‘Bursting at the seams,’ Clay Studio plans move from Old City to Kensington

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Chris Taylor, president of the Clay Studio, and Vice President Jennifer Martin, are moving their studio out of Old City to a larger site on North American Street.

Chris Taylor, president of the Clay Studio, and Jennifer Martin, vice president, are moving their studio out of Old City to a larger site on North American Street in Philadelphia's Kensington neighborhood. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

After more than four decades, one of Philadelphia’s anchor arts organizations on Second Street in Old City is pulling up stakes to establish itself in a new neighborhood.

The Clay Studio’s sculpture workshop, education facility, and exhibition space was founded on a top floor of a row house in Old City in 1974. Over the next 40 years, the organization hopped around the neighborhood, expanded several times, and became part of the community’s economic turnaround.

“Every time we’ve expanded, it’s taken off,” said president Christopher Taylor, who last stretched out the Clay Studio’s current space at 139 N. Second St. in 2007. “We built it for 1,100 students. Last year, we had 4,600 students. We’re bursting at the seams.”

The Clay Studio currently occupies a couple of storefronts on Second Street in Old City.
The Clay Studio currently occupies a couple of storefronts on Second Street in Old City. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

Taylor and his board decided to move to what’s now a vacant lot on North American Street across from the Crane Arts Building in South Kensington. The plan calls for a 31,000-square-foot building with classrooms, studios, and galleries.

The new building will have nearly three times more classroom space and almost twice as much space for firing kilns.

Taylor is particularly impressed by the neighborhood, a historically industrial corridor that has started giving way to mixed-use developments, most predominantly the Crane Arts Building.

“North American Street in South Kensington is an exciting community,” said Taylor. “There is a broad diversity, young and old people, different religions — we’ve got the Al-Aqsa [Islamic Society] right up the street. Artists are moving in. There are maker spaces, and tons of creative businesses.”

The Crane Arts Building already houses the Clay Studio’s Claymobile program, a studio on wheels that allows bringing sculpture workshops into any classroom or community center across the city.

A scale model shows the location of the new Clay Studio (in clear plastic) on North American Street across the street from the Crane Arts building.
A scale model shows the location of the new Clay Studio (in clear plastic) on North American Street across from the Crane Arts building. (Emma Lee/WHYY)

The organization has been expanding beyond traditional studio craft into public performances, social art-making events, and culinary tastings on handmade dishware.

“We’re doing whiskey tastings, coffee tastings, sushi-making. We’ve done planters — people using the objects,” said Taylor. “People love the process. Craft is riding a different wave in the community: craft beer, whiskey, pickles, soap. The hands-on activity is taking hold in the city. We’re benefiting from that.”

Taylor is currently in the process of raising $13.5 million for building construction. He hopes to break ground later this year.

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