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. ••