City to Germantown Artists Roundtable: ‘Now is the time’ to buy commercial space on the corridor

On Thursday night, about 50 Germantown-area artists gathered for the latest meeting of the burgeoning Artists Roundtable, an effort launched last year to connect the community’s many artists with local businesses and organizations who need their services.

The Rev. Kevin Porter, pastor at the First Presbyterian Church on Chelten Avenue, hosted and presided over the meeting with help from fellow Roundtable organizers Paula Paul and Ernie Freeman. Almost every kind of art was represented among those present, from poets to musicians and oil painters to interior designers.

City notices the effort

The first speaker was Rojer Kern, a representative of the Philadelphia Department of Commerce, which has taken an interest in the Germantown artists’ initiative.

Kern spoke on a variety of topics relevant to the revitalization of Germantown through the arts.

With property values at historic lows due to the recent recession, he said “now is the time” to acquire a commercial property on the Germantown corridor, which boasts the longest continuously lighted pedestrian walkway in the region. That will soon be further improved through the completion of renovations at the Wayne Junction gateway, he added.

Kern also emphasized the impending re-organization of the tax-funded Germantown Special Service District, which is approaching the end of a five-year plan. He encouraged local property and business owners to offer their input on what services are necessary going forward.

Other items on his agenda included the need to unify different Germantown groups for collective improvement efforts, cooperation in a broad-based marketing campaign and to play a role in selecting proposed spaces for public art and better directional signage.

Kern suggested marketing Germantown as one of the most “walkable” neighborhoods in the region, as well as one of the most historic areas in the entire country. However, he noted that the community won’t be able to sustain a large influx of walking museum or arts visitors until it increases its restaurant offerings.

He described efforts to “streamline” Health Department regulations that currently make it difficult for new restaurants, and especially food trucks, to gain entry to the Germantown market.

Building support from within

For those making their first visit to the Roundtable, Paul reiterated the importance of filling out a survey she developed to pinpoint what artists are working in the region and develop a database for networking and work opportunities.

The current list has grown to about 160 participants, but Paul estimates there are as many as 1,000 eligible artists in Germantown. Paul also unveiled a new logo for the Roundtable, developed by local designer Zack Bird.

Paul is also promoting a new survey for local artists. Having teamed with a few real estate agents who want to find out whether there would be sufficient interest to build or renovate artist studio space in Germantown, Paul will be offering a survey for artists to articulate their needs as far as local workspace. This information can then be taken into consideration by developers.

Other speakers

Conni Bille, another Roundtable organizer and board member at the recently rechristened Germantown Life Enrichment Center, gave a report on the successful gallery event held there early in March, which drew hundreds of attendees, including City Council President Darrell Clarke, and resulted in some sales for local artists.

Also speaking was Sister Cecilia R. Wilson on behalf of Partners for Sacred Spaces, a Philadelphia preservation organization whose new initiative, Arts in Sacred Places, promotes in-depth collaborations between the arts community and places of worship.

They have recently launched an inquiry and training program helping to connect arts organizations with houses of worship who could host artists’ efforts in ways that meld with and improve different congregations’ religious missions.

Art on display

Germantown oil-portrait artist Garth Herrick wrapped up the meeting with a presentation of his work.

He displayed a series of images that documented not only his artistic process as a painter, but the humorous troubles of capturing a family of three young children in a portrait-worthy photograph.

The Artists Roundtable meets on the third Thursday of every month at First Presbyterian from 7 to 9 p.m. The next meeting will be held on April 19, and all local artists and supporters are welcome.

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