When the Pennsylvania Academy for the Fine Arts’ new retail manager, Mary Lynne Mack, was hired just a month ago, her boss told her about a concept for a pop-up shop: a little storefront space along Germantown Avenue in Chestnut Hill to sell gifts and art through the holiday season. There would likely be a single window to the street to decorate.
“In my mind I thought it would be something small, creative, and feature student art,” said Mack, setting up merchandise for the weekend opening. “So when I walked into the 3,500 square foot space, I was delighted.”
The space PAFA Northwest ultimately landed in is three times larger than expected, with four windows to the sidewalk, thanks to a generous trustee who happens to be in the real estate business. The extra space will allow PAFA to open a satellite location, giving the people of Chestnut Hill a taste of what it has been doing in its historic Center City buildings for 211 years — teach art classes, give lectures, and show exhibitions.
Faculty artwork will be on display for viewing, while student artwork on another wall will be available for sale. Students set their own prices, considering the shop will get 40 percent of sales. It will be the first opportunity for many of them to sell their work.
If visitors like what they experience, they might go to the main campus in Center City.
PAFA has well-established roots in Chestnut Hill, where many of its faculty live, as well as some trustees. Vice president James Gaddy hopes the PAFA Northwest shop will deepen relationships in the neighborhood.
What had started as an idea to simply capitalize on the holiday season expanded into rethinking how the nation’s oldest art school attracts new patrons and students.
“That’s a larger question: what is the future of museums? How do museums sustain themselves?” asked PAFA vice president James Gaddy. “We have the luxury of being one of the country’s few remaining art schools and museums. We’re not only displaying art, we’re teaching the next generation of artists. We’re impacting that future of American art.”
One of his immediate concerns is how win the support of his retail neighbors. He says everybody likes PAFA’s two-hour drop-in art class for children, allowing parents to leave their kids behind while they shop up and down the avenue.