I’m still fig­ur­ing out – what is my gal­lery, what am I try­ing to do?” Finestone said. “I wasn’t look­ing at all to buy a ware­house. It just happened, it was a good thing that I couldn’t pass up.” •• 

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