Saturday, June 19, 2010
Opening of The Art Gallery At City Hall
One of the many pleasures of having a week break from school is that I get to attend openings and events after work. This week it was the opening of the new gallery at city hall—rather unambiguously christened, The Art Gallery At City Hall. I was totally unaware that this was in the works, the only promotion of it that I saw posted the day prior to its opening. Apparently, others must have known, because there was a solid crowd assembled when I got there. The ribbon cutting ceremony and official opening were on hold until the mayor arrived, as we waited in a rather hot and steamy hallway. Isn’t that the traditional story of waiting for municipal services?
The gallery is in a prime spot just off of the east Market Street entrance of city hall, in a room that used to house the Mayor’s Action Center. Accessibility is the key, as well as confirmation of the arts as a priority for the Mayor; but good intentions alone will not be enough to divert the everyday pedestrian traffic that cuts through City Hall into the gallery. I did not notice any signage posted, except immediately outside of the gallery door. Also, the presence of a guard outside the glass doors leading into the corridor, though understandable in terms of security, was not the most welcoming sight. In order for the gallery to be true to the vision behind it, the office must find a way to draw in visitors regardless of the reason they are at City Hall. Paying your water bill? Marriage License? Legal trouble? Come to see the art.
Once the event began, Chief Cultural Officer Gary Steuer was the first to speak, making the requisite thank yous to those who helped to support the gallery. He highlighted the ways in which the space had been made as “green” as possible, from the choice of paint to the flooring. Next up was Jean Canfield of PNC Bank, whose Arts Alive program had provided significant funding.
Finally, Mayor Nutter took the podium. He praised the work of The Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy, referring to Philadelphia’s ever-increasing profile as a globally-known arts destination. Like any good politician, he would not let a good chance go to waste of reminding a captive audience how the lethargic state of the economy is not his fault; but he tempered these comments with an unequivocal affirmation that in the face of the city’s belt-tightening measures, the arts always have a seat at the table.
With that, the Mayor cut the ribbon to allow guests into the new gallery. The setup of the space has the individual offices each branching off directly from the central gallery. There is a true air of openness about the room, projecting the sense that Philadelphia’s cultural officers are accessible to those who visit the gallery, not hidden in some restricted upper-level floor.
The exhibition’s title, On The Rise (a bit of a half-groaner), feels like it has more to do with the opening of the gallery than any of the art in it, though focused on local emerging artists. I would suppose then, that both parties are on the rise, so to speak. Partnering organizations—The Center For Emerging Visual Artists, InLiquid, and Philadelphia Sculptors—provided artwork for this first show. It does not make sense to do an appraisal of any individual work, other than to say that Darla Jackson’s Surprise Party series was the most appropriately festive for a spanking new art gallery. (P.S. – Check the Inquirer’s endearingly goofy photo of Mayor Nutter pretending to blow out the candles on the cake that is part of Jackson’s work. Mr. Mayor, you know that you are not supposed to handle artwork without white gloves, right?) On The Rise remains open through August 6, go see it and the new Art Gallery At City Hall!