Openings are, in themselves, cause for celebration. They herald good fortune and tap into our excitement for innovation. Interestingly, the grand opening of Danny Simmons’ new gallery, Rush Arts Philly, on September 10th had a more nuanced impact: It heralded (1) a resurgence of cosmopolitan people of color patronizing major art exhibitions in Philadelphia and (2) an expansion of gallery spaces with non-profit ambitions.
September is further witness to a historic grand opening: The unveiling of the newly constructed Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture (NMAAHC) on the National Mall in Washington, D.C. tomorrow, September 24th. The museum's founding director, Lonnie Bunch, said "At last the National Museum of African American History and Culture is open for every American and the world to better understand the African American journey and how it shaped America” (United Press International, September 14th, 2016).
Rush Arts Philly (RAP), according to a September 9th article on the opening by The Philadelphia Tribune, is “modeled after the New York City nonprofit organization, Rush Philanthropic Arts Foundation (RPAF), that Simmons and his brothers (Russell and Joseph "Rev. Run" Simmons) founded in 1995…[It] aims to support emerging artists [via] providing space for exhibitions and varied cultural programs for underserved communities.”
According to Peter Bürger, it was not until the advent of avant garde—which he locates as a specific historic moment from the early 1900s until WWII—that art freed itself from the bourgeoisie class. After this period, Horowitz writes “more art was being seen and discussed by wider audiences than ever previously—there was little doubting which public much of it actually served: an upwardly mobile elite with money to burn” (Art of the Deal: Contemporary Art in a Global Financial Market, 2011).
One of the ways that Danny has challenged the exclusionary practices in the art world is advocating for communities of color to collect art. Danny’s recent arrival to Philadelphia after leaving his Brownstone in Brooklyn began over four years ago with a poetry reading at the African-American Museum of Philadelphia and art gallery conversation, titled "The Role of the Artist in the Urban Setting". There, Danny says, “We need to own our images, be better gatekeepers. We need to collect more of our art. It is about building wealth for our communities,” (Vivant Art Collection, 2012). Highlighted here is Danny’s passion and continued mission to build sustainable institutions that work to further art appreciation. (Full transcription of Danny's 2012 talk found here.)
When Vivant Art Collection, the last black art gallery on Gallery Row in historic Old City, Philadelphia, closed in 2014, a gap of available space for emerging artists to exhibit was created. During Vivant’s tenure, former gallery owner, Florcy Morisset, worked to bridge the access divide to gallery space for African Diasporic artists in addition to constructing a channel for novice art buyers to purchase and own art.
There was a gap of spaces for marginalized artists to exhibit—emphasis on was—until now. Danny Simmons’ new gallery, Rush Arts Philly, in the Logan section of Philadelphia, has fast become a hotbed for emerging artists and is responding to a gulf in access to arts institutions. As Danny shares in the above Philadelphia Tribune article, “[The Logan section] needs a gallery – or a cultural identity point –as there is little in that area by way of the arts.”
Although, Saturday, September 10th was the grand opening of Rush Arts Philly, the weekend’s activities began that Friday night when Danny debuted new and classic pieces at Art Sanctuary's Gallery on 16th and Bainbridge. It was a reunion of old and new faces! Danny has tapped into how contemporary art transgresses linguistic and cultural barriers and becomes “ a veritable social glue” (Horowitz, 2011). Further, he is tapping into an old era of galleries that had “more intimate community bonds and tended to run their [spaces] as small, seemingly nonprofit enterprises…[They were] motivated by love of art, not money” (ibid).
One of the initiatives of Rush Arts Philly is Gallery in the Schools, which “will bring local artists into local schools and create a gallery in the classroom with students taking individual roles – curators, docents, writers and artists…[Additionally, another initiative] involves kids creating their own graphic novel about new superheroes with true special powers—powers used to change the world or change their neighborhood” (Philadelphia Tribune, 2016).
Shayna S. Israel
Blog Mission: In the spirit of becoming , to provide iterative thoughts toward a deepened understanding of and experience with the intersection of literary and visual arts.