by Manya Scheps
In addition to serving as Executive Director of FLUXspace, Angela Jerardi has been deeply involved with alternative art spaces in Philadelphia and Washington, DC. As she leaves this city for the Curatorial Programme at the De Appel Arts Centre in Amsterdam, she spoke with me about five years of changing alternative landscapes, difficulties in DIY curation, and the most significant challenges to the arts infrastructure in the city.
Manya Scheps: Was FLUX framed in terms of any intentions within the Philly DIY art scene?
Angela Jerardi: We saw ourselves as literally on the edge because of where our location was, and we felt that meant that we could be on the edge artistically. We wanted to push what we were showing, in terms of aesthetic choices, and problematize what the gallery space was and the purpose it served.
MS: Was that ambition geared more towards artists or curators?
AJ: That was one of the really amazing parts of that project. When we started, I was the only one who would have identified as a curator—but we all served as curators. We did a lot of projects that blurred those roles; of course, we also did more traditional shows. Only after a number of years did we come to a clear mission of who we were. That’s something difficult about alternative spaces: it’s important to be clear about your mission, but sometimes your mission is just wanting to have a space where you show work you think is exciting.
MS: There’s also a tenuous line between having a succinct mission statement and having a brand.
AJ: The intersection of image and language is so interesting because that little, tiny mission statement filled with jargon places you in a neighborhood within the giant art world. Everybody needs that because it’s the only way anyone can find each other anymore. There are so many art worlds we want to find where we feel at home. We’re using language to connote things which may or may not be true, but it’s the only way we can correlate information.
MS: How do you see the changes in the alternative arts scene from 2007 to now–basically between the ICA shows Locally Localized Gravity and First Among Equals? Does the closing of so many collectives indicate their irrelevance?
AJ: This city has a long arc of DIY culture and it has been happening over and over again–spaces start…and then they end. I’m interested in what Incubate writes out of Chicago. They talk about how it’s problematic that we think of longevity as a means of judging success. Someone asked me recently “Wouldn’t it be cool if cops’ jobs were to make it so safe that they didn’t have jobs anymore? What if that was the way we thought about public safety?” I’ve been thinking what it would be like to consider DIY spaces in that way. It’s a problematic thing to wish something would be around for decades. The flip side is I think the city would benefit from more spaces that have more longevity. It’s hard to get a handle on where things were happening because things are shifting so quickly underfoot.
MS: Is collectivity as a mode of working also fleeting?
AJ: I think that collectivity is a necessity. At a base level, you’re talking about issues of labor. The landscape in Philly doesn’t feel particularly conducive to alternative spaces that would be funded through more traditional strains that would allow for paid employees.
MS: How would funding like that change the freedom of being on the edge, as you felt with FLUX? Do you see that happening and a purity of vision being able to exist?
AJ: I don’t think it could still be alternative to the degree of a space in east Kensington that half the people in the neighborhood don’t even know it exists. There’s a certain luxury to having that freedom. It takes a really special group of hardworking people to be able to hold onto that vision, while also shilling to get the money and doing the nonprofit hustle. It’s a weird, dark world in terms of compromises, but I don’t think it’s bad. They’re just different compromises.
MS: It’s easy to demonize money.
AJ: There are funders who are specifically for art and I wish they felt like lower hanging fruit than they do. Their mission is to fund artist production, and yet it doesn’t feel like that money is particularly available to anyone who is not working on an institutional level. That’s a really sad situation for a city that has such a vibrant underground culture as this, that the funders who are specifically interested in art are not interested in seeing that culture as far as it exists on the ground.
MS: To what extent is DIY curating tied to a physical space or localization?
AJ: Joe DiGuiseppe, one of the founders of FLUX, has a project now called Joe’s Wallet, and every month he has someone make something that fits in his wallet. He’s curating a space, and it’s sweet and funny. But you can think of anywhere as a space for curation. There’s also a need for having physical spaces that align themselves with art. In terms of being in a city where there is not a lot of support for more experimental and creative work, it feels important to have a physical space as proof of that productive energy. It matters in a city like this to stake your claim, and have that place to do whatever you want. Every place has its charms and its frustrations. Philadelphia is its own frustrating mystery. But the weirder the box you get into, the more interesting it can be.
Manya Scheps is a graduate of the University of Pennsylvania, where she studied fine arts. She is the editor of New Asshole and co-founded Talking Pictures, an art theory reading group, in West Philadelphia. Her critical focus is on DIY art, its production, and its social implications.