Community roundtable helps plan Germantown art district

The Germantown Arts Community Roundtable began as a way to have local artists voice their opinions on the formation of an arts district in Germantown. It ended in a frenzy of fresh ideas for the revitalization of the neighborhood.

Ideas at the meeting Feb. 24 ranged from turning the old town hall into an art museum or the previous Germantown Settlement headquarters into a community arts center. There was even talk of creating a guided historical bicycle tour.

At the very least, organizer Vivian Nix-Early is offering artists a space on an interactive map as part of the Classic Towns Web page for Germantown.

“This way artists can link their businesses or Web site portfolio in one centralized location,” Nix-Early explained.

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The proposed arts district runs along Germantown Ave. from Wayne Junction to Johnson Street. The district ends a few blocks east and west of Germantown Ave., but the interactive map will cover all of the 19144 zip code.

Pat Moran, a Germantown Community Connection member and local art collector, was excited to hear the news.

“I think it’s a completely fabulous idea. To me, the arts are a barometer of health in a community,” he said. “There are already a ton of artists throughout the Northwest, I’d love to see more collaborations.”

As a way to help form those connections, the group considered a monthly Germantown-wide art calendar, and public studio days, somewhat like in Old City, where neighbors can see what artists are working on and maybe start their own projects.

Joel Erland, half of “Kaman + Erland” a large scale public art sculpture duo, recently bought a studio space along the 6800 block of Germantown Ave. with his own big ideas in mind.

“Our idea is that we want to start a collective art studio for other artists who don’t have the access to large lofts,” he said. “We won’t be working on projects there everyday because we create only a few large works a year, and we really want to see the space used and create community.”

Kate Kaman and Erland recently created a self contained 20-foot long waterfall in a work called “wubble wall” that now stands in the new Medical School at Temple University.

Kaman says, as an artist, moving to Germantown was a conscious decision.

“It’s a different pace than other parts of the city, especially the 40 year old businesses,” Kaman said. “It doesn’t feel so much like a boom town like Fishtown, and of course the open spaces are great.”

Local artist and sculptor Elisabeth Nickles agrees that Germantown has a special flavor.

“I came for the trees,” she said. “Philadelphia has the largest park system within city limits in the country. I love how much open space is here.”

Nickles is known for her recent art installation, “Essence of the Sea” inside the Philadelphia International Airport, which features abstract sea-like creatures made of mixed media. Since settling in Germantown, she’s noticed something special beneath the surface that helps to make it home.

“It seems like there has been a long standing alternative culture here,” she said. “You can feel it in the spirit of the neighborhood.”

If you are interested in joining the next Germantown Arts Community Roundtable please contact Germantown Community Connection via their website

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