At 42 years and counting, 3rd Street Gallery is one of the veteran galleries of Old City. Started in the 70s by several dedicated artists, it still stands today as a testament to teamwork. The gallery is still run by a group of artists who submit their own work and run the gallery themselves. Stop by between noon and 5pm Wednesday through Sunday and meet the artists for yourself! Each member volunteers their time to keep the gallery running smoothly—and more importantly, to be a friendly face to welcome visitors. Currently, 3rd Street’s home is at 58 N. 2nd Street, but their time is limited, as they have been forced to relocate. Heather Riley, one of the full-time member artists, spoke with InLiquid about the legacy she and all of 3rd Street’s artists continue to fulfill despite the shift in location.
3rd Street Gallery has been open for 42 years and has become a staple of Old City’s artist community. Why do you think your gallery has had so much success?
It’s because of the dedication of our member artists and the support of the local arts community. 3rd Street started as a smaller cooperative back in the 70s. Over the years the artist members have continually kept themselves and the business plan for the gallery flexible, allowing for restructuring and change. This has allowed the gallery to adapt with the changing art markets. 3rd Street is also really accessible to the public, meaning that we pride ourselves on being friendly and open to anyone who walks in the door. We truly believe that art is for everyone, not just a select demographic of art collectors. We want everyone who wants to experience art to be able to do so in our gallery.
What makes 3rd Street Gallery unique from the other galleries in Philadelphia?
We are unique in several ways:
First, we are operated solely by our members, all of whom are artists. Many of our members have other full or part-time jobs along with making their work, so people are very dedicated. Members do everything from cleaning to hanging, advertising to staffing the gallery. They sit on committees, do outreach to the community for our open call show, manage rentals and meet monthly to discuss any decisions that need to be made, hear about the current exhibition, and review and jury possible new members.
We are also unique in that we have such an amazing legacy in Philadelphia. 42 years is a long time for any gallery to exist—let alone for one run completely by artists. (I think I can say that as an artist myself!) We have a pretty lean operation—but because of that we are pretty hands on with the operation and day-to-day.
We also throw open our doors every year to our community with our Open Call Exhibition. It isn’t juried and anyone can show. It is a unique chance for anyone who makes art and who wants to show it in Old City to do so. It is an amazing event that really has created a lasting little art community of its own.
3rd Street Gallery operates with the help of artists in the community. How does the relationship work between the gallery and the local artists?
As I said above, we are a cooperative and always have been. We have 25 full time members and are going to be expanding from 15 to 30 Associate members this summer. We all pay monthly dues. The full time members sit on a minimum of 2 gallery committees, staff the gallery, attend meetings, plan events, and vote in new membership when needed. The full time members each exhibit every 16-18 months in two person shows. Full time members also show in our entire membership POST exhibition in October.
The Associate members pay a much lesser amount in dues and don’t have voting rights or gallery duties. They show twice a year—once in an Associate group exhibition (which is now showing in our gallery and is a fantastic show) and the POST exhibition as well.
How has being an “artist-run cooperative” influenced the spirit of the gallery?
Being an artist-run-cooperative has influenced the spirit of the gallery incredibly. When it started in the 70s, it was a time for the cooperative work-movement—not just with art, but with food co-ops and other types of businesses. I think as the years passed it moved toward a feeling of being more commercial in terms of how the gallery wanted to present itself. Now we have come back to the middle of those two poles. We are indeed a cooperative, and that means that we all cooperate to make this cool gallery happen. But we do encourage sales of course, so in that sense we are commercial. The proceeds from sales go directly to the artist, and the gallery takes a 20% commission. That 20% goes back toward supporting our cooperative. We do not have any paid staff; the work our artist members do to keep the gallery in operation is all volunteer work. It really is a great model and our members believe in it.
Also, in terms of the work, when you are part of a collective, you make whatever work you want to make and exhibit. It of course needs to be well crafted and professional, but it can be whatever you need it to be. So in terms of process, artists have so much freedom to continue to explore their work and try new things in their exhibitions. This isn’t always the case in a strictly commercial gallery.
Why have you been forced to relocate your gallery and where will your new location be?
Our lease is up in August and our landlord’s new terms for the lease were untenable. We really have enjoyed the space we are in, but it needs a lot of updating and it doesn’t make sense for us to stay any longer. We are actually moving across the street to 45 N. 2nd street; it is a lovely space and we are really very excited about it. We jumped on the location because it was one of the better spots that we were able to find in Old City at a rent we could afford. If we hadn’t moved quickly, we would have faced the possibility of being out on the street and having to close the gallery in September.
Our lease at 45 N. 2nd begins on June 1—so we will have an overlap for 3 months where we pay rent in both locations. We are working out the details right now but it looks like there will be a show in each location for those months. More art for all!
How can we help 3rd Street Gallery with the relocation?
1. Donate to our online fundraising campaign! (www.igg.me/at/3rdstreetgallery)
We have launched an awesome online fundraising campaign to cover the cost of the move, to subsidize the doubled-up rent and to assist us as we restructure the gallery to a more fiscally sustainable model. Our fundraising goal is $11,000 and ends June 15.
Most of our members have donated artwork to be given to those who donate funds to our campaign—there is something for everyone! No amount is too small! Anyone can also stop in the gallery to buy some supportive buttons – they are brightly colored reminders for folks to support local art.
2. Share our campaign with your friends!
The more of a crowd who get to know about our campaign and kick in a few bucks, the better! We really believe that local artists have the power to keep art (and our galleries) in Philly going strong. Tell your friends, put it on your social media, tell your fellow art students and professors.