Thursday, July 30, 2015

Green artists retake South Street Sunday

It's probably just a meaningless coincidence, but ever since Earth to Philly launched with a special feature spotlighting Philadelphia's Dumpster Divers, the group's public profile has exploded.

Green artists retake South Street Sunday

Two photos a month apart show the transformation of the space at 734 South Street to funky gallery (top) from empty storefront.
Two photos a month apart show the transformation of the space at 734 South Street to funky gallery (top) from empty storefront.

It's probably just a meaningless coincidence - sure it is - but ever since Earth to Philly launched with a special feature spotlighting Philadelphia's Dumpster Divers (our Dumpster Diver Dispatches, of which this is #6), the group's public profile has exploded, with multiple new shows and press coverage and people in general saying "Huh. Yeah, these folks really are - and have been for 15 years - the vanguard of eco-conscious art."

There's no surer sign of the group's newly-found credibility than yesterday's meeting, with its discussions of how to manage the new Dumpster Divers Gallery at 734 South Street, specifically with the realization that there would need to be a committee - Omigod, not a committee! - to hammer out policies and procedures regulating what goes on at the space.

Needless to say, the Divers - artists all, and mostly outside the traditional mainstream of the art world - are not renowned for their dedication to committees and bylaws. The only agenda item for each meeting is reaching a consensus on when and where the next meeting will be. So how did this ragtag bunch of free spirits wind up in possession of a gallery - and on South Street, fer cryin' out loud?

It's part of a dramatic new initiative, in response to These Difficult Economic Times, to turn the lemons of empty retail storefronts into the lemonade of a new South Street "renaissance." The scheme, driven largely by Julia Zagar of Eye's Gallery and Howard Landler, has already resulted in four new artist-run galleries. Landler is the landlord who has temporarily donated the 734 space to the Divers, who pay no rent or commission but do pay for utilities, the theory being that while trying to book new retail tenants the empty space could do something useful for the neighborhood and community.

George Bilyk, a photographer, metal sculptor and longtime Dumpster Diver, said "It's amazing how this place is transformed. When we came in it was dusty, junk lying around... it's well-lighted now, it's all organized and well done." (Joel Spivak, who helped spur the original "South Street Renaissance," and Randy Dalton are two of the Divers who have been riding herd to get everything working from the Divers' perspective.)

Bilyk sees a lot of promise in the overall initiative. "It goes with the original concept of 'South Street' that there's more to life than profit," he says, adding in reference to the neighborhood's glory days that "it was a fun, unique place to visit, thrilling and inspiring - more than just a place to come and buy condoms."

The concept, and this is kind of the hazy part, is that once a tenant is obtained, a new space will be found for the Divers or whoever happens to be at that address. Whether or not this does wind up working out to everyone's benefit, it's certainly working now for the artists and the public, and this Sunday, March 15th, will see the official opening of these four galleries with a "Sunday Art Stroll" coordinated by Eyes Gallery. The event begins at 2 p.m. and runs into the early evening, so if you're in town or coming in for the St. Patrick's Day parade, once it's over head down to South Street for some eye-popping art that may surprise and inspire both greeniacs and South Street bohemians.

The Divers, by the way, aren't the only trash-to-treasure artists represented. Purpose/Repurpose is an installation at 333 South Street and also assembles cast-off and found materials into multimedia artwork. Your best bet is to start at Eyes Gallery (4th & South) to get the lowdown on what is going on where, as well as what's going to be going on, because this, the organizers promise, is just the beginning.

"Eyes," notes Bilyk, "was the last remaining vestige of the old [South Street renaissance]. This shows the possibility of the future."

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About this blog
Earth to Philly is a weblog focusing on earth-conscious technology, trends and ideas, from a Daily News perspective. We look at the "green" aspects of your home, business, food, transportation, style, policy, gadgets and artwork. If you have a Philly-related story, Click here to let us know about it!

The experts at Philadelphia's Energy Coordinating Agency answer your energy questions in our regular feature Stay Warm, Stay Green. Send in your question or questions to

Look for Jenice Armstrong to supply tips on green living as well as occasional columns on the subject of Green. She also blogs at Hey Jen.

Becky Batcha stays tuned for the here-and-now practical side of conservation, alternative energy, organic foods, etc. - stuff you can do at home now. Plus odds and ends.

Laurie Conrad recycles from her ever-growing e-mailbag to pass along the latest travel deals, fashion statements, household strategies, gadgets, cool local events and other nuggets of interest to those who appreciate a clean, green world.

Vance Lehmkuhl looks at topics like eco-conscious eating, public transportation and fuel-efficient driving from his perspective as a vegetarian, a daily SEPTA bus rider and a hybrid driver, as well as noting the occasional wacky trend or product. Contact Vance with your 'green' news.

Ronnie Polaneczky sees the green movement through the eyes of her 12-year-old daughter, who calls her on every scrap of paper or glass bottle that Ronnie neglects to toss into the house recycling bins. Ronnie will blog about new or unexpected ways to go green. She also blogs at So, What Happened Was...

Sandra Shea and the DN editorial board opine on any green-related legislation or policy. And we'll pass along some of the opeds on the subject that people send us.

Jonathan Takiff will be blogging mainly about consumer electronics - those things that we love to use and that suck too much energy. He'll spotlight green-conscious gizmos made in a responsible fashion, both in terms of materials used and the energy it takes to run them.

Signe Wilkinson draws the comic strip Family Tree, which follows the Tree family as they try to live green in the face of nattering neighbors, plastic-wrapped consumer products, and the primal teenage urge to spend vast quantities of money on hair care products of dubious organic quality.

In addition to these updates from our newsroom bloggers, watch for an occasional feature, Dumpster Diver Dispatches, from Philadelphia's original "green" community of artists, the Dumpster Divers. You'll learn about creative ways to reuse and recycle while you reduce, and about the artists who are making little masterpieces from what others throw out.

  • Dispatch #1: Margaret Giancola's rugs from plastic bags
  • Dispatch #2: Dumpster Divers in City Hall (Art in City Hall series)
  • Dispatch #3: Wild wood, New Jersey
  • Dispatch #4: Dumpster Divers award winners announced
  • Dispatch #5: From sweaters to colorful cuddling
  • Dispatch #6: Green artists retake South Street Sunday
  • Dispatch #7: Isaiah Zagar: He's a Magic (Gardens) Man

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