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.” ••