The mall it’s based in officially reopened when Philadelphia entered the yellow phase on July 3, but REC Philly founders Will Toms and Dave Silver wanted to take their time in planning how to welcome members back to their creative space, they told Technical.ly.
As part of REC Philly’s reopening, new COVID-19-driven policies will allow members to more safely access the coworking space and 14 private studios used for creative endeavors like recording, dance and photography.
Masks will be required for entry into REC Philly spaces and in any public areas within the facility. People entering REC Philly will also be required to wash hands when entering REC Philly facilities and after studio sessions. Social distancing will limit the number of people in the coworking spaces, and private studios will be allowed a maximum number of four people at any time. Professional cleaning crews will do deep cleans on a daily basis.
It’s been an eagerly awaited return for the cofounders. When the shutdown first hit, Toms and Silver called members by phone to better understand their creative needs in lieu of access to REC Philly’s headquarters. In response to member feedback, Toms created several Slack channels to help keep members connected.
In their conversations, Toms said he also heard members discuss the difficulties they’ve had in making money since Philadelphia shut down its bars, venues and performance spaces. To support those members, the REC Relief fund was born.
The organization spearheaded the effort with local businesses to raise $20,000 to be used for 50 microgrants and more than 40 free REC Philly memberships, with in-kind and monetary donations coming from the likes of Guru, Workhorse Brewing Co., Indy Hall and Ballard Spahr. With the first round receiving 1,000 applications, Toms and Silver hope to get more donations that can support a second round of grants.
REC Philly’s efforts to help support Philadelphia’s creative economy come during a particularly difficult time for local arts and culture funding in general. To counter the effects of the pandemic-prompted recession, Mayor Jim Kenney and City officials proposed a budget for 2020-2021 that eliminated the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy as well as funding for the Philadelphia Cultural Fund. While funding was later restored to the Cultural Fund, the amount is around one third of its $3 million budget before the start of the pandemic.
Silver says that educating creatives about ways to create sustainable businesses is more important with the capacity for events that comes with having their headquarters in the Fashion District. Over the last four months, REC Philly has produced 20 virtual events a month ranging from panels to discussions on the creative economy.
“With our space, events are a huge pillar of what we do,” Silver said. “At the same time, our space is here to provide resources for content creation and collaboration. Those are the main pillars. It’s not meant to have huge parties or concerts all of the time. As long as we can get the education out, that concern kind of goes away. The connection can happen without large gatherings.”
One recent REC Philly virtual event in collaboration with visual artist and Philadelphia native Gianni Lee would yield positive in-person results: After brainstorming what might come next for Black community members that protested police brutality, an open discussion led to a community cleanup day that saw more than 50 people show up to clean up debris and trash in West Philadelphia.
To continue its virtual education efforts this year, Toms said REC Philly will produce more than 70 events between August and December 2020. He sees a silver lining in REC Philly’s virtual programming in the moment: reaching people beyond the Philadelphia area.
“I’ve noticed eagerness of members gravitating toward digital programming,” he said. “It allows us to understand that as we continue to invest in that, young people across the country will be watching these in hopes of building their brand.”
Michael Butler is a 2020-2022 corps member for Report for America, an initiative of The Groundtruth Project that pairs young journalists with local newsrooms. This position is supported by the Lenfest Institute for Journalism.-30-