Artists Pool Time, Talents and Resources In Germantown
Community For Art’s Sake
The June Roundtable gathering features artist Andrew Simonet discussing “Building a Sustainable Life As an Artist.” Drawing on 10 years of work with artists locally and nationally, Simonet will outline approaches for slaying the two demons of the artist’s life: time and money.
On a sunny Saturday in April, I attended my first Germantown Artists Roundtable event, the third annual “Hanging Out with Poetry” open mic. Until then, I had only been hearing comments about the Roundtable peripherally, having just moved to Germantown last year, and I felt eager to finally satiate my curiosity about the group and about the Germantown arts scene generally.
Pages of favorite poems fluttered on a clothesline in front of rows of folding chairs pulled from the basement of iMPeRFeCT Gallery just around the corner from the event at Greene Street and Maplewood Mall. Andrea Powell, a founding member of the Germantown Artists Roundtable and a resident of Germantown for over 30 years, greeted me warmly and invited me to choose a poem from the laundry line to read aloud. Germantown resident and Philadelphia Poet Laureate Yolanda Wisher hosted the open mic, and for an hour and a half, local poets and neighbors shared their favorite poems, laughed, sang and enjoyed the afternoon.
Later, when I spoke with Powell again, she said first learning about the arts scene in Germantown was eye-opening.
“I didn’t realize how many artists lived in Germantown,” Powell said. The Roundtable’s estimate is at least a thousand. Powell, who is a makeup artist and independent beauty consultant, serves to connect Germantown artists to the Roundtable when she tables at events throughout the city.
I also spoke with Paula Paul, one of the leading organizers of the Roundtable since its inception. “We wanted to make the seemingly invisible arts scene visible and began to discuss how we could do this given we didn’t have an art center or a strip of galleries,” Paul said. “I had a deep appreciation for all the talent I knew about in Germantown and felt that raising the profile of our large artistic community would bring great positive energy both to our artists and our neighborhood and that we in Germantown deserved that.”
The Germantown Artists Roundtable is a volunteer-led network of visual, literary and performing artists who live and/or work in Germantown. Members of the Roundtable also include art educators, art lovers and organizations and businesses connected to the arts. The Roundtable began four years ago when local artists and community organizations came together to explore what an art district might look like in Germantown. About 65 people attended that initial meeting, held at the First Presbyterian Church of Germantown and birthed from a Classic Towns initiative of the Germantown Community Connection organization.
Everyone wanted to highlight Germantown’s strengths: its diversity, history, sustainability and the arts. Additionally, members wanted the Roundtable to be an inclusive organization open to all. “We agreed that if someone declared themself an artist, they were. We were not in the business of deciding who was an artist,” said Paul.
At monthly Roundtable meetings over the last four years, artists have shared their work and resources. The Roundtable has become Germantown’s go-to organization when someone seeks a local artist for an event, performance or exhibit. It maintains an updated arts and culture calendar online so residents can connect to local cultural and artistic events. Recently, the Roundtable installed an art-and-resource board outside the Chelten Avenue train station that promotes all of the artistic/cultural events and organizations within a 10-minute walk, in partnership with Germantown United Community Development Corp. and SEPTA.
The Roundtable has no building or paid staff. “Our artists are very generous and participate at events voluntarily, but we know they need an income,” said Paula Paul. Powell, who had a big hand in writing the Roundtable’s bylaws, echoed this, saying, “The artists that are connected [with the Roundtable] have great talent and passion, and they need to be supported.” The Roundtable connects patrons directly to artists whenever possible.
The Roundtable is currently seeking volunteers to join its Events Committee and Communications Team. So, whether you’d like to become an organizer or you’d simply like to explore the Germantown arts scene or find something to do on a Saturday, check out the Germantown Artists Roundtable!