One of Philadelphia’s oldest artist collectives, Space 1026, will soon lose the space it has occupied for more than 20 years.
Space 1026 has been in Chinatown since 1997. On the second and third floors of 1026 Arch Street, the more than 20 member artists have studio spaces, a screen printing facility, and a large communal room of exhibitions and performances. The building has been sold to a new owner.
The constantly evolving community of emerging artists, and the parties they throw have been a key part of the city’s cultural underground for two decades.
Some members have gone on to bigger things, including Jason Musson and Adam Wallacavage. Some participate in the Mummers parade as the brigade The Vaudvillains. Its annual auction of art from current and former members draws hundreds, and raises thousands of dollars.
That’s despite the fact that it operates on little more than a shoestring and some enthusiasm.
“I spent a lot of my time trying to organize people,” said Jacqueline Quinn, a member of five years who looks after the finances. “I’ve come to the conclusion that it’s not really a place where you plan. As much planning as you do, it doesn’t matter because everything’s going to be last-minute. Somehow that works.”
“We are really lucky it’s gone as long as it’s gone, for the level of incompetency,” said founding member Max Lawrence. “It’s a real testament – I hate to be corny – to love and community.”
Space 1026 has always had the same landlord, Al Capelli, who was sympathetic to the financial straits of a scrappy artist collective. In April, the building was sold for $3.3 million to developer John Wei, who is less sympathetic.
Members of the collective say Wei has plans for the building that do not involve them. The rent is increasing dramatically. He is allowing the collective to stay long enough to finish out its season of exhibitions and stage a final auction in December. By the spring, they will be out.
Wei did not return calls for comment. Lawrence is not without sympathy for the landlord.
“God, I love this building,” he said. “But it needs love. It needs love at an institutional level of financing.”
In 1997, Lawrence was part of a group of new graduates from the Rhode Island School of Design who decided to head to Philadelphia because they thought it would be kinder and cheaper than New York. They put down roots in Chinatown, the center of an urban crossroads of the good, the bad, and the ugly.
“Chinatown is the convergence of three powerful forces,” said Lawrence. “You have the Convention Center, and Market East (now Jefferson Station), and what used to be the Gallery Mall. Add the bus station right behind us and every possible culture is meeting at this point.”
Chinatown was also affordable to artists with no money. It’s not anymore.
“Something’s that’s really special about Space 1026 is that we’re more interested in showing art than selling it,” said Quinn. “We’re not driven by sales, and somehow have existed that way. It really sets us apart.”
It’s a story told many times: artists got a foothold in a cheap neighborhood, then watched it develop around them. Space 1026 is part a downtown artist exodus.
The imminent loss of the building caused the collective to do some soul-searching.
“Do we have the energy to move?” asked Lawrence. “Do we want to do this again? Why would you do this again? Is it even relevant? Those kinds of ‘who-am-I’ questions.”
Collectively, the answer is yes. Space 1026 is now looking to buy its own building, inventing an organizational model that will allow for both a mortgage and the ability to stay weird. An online GoFundMe capital campaign is afoot to raise $50,000.
Lawrence says 20 years on, he’s an “old head” of Space 1026, one of the few remaining original members. The loss of the building is an opportunity for the younger members to reinvent the collective.
“Nothing gives ownership to somebody more than them doing something themselves. The ability to make something from your own hands, to carve your own space, is really important,” he said. “When you start to inherit things, it doesn’t have the same value to you.”