Inventing Da Vinci Art Alliance: An Interview with Linda Dubin Garfield

IMG_1383Have you been endlessly searching Philadelphia for a night of PechaKucha? Rest assured, I found it. PechaKucha is just one of the novel, intriguing events the Da Vinci Art Alliance has lined up for its members, taking a novel—or, ingenious—approach to appreciating art. Along with poetry readings in collaboration with Kelly Writer’s House and a lecture featuring the President of the Antonelli Institute, Da Vinci is ready to welcome you to a selection of its up-and-coming events.

This was my first time visiting the Da Vinci Art Alliance and I was immediately comforted by such an intimate and cozy space. Less than a block down the street from Fleisher Art Memorial, Da Vinci is housed in a cozy brownstone with a vibrant yellow threshold inviting you into the entrance. Inside, the minimalist design allowed me to appreciate the singular beauty of each piece hanging on the wall. I was delighted to learn that this modest space in fact plays such a prominent role in the Philadelphia arts community and its history, opening doors for new artists from a variety of genres and backgrounds.

I sat down with Vice President Linda Dubin Garfield to discuss what makes Da Vinci Art Alliance an ally to Philadelphia artists.

Zara: So, what’s the story behind Da Vinci Art Alliance?

Linda: Well, we have a very rich history that started back in 1931. When it started, it was group of Italian men who were very, very well known in their fields. They showed at the Philadelphia Museum of Art and they showed at the Philadelphia Sketch Club, which was just starting . . . And one of them was Severo Antonelli, who was a world-renowned photographer, who started the Antonelli School of Photography, which is now the Antonelli Institute. So, these men were interested in the art and culture of the city and in 1959, this house was left to them…and they met and showed here. Their presence was so prominent [that the then-mayor created Da Vinci Day] and the Da Vinci Art Alliance was the star of the show!

And where does Da Vinci stand today?

One of our goals is to create more of an awareness of what we are and what we do. The Fleisher Art Memorial is right across the street and if you talk to the people visiting there, maybe twenty-percent of people know we’re here. Ask them, “What is that building? Do you know anything about Da Vinci Art Alliance?” They’ll say no. But we’re actually so involved. Our mission is to be an art and cultural hub to help people in the community; and our community is our members, the artists at large, the neighborhood and the city of Philadelphia. We have cultural events and we engage with artists all over the city. We want to offer what needs to be offered.

What features are going to draw in members?

We are committed to making things at a reasonable price so that artists may participate. We have three studios that are low cost rent. The artists have to be members and it only costs $40 a year to join. Every month we have a show. In a group show, at least one person in the group must be a member and we rent the studio space at $700. Artists can either rent the studio by themselves, or rent it with other people and split the $700. So, we have quite a number of artists who have solo shows periodically or get together with a group and have a show. We also do some open calls for juried shows. In February, we had a photography show and it was very successful. We had over 75 people apply and we gave out cash prizes. We try to get high-caliber jurors so that people will want to be in the show. Last year, we had Moe Brooker, a very famous Philadelphia artist and he drew a lot of people because they wanted their work to be seen by him. He is an abstract artist, and a very fine abstract artist. He has had work in the Philadelphia Museum of Art and he has work all over.

Do you have any other jurors in mind that you have lined up?

We do. We have Dr. Susan Isaacs, a curator at the Delaware Center for Contemporary Arts. We have an exhibition committee and they’re working on that.

IMG_1391What events are coming up?

It just so happens that we’re going to have a salon in November where Severo Antonelli’s niece and the president of the Antonelli Institute are going to talk about Antonelli and his life. They went into their archives and found some of his work from the 1930s. I can’t wait to see it; it’s really going to be cool! That will be November 19th, 7-9pm. In December, we’re doing something very new and exciting! We’re a having a pecha kucha night. PechaKucha means ‘chitchat’ in Japanese. This very cool, sophisticated architecture firm in Japan created PechaKucha as a platform for presentations…It’s 20 slides, twenty seconds each…We got ten members to volunteer and agree to do a PechaKucha. I’m one of them and my theme is the Art of Travel, because I travel and then my art is inspired by travel. It’s very hard to only pick twenty slides, very hard! And I will discuss two particular trips I went on, show some pictures that I took, then show some artwork that I made and then have a summary all in that time frame. It’s going to be wild! I’ve been practicing, but I haven’t timed it yet. So I have to sync everything up still. One of our members is doing her entire fifty years of painting!

That sounds so exciting! Is the first time Da Vinci’s done something like this?

This is the first time and I hope it’s good, because I already have a waiting list for next time. We’re also going to have sushi as our little snack. The first PechaKucha is on December 10th.

To close, I have a question about something I was personally curious about. What is behind your name and motto, Da Vinci Art Alliance: Where Art is Genius?

Well, Leonardo Da Vinci was a famous Italian artist from 500 years ago that we all still talk about today. And he wasn’t just an artist. He was a scientist and inventor; he was very cultured and educated. So, our founders simply picked a winner. It’s someone you are associated with when you say your name and Da Vinci Art Alliance in the same sentence and it sounds beautiful! Like maybe some of that genius will rub off on you.

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