Northeast Times

Art with no home

Fol­low­ing 3rd Ward, two more cre­at­ive spaces are shuttered. But where will the city’s artists go?

Vik­ing Mills stu­di­os, at Hagert and Bo­ston streets. The build­ing is closed in­def­in­itely as of Oct. 21. SAM NE­W­HOUSE / STAR PHOTO

ED­ITED TO ADD: Philebrity re­por­ted this morn­ing that High­wire Gal­lery, at 2040 Frank­ford Ave., also an­nounced its clos­ure due to a sub­stan­tial rent in­crease, with no im­me­di­ate plans to re­lo­cate. High­wire will present per­form­ances through Nov. 17, be­fore it’s set to close.

Also, The Brook­lyn Flea Philly at the Piazza at Schmidt’s an­nounced on Oct. 25 via Twit­ter that the Oct. 27 flea mar­ket would be its last. The Brook­lyn Flea, like 3rd Ward, was an­oth­er Brook­lyn-based im­port to Phil­adelphia. 

Just weeks after 3rd Ward Phil­adelphia, a cre­at­ive arts in­struc­tion and stu­dio space just out­side North­ern Liber­ties, closed due to fin­an­cial dif­fi­culties, two more artist spaces in East Kens­ing­ton have been ordered to close, this time due to vi­ol­a­tions of build­ing codes.

The city’s De­part­ment of Li­censes & In­spec­tions ordered Vik­ing Mills stu­di­os closed on Oct. 21, cit­ing nu­mer­ous fire code and elec­tric­al code vi­ol­a­tions. The five-story build­ing, known for of­fer­ing some of the city’s cheapest cent­rally loc­ated stu­dio space to artists, is loc­ated at 2026 E. Hagert St. 

It is con­nec­ted to a one-story build­ing hous­ing the pop­u­lar Little Ber­lin art gal­lery, which was also ordered closed by the city.

For the time be­ing, Little Ber­lin’s up­com­ing show in Novem­ber will be delayed or can­celed and dozens of artists and cre­at­ive pro­fes­sion­als are un­able to ac­cess their work­space.

“This is our live­li­hood. We can’t be locked out,” said print­maker and sculptor Leslie Fried­man, 32, a Fishtown res­id­ent who has had a stu­dio at Vik­ing Mills for two years. “Vik­ing Mills is not a very lux­uri­ous build­ing. It doesn’t have heat, there’s a lot of things that make it dif­fi­cult, but I have a space. It’s not like I sud­denly made more money.”

Artists had un­til Fri­day, Oct. 25 at 5 p.m. to enter the build­ing and take their pos­ses­sions out. But since then, the site has been of­fi­cially sealed.

Fried­man has a show open­ing Nov. 1 and an­oth­er show in the spring as part of the Fleish­er Art Me­mori­al’s Wind Chal­lenge Ex­hib­i­tion. 

She got her pieces for this week’s show out of her stu­dio be­fore the build­ing was sealed, but now she’s afraid that if Vik­ing Mills is shuttered long-term, it could im­pact her show months away.

“If this per­sists, it will be dev­ast­at­ing,” she said.

Vik­ing Mills LLC co-own­er Dav­id Hirsh re­portedly told ten­ants that he is work­ing to ad­dress the vi­ol­a­tions and re-open the build­ing as quickly as pos­sible. 

Hirsh did not re­spond to re­quests for com­ment by press-time.

Vik­ing Mills stu­di­os cost about 50 cents per square foot, cheap­er than most oth­er stu­dio spaces in the city, Fried­man said. An­oth­er ad­vant­age of Vik­ing Mills is that she can walk there from her home.

“Most of us live in the Fishtown-Kens­ing­ton area,” said Al­bert Fung, 43, a paint­er who lives in Fishtown and has stu­di­os in Vik­ing Mills. “We have a com­munity here, of artists.” 

Vik­ing Mills was first cited for nu­mer­ous vi­ol­a­tions in April, after smoke de­tect­ors went off dur­ing a party and the fire mar­shal in­vest­ig­ated the build­ing, lead­ing to an in­spec­tion by L&I.

“Un­til we were kicked out last week­end, most of us wer­en’t aware of the really ma­jor prob­lems,” Fung said. 

While the land­lord told Fung and oth­er ten­ants that L&I in­spect­ors would come to the build­ing, Fung said he thought his only re­spons­ib­il­ity was to make sure that his own per­son­al stu­dio was up to code.

“I knew that the build­ing may not be com­pletely up to code. But I don’t know any­thing about build­ing codes. As long as the build­ing stayed open, I sort of just closed my eyes,” Fung said.

Ac­cord­ing to Hid­den City Phil­adelphia, a let­ter sent by L&I at­tor­neys to Vik­ing Mills, LLC cited elec­tric­al work done without per­mit by non-li­censed con­tract­ors, wood carving be­ing done without prop­er wood shav­ings col­lec­tion sys­tems in place, a kiln for fir­ing clay be­ing used, walls con­struc­ted without be­ing fire-proofed, and weld­ing be­ing done without per­mit. 

Karyn Vet­ter, man­ager of the Pa­per­mill Stu­dio at Ormes and Somer­set streets, said that meet­ing build­ing codes was one of the hard­est parts of open­ing a stu­dio space.

“It’s a long and daunt­ing pro­cess to get the per­mits. We learned the hard way,” Vet­ter said. 

“The city is just try­ing to be more care­ful right now be­cause of the build­ing col­lapse and the ware­house fires that have gone on,” she con­tin­ued.

For Fung, the sym­bol­ic im­port­ance of Vik­ing Mills makes it im­port­ant that the build­ing be re­stored to fully func­tion­al ca­pa­city.

“When my land­lord opened the build­ing to artists, the neigh­bor­hood was less vi­brant at that time. I think bring­ing artists in — they sup­por­ted a num­ber of busi­nesses that sur­round it,” Fung said.

“Two and a half years ago, when I moved in, at that time every­one re­garded Vik­ing Mills as a sym­bol of re­new­al – as something very en­er­get­ic in the neigh­bor­hood that was very pos­it­ive.”

But for artists who are cur­rently stuck between wait­ing for their stu­dio to re­open or seek­ing out a new work­space, the loss of Vik­ing Mills has left them in a state of limbo.

“If spaces like Vik­ing Mills can’t ex­ist, then how do artists af­ford to be in the city?” Fried­man asked. ••

You can reach at snewhouse@bsmphilly.com.

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