#CULTUREWORKING with Roberta Fallon

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1. How did you get involved in the Cultural sector?

As a kid I put on  puppet shows in the garage and sold popcorn for a nickel.  But my cultural entrepreneurship was never about the popcorn and always about the story and steering the discussion.  Fast forward and here I am, delivering stories on Artblog and steering the discussion of what’s important.  Artblog began in 2003 out of a collaboration and a mission. Libby Rosof and I, who had been collaborating artists for years and knew the art scene here, decided to fix the problem of dwindling arts coverage at a time of historic influx of young artists to the city. We also saw that what little coverage there was devoted itself almost exclusively to white male artists, and that made us mad.  The art community is vast and diverse and what was being reported on was not representative.  We began covering as many women, artists of color, gender non-conforming artists and ethnically diverse artists as possible. That is still Artblog’s mission, and in 2017 it’s more important than ever to broadcast the excellence of all the voices of the community and to support their art and their messages.

 

2.  What’s the future of arts & culture of Philadelphia?

I cannot speak to the whole arts and culture scene, so I will focus on the contemporary art world, which I know best.  I love the Philadelphia art scene.  But I am worried. The future could be rosy.  But without leadership from the City, without art collectors, without commercial galleries, without art education in the schools, without better financial support for the artists, our vibrant art scene today is vulnerable.  The ecosystem of DIY organizations, non-profits and solo entrepreneurs who are working their hearts and minds with a belief in what they are doing but with little to no civic and economic support, will burn out, age out, and wither.   Artists and organizations will stop what they are doing because it’s not sustainable. Energy costs.

 

What is soul killing to an artist is to be ignored.  And in Philadelphia, outside the small community of art lovers who do support the arts by attending gallery shows, buying the art, encouraging the artists, most people ignore the arts.  I’m not talking about the major museums and the Kimmel Center.  Nobody ignores them.  They are showpieces of excellence and promoted to the world by the city as important tourist attractions. They are supported, not enough, but supported financially.  Artists support the museums, too.  If you look at museum membership, you will find thousands of names of artists who give their money to the museums.

 

What can be done?  We need to educate the city leaders that outside the museum walls there are living artists, and those artists work and pay taxes and make art and need support, both symbolic and financial.  We could have tax free First Fridays, we could have art corridors with support for new gallery development, we could have art education in the schools.  But civic leaders need to be educated that art is more important than sports and that there are way more artists than sports players in the city, and those artists love Philadelphia.  Someone needs to educate collectors so they don’t run to New York or to art fairs to buy art but buy local art, which is excellent, plentiful and affordable.  Granting agencies  need to acknowledge grass-roots art making by artists and organizations and provide more channels of support.  Models exist elsewhere.  Denver, Baltimore….those cities have vibrant art communities and civic support.  It works.  It could work here.

 

3.    When exploring the arts in Philly, what’s your one must-see?

I can’t answer that.  It’s like saying which child of yours is your favorite.  I love them all.  I belong to museums and go.  I go to First Friday openings.  I go to community centers.  I do studio visits.  I love artists!  When I talk with artists I am energized.  They give much and have amazing stories, ideas, truths to tell.  People should talk to artists.  The world would be a better place.

Elizabeth Sytsma