Located on Fishtown’s fast growing Frankford Avenue arts corridor, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is aiming to be both another institution in the city’s maker community and an access point for local artists.
Founded in March 2012 on the strength of a $20,000 matching grant awarded by the Knight Foundation’s Arts Challenge, the Sculpture Gym opened its doors this past June, though it held pre-launch opening parties, including one for nearby neighbor the Head and the Hand Press.
The Sculpture Gym’s founder Darla Jackson pitched the idea to Knight Foundation as being an accessible all in one workspace for sculptors like her, as well as various other types of artists.
“I wanted to get together something that would accommodate a lot of artists,” Jackson said. “Being a sculptor is tough because you a need a lot of equipment, a lot of it’s heavy, a lot of it’s big so getting it all together in one place is difficult.”
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With the aid of the Knight Foundation grant, along with money raised from private donators and $10,000 on Kickstarter, she was able to launch the space in the hopes of doing just that.
Though not expressly technology, the Sculpture Gym is an anchor to a growing maker movement that has connected analog skill sets and artistic spirit to a sprawling entrepreneurship and innovation conversation, both in Philadelphia and elsewhere in the country.
The 7,500 square foot Sculpture Gym is a big open space with a variety of maker areas that host workshops from woodworking, to a metal shop and even a foundry. Hidden behind a dingy door off a quickly energizing Frankford Avenue in Fishtown, the space includes a small art studio painted bright white and an office space as the after-thoughts on the high-ceilings and dark, heavy wood rafters of an industrial space.
The gym offers its members and the public a variety of options for exploring their creativity, said Jackson.
The gym functions in two ways, she said. Members — at this point there are upwards of 45 of them – can come into the space and work on their various projects for a given amount of time per month based upon their individual membership subscription. Memberships range from full use of the facility during all its operating hours to a couple days each week. Regardless of person’s chosen rate, once they become a member, the gym is essentially their oyster.
“When someone signs up as a member, they get access to everything in the shop,” Jackson said.
The second function of the gym is to provide a place for the city’s budding artists. Classes are held at the gym that allow the public to come into the workspace and get hands on experience, learning various skills from the gym’s more than competent staff.
The PSculpture Gym offers a wide variety of classes, from a one-day, intensive Spheres on Fire class that teaches how to create spherical oil lamps to a Blankets Mold 101 class that spans four Thursdays.
In addition to the heavy equipment orientated classes such as Welding 101, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is looking to add more kid friendly classes to their already extensive list of choices.
“Working with kids is definitely on our radar,” Jackson said. “We already have a few classes coming up that will be offered to anyone 14 and older.”
Along with expanding the number of classes being offered, the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym is looking at expanding the number of disciplines being housed within its walls.
The gym already has plans in the works to bring in a ceramic, jewelry and blacksmith shop in the near future and the prospect of expansion doesn’t stop there.
“Everyone here wants to know more,” Jackson said. “There’s been a lot of talk of glass casting. And I’d like to do something with neon. We don’t have the capabilities to do that yet and I don’t even know what we would do with it but I feel like it would be fun and something people would be interested in. There’s a lot of fluidity here, and everyone wants to continue to learn new things so I think as long as we keep that we’ll be able to improve upon and offer new things.”
Along the same lines as offering members more things with which to build, Jackson is also looking to provide artists with a means to sell their creations.
“One of our plans for the future and sustainability of the future is to have our members create artwork and functional things and take that to the next level by making it profitable and so that we can all make a living off of the work that we’re doing,” Jackson said. “Going to either an online store or a brick and mortar so that we can have these things available and for sale and be able to say that this was made here by these people, with the goal that our members will be able to make this their full time job.”
Sustainability has to be on the mind of anyone in the shared maker space community, with the unexpected implosion of 3rd Ward, which closed both its Philadelphia and landmark Brooklyn locations this fall.
While making beautiful art and turning a profit are the goals of Jackson and The Sculpture Gym, that is not what she sees as being the most rewarding aspect of the gym.
“The most important thing that has come out of the gym is the community of people here working it in,” Jackson said. “I feel like everyone is getting something out of this. Whether you’re meeting someone new or learning some new trick for your work whatever is, every I come in and someone is talking to some about something new with their work and for me that has been the most inspiring thing.”
Find more about the Sculpture Gym here.
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