SoHa in Haddon Township is magnet for emerging artists

Whether in truth or in jest, the image of the “starving” artist is pervasive in society. As these troubled economic times make it difficult for those with advanced degrees to start a business, traditionally starving artists face an even greater disadvantage. 

However, a creative business model at SoHA Arts Building in Haddon Township, N.J. offers its studio residents, including many artists, support for their growing businesses by providing them with specific tools and opportunities not found elsewhere.

Owner Dominic Flamini knows that many of his building’s residents are young and trying to make their way. But “small business is tough,” so “we try our best to do creative things” throughout the building so artists can focus totally on their art while still allowing them to grow into successful business owners.

Twenty six year old producer Mia Still is one such resident. She moved into her studio in July and is currently working to fine tune the concept for her web show. Her video production company, Live Media Scene, is off to a great start though, she said. This month, she interviewed Bianca Ryan, winner of the first season of America’s Got Talent, at SoHA Arts. She credits SoHA Arts with helping her “get a lot accomplished” and feels she can “grow here” as a young businesswoman.

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Sense of community

Still said she was drawn to the building because it houses a “community of artists.” In other locations she toured, “it’s just you,” and there are no services. But at SoHa Arts, they “really help a lot.”

Under the management of SoHA Arts’ director Lavon Phillips, the building is open 24 hours a day, 7 days a week so residents can access their studio day or night. Some people come on their lunch break to create; others use their space for signing contracts. Engineers, an event planner, finance and media specialists, and a high end makeup artist are just a cross section of the diverse resident population, said Phillips. A chocolatier will also join the ranks this winter.

Residents at SoHA Arts, like Still, are “not hobbyists,” said Phillips. Sometimes, they are parents who took time from an emerging career to have children and need to get out of the house to begin growing their portfolio again, and some have outgrown their garage.

Photographer Richard Bell considers himself semi-retired after an extensive career as a photojournalist for news and commercial outlets. “Bus drivers don’t go home and drive the bus,” Bell said. A studio at SoHA Arts Building was a way to get back into photography, but on his terms.

A workplace that is also a gallery

SoHA Arts offers “lots of opportunities to display my work,” which is a nice benefit of renting a studio there. Bell also said he could have easily rented a similar space in Medford where he lives, but “a space out there by myself would be no fun.” He enjoys just “hanging around” and “commiserating” with like-minded artists.Phillips agrees that community is an important aspect of SoHA Arts. “Everybody feeds off each other,” he said. “There are tools here to survive… we work hard as a group and move forward.”

SoHa Arts is “not just a lot of people locked into a building,” because the building is designed to help artists market themselves and stay connected, Phillips said. If the building’s engineer needs a 24 inch by 36 inch print, she can ask Bell or one of the resident photographers to help.

Though the space, which previously housed a hair salon and potter’s co-op, has undergone many changes already, Philips said “the final concept will build out in January.” The expansive ground-level floor will house a full retail area, larger classrooms and four to five “studios in the limelight.”

It will be the “diamond crown” of SoHa Arts where Phillips said they hope to entertain “masses of people all the time” so it will become the “bread and butter” for residents.

Business support

SoHA Arts uses a number of other strategies to support their residents. Business cards and flyers are placed in strategic places throughout the building so that residents do not have to fumble around for cards. Residents also decide what goes on each wall and the profits from art sales go directly to the residents to keep prices low. A photo studio is available for rent and there are three lounges, two kitchens and a gallery for common use.

Painter Michael Aguirre said he most appreciates SoHA Arts’ class policies. If an artist wants to host a class in one of the common classrooms, SoHA Arts will organize, set up and advertise for residents without an additional room fee. Instead, they take a small percentage of the gross so that if no one registers for a class, residents “can’t lose,” said Phillips.

Someone is “always here in care anyone needs anything,” said Aguirre, and it “beats having to go into Philly.”Fran Gallun is one of the building’s longest residents. Though she said it was “traumatic” when the building’s transformation began, Flamini worked hard to accommodate her and she admits that it is nice to see how Flamini and Phillips expanded the vision of the building.

Flamini said the project is “really exciting for me… The people I’ve met are spectacular,” and “we want them to be able to connect and thrive,” added Phillips.

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