AIGA – Making SPACE in Philadelphia

Every month, we’ll be highlighting one artist space on the InLiquid Blog. This month, get to know the story and the faces behind AIGA Philadelphia SPACE, the new Old City headquarters for the local chapter of professional design organization AIGA.

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Can you tell me a bit about AIGA’s history, and how it led to the eventual formation of SPACE?

Allan Espiritu: I became president of the AIGA Philadelphia chapter, in 2011, and so one of the things that I really wanted to build on was to create a sense of community for our members. We’re a pretty large chapter with over 600 members. I wanted something that was more accessible to our members. And I also wanted a space that could be a gathering space, a lecture space. I wanted to have a gallery where we could expand the conversation around graphic design, and also bring in shows that could inspire our members to look at design differently, or look at art that can be part of their own process. I also wanted the general public to learn a little bit more about AIGA and what we were about.

Gaby Heit: Being all graphic designers and visual communicators, everybody wants to show their work, but there wasn’t that outlet to exhibit. Now we’re able to have that outlet. Not only for member work, but to bring in other work from the design community. Having the space, especially having the space in Old City among all the galleries, we can have crossover shows, but at the same time we really stand out as a graphic design gallery among other art galleries.

As an exhibition space for graphic design, how do you hope to contribute to the dialogue about this particular genre?

G: I think it speaks to the diversity in the area. There are so many other things going on, so many types of art galleries, I think we’re just adding to it. Arch Enemy Arts, they do a lot of really avante garde work. There’s the Center for Art in Wood which is new. Indyhall, which is the coworking space, they have a gallery there. There’s more of a diversity now than there used to be. Being there gives us an opportunity to work more with the community.

A: I think a lot of people have a notion of what graphic design is. Maybe we’re putting up that internal dialogue for the public: this is design, but it’s also something else.

G: It’s stretched out, it’s not so well defined anymore. It also crosses over into other disciplines, other skills. It gives opportunity for people who are not members to be involved. It was very member-centric before. And now there are people outside who didn’t know what AIGA was, but they’re interested in communication and design. They can become members, and they can join us at First Fridays.

You’re right in the middle of the First Friday hotspot in Old City. Can you share any First Friday stories with us?

G: When we first opened, we were going to open in April, but it was during the Easter holiday. We ended up opening in May. I knew May was a good month for First Friday, the weather was beautiful. It was such a hit. It was huge. We showed our award winners for the Philadelphia Design Awards.

A: We wanted something that was economically accessible. We wanted people to come into the space and be able to buy things.

G: We do have shows that lend itself to affordable art for people to buy. We show different kinds of media: we had a neon sign show, we had a t-shirt show. We’re able to provide something different. I want to do a motion graphics show in the future, because that’s an area of graphic design that’s not often displayed in a gallery setting.

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Do you have anything planned for DesignPhiladelphia yet, or is it still too early to tell?

G: It’s funny but DesignPhiladelphia submissions were due today. We were scrambling to get finished. We’re going to have a design scavenger hunt. It’s a good way to get everyone involved, not just graphic designers, but different categories: architecture, environmental, fashion. We are partnering with Clean Currents. We’re going to exhibit a show with Lots of Power.

A: One of our board members brought the organization in to cross-collaborate with people who are so different from us. We don’t even know what [to expect] half the time.

What work do you currently have on display, and what do you have in the works for the near future?

G: We are taking down a show called Gritty Semiotics, a history of design in Philadelphia. Philadelphia was the first AIGA chapter, so it makes it even more special to have a show like that.

A: We produced a corresponding book with that show. One of our Board members, who was interested in the history of design in Philadelphia, wrote and produced the book for the show. We’re putting up an international design show. I’ve always been interested in design outside the U.S. Its about two designers…based in Seoul, Korea. They do so much work for the U.S., for the Whitney and MOMA. We’re going to bring their work over. It’s a little bit traditional, but they have such an edge in the way they make their work.

G: We really alternate. We’ll have traditional design, cross-over shows, shows about a particular medium, showcasing our members or Philly talent, shows from outside places inspiring our Philly designers.

Do you find that you have a tendency to create shows that are Philly-centric?

G: I think it’s all over the place. I brought in a map show from NY. It appealed to everybody. But we show off Philadelphia talent, too.

A: We do have a tendency to do shows that are connected to what we all do. We gear towards subject matter, themes, that somehow relate to the area of graphic design or design in general.

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Where do you see AIGA’s role in the Philly arts scene ten years from now?

A: I would love it to still be there and in the area and still going strong, still being relevant to the design conversation in Philadelphia. Maybe having some iconic shows that could possibly change views or the way people look at design in Philadelphia. Because we are part of a larger organization. We are one of the few chapters that have a physical space. I would love for people to equate Philadelphia with the AIGA SPACE and really good shows about design.

G: I think in ten years a lot more chapters are going to have spaces of their own and follow our example. Because people who have come and seen the space from other chapters or just know that we have one are extremely impressed. And they know the value it brings and that it could potentially bring more membership. There are a lot of benefits. It gives you a face in the community.

A: For me it was honestly to make a mark in Philadelphia. To expose our organization to the general public. As a member myself I wanted to see some physical manifestation of my membership. I wanted a physical space to use as a resource and to take some inspiration. We’ve been in existence since 1981 and I don’t think other organizations really knew of us. Without having a physical presence in the neighborhood you become overshadowed.

Can you each tell me more about your roles at AIGA?

A: I just finished my tenure as president at the end of June. I’m still involved in the space. Before that I was the Chair of Programming. Ive been with AIGA at least ten years.

G: Allan brought me on when he was thinking of opening a space. He invited me onto the Board. My main focus was directing the space and curating and getting it all together.

A: We really do have fun. It’s pretty awesome to be able to have that ability to curate work.

G: We’re really enthusiastic about it. Bringing a gallery space together with design – bringing two things together that I really love. We get really excited.

Is there anything else you’d like add about AIGA SPACE?

G: We always need volunteers. We’re a volunteer run organization. We need volunteers all the time.

A: We do it because we believe in it. We definitely have some really committed volunteers and Board. But we could always use more people.

You can learn more about AIGA Philadelphia SPACE on the website here. Public hours for the 72 N. Second Street space are Wednesdays – Thursdays, 3 – 7 pm, and Fridays and Saturdays, 1 – 7 pm.

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