Spotlight on NLArts staff artists

NLArts to host inaugural faculty exhibition in honor of 10th anniversary celebration.

Trashcan canvas: Revamping the Bigbelly trash cans in Northern Liberties in 2015 is one of many NLArts projects. STAR FILE PHOTO

By Lindsey Nolen

In commemorating its ability to connect kids and art in the Northern Liberties community for a decade, NLArts has been hard at work organizing 10 unique celebratory events for its anniversary year. As a result of a board meeting think tank held last April, a first-ever faculty exhibition was discussed, and after months of planning, its opening reception will take place on Friday May 5, from 5 to 7 p.m.

Over the years, NLArts has acted as a staple in providing child care when schools, camps or other organizations were unavailable to do so. It has come to offer winter and end-of-summer camps, as well as additional opportunities during school closures.

Furthermore, the organization has sought to spend the majority of its budget on hiring working artists to provide lessons to children, expanding through as many fields, as much as possible. This has come to include many performers, musicians, painters, sculptors and photographers, as well as more recently adding chefs and scientists.

Thus, to help observe NLArts’ 10 years of service, it has invited all artists who have worked with the organization to showcase their work in the faculty exhibition, which will take place at two locations: the Northern Liberties Community Center, 700 N. 3rd St., and Higher Grounds Coffee, 631 N. 3rd St. The goal is to help “shine a spotlight” on the talent of these local artists, as well as to “explore the current climate and importance of community.”

“We wanted to celebrate our whole community, including our artists, families and local businesses,” NLArts Executive Director Natasha Mell-Taylor said. “It is our first non-kid-related exhibition, and it is so important for our community and its kids to know who these artists are. For some of these kids, this work will impact them for the rest of their lives.”

In sticking with the theme of community, which is integral to everything NLArts does, Mell-Taylor explained parents on the NLArts board and students take great pride in learning the landscape of the neighborhood. Thus, the organization focuses on constantly creating projects to include ideas about community space that help better the neighborhood.

To keep with community focus, typically, the organization finds its artists solely from within the community via word of mouth or through universities, but is open to working with anyone who has an idea to expand their minds and community. Yet, for the faculty exhibit, NLArts has worked to track down its past and present artists through many outlets, such as its website, social media and email lists.

“This exhibit will highlight these artists by showing parents and community leaders our staffs’ primary job as artists, not to mention their amazing talent,” Mell-Taylor said. “Teaching is great and important, but artists need support by having space to show and sell their work.”

Ultimately, the exhibit will feature work from 12 artists, and the diverse group will be donating a portion of the proceeds from their artwork to the NLArts organization. In addition, many of the artists have agreed to create a small work specifically for this show.

Comic artist Pat Aulisio will explore the Pennsylvania flag with psychedelic aesthetic as a way to tackle and exemplify the profound effect the city has on the community each day. Also, Steve Teare will bring his illustrations of leaders who have gone insane with power.

“I’m excited to be a part of the NLArts show because I love to take part in grassroots community efforts in art enrichment,” Aulisio sai. “NLArts and other community art centers that I work for, like Fleisher Art Memorial, are wonderful resources to keep the culture of arts alive in neighborhoods.”

“I’m excited to be part of the faculty exhibition because I love working with NLArts, and I love collaborating with incredibly talented and thoughtful artists who also happen to be close friends of mine,” Teare said. “The variety of the styles of visual and performing arts by the staff is wide, and I’ve learned quite a bit since I’ve been affiliated with this community.”

Additionally, Lily Brown will exhibit her nude paintings of characters from her everyday life, while photographer Jared Gruenwald will showcase the pictures he takes of every moment he experiences in his Philadelphia home.

“So many of our artists have been working for us for at least half of our 10 years, including myself,” Mell-Taylor said. “Time binds us, especially when we have a special excuse to see each other twice a year at camp, or for a special occasion.”

Mell-Taylor also explained that, on a personal level, NLArts has helped her continue as an artist, and now that she is the director, she is trying to return support to the artists who give their time to work with the organization. Even after the anniversary celebration concludes, she wishes to make the faculty exhibit an annual event, focusing each year on exploring that moment in history through local and recent works.

“These experiences can be the most important things we have on earth,” she said. “Unlike iPads, art is forever.”