Weekend art show to reacquaint Germantown with an old friend

Though the old Germantown Y on Greene Street is poised for a significant reinvention this Saturday, neighborhood residents are still asking board member Conni Bille whether the building is even open.

That’s why Bille, Germantown Artist Roundtable organizer Paula Paul, local artist Susan Mangan and others are eager to share its return with an open-call community-art exhibit this weekend.

This weekend’s event marks a comeback after a rough few years. In 2008, a lightning strike caused an electrical burst that set off the sprinkler systems overnight, dousing the building for several hours and resulting in severe, widespread water damage. Then, the national organization revoked its charter.

To Bille, the issue of revival came down to simple questions: “What is the potential of Germantown and how can we serve it?”

A creative lifeline

Those involved in rebranding as the Germantown Life Enrichment Center deemed the arts as a key focus of the organization’s new mission.

With graceful, high-ceilinged, large-windowed spaces that seem ready-made for art exhibits, concerts, classes and workshops, Bille saw an exciting opportunity for artists who are increasingly priced out of studios and galleries in other Philadelphia neighborhoods.

“All the resources are here. You just can’t see them,” said Paul, who hopes the new Center will provide visibility and momentum to an arts-fueled renaissance in Germantown. “The space has a lot of potential.”

A partnership with the Germantown Artist Roundtable has made Saturday’s opening event possible.

An artistic meet-and-greet

More than 15 artists responded to the open call for community artwork. They have provided works ranging from paintings and sculptures to fiber arts and collages. Subjects range from portraits of jazz musicians and sports figures to landscapes and abstract works.

The community is invited to an open reception at the new Center from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday. Attendees can meet the artists — some long-time residents of Germantown, some newly arrived — and view their works. Live music and food will be provided, as well as opportunities to learn more about the new Center.

“We want to be genuine to the community, and serve the community’s needs,” said Bille. “It’s not about what we can’t do. It’s about what we can do.”

To that end, 21 board members and 20-30 full- and part-time staffers will ensure that the center continues to serve many of its former roles, including access to a pool, sports areas and a section for low-income men’s housing, and providing its traditional social services.

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