It's an understatement to say that Jill Markovitz is passionate. She’s fiercely dedicated. I say that because in 2004, she fulfilled her longtime dream by completing the renovation of her first creative learning center. Above the London Grill, on the 2300 block of Fairmount Avenue, became the home of a humble, bright new space fondly named the Fairmount Art Center. It’s a magical place that encourages explorative, artistic learning for both the young and old.
The Philadelphia native’s idea stemmed from her 20-year strong artistic background, which included instructing art education for children and young adults. Three years following FAC’s opening, Jill quit her full-time teaching job, hired a small-dedicated team of mentors and immersed herself entirely into the business she loved. 10 years later, there’s not just one, but two beautiful learning centers where they accommodate art classes, afterschool programs, and summer camps for kids as young as 18 months and workshops for adults of any age or skill set. The first space later relocated to a side street off Fairmount, and in 2011 their newest and biggest location opened in Queen Village, inside the old Philly AIDS Thrift, which is where we visited.
Many learning facilities have a reputation for being, well, boring – bland-colored linoleum floors, dense chairs, and thick muted concrete walls. But here, everything is open, colorful, and kid-friendly. “It's nice, it's welcoming, and really gives you that feeling of home,” says Jill. Each room is painted a different color, reflecting FAC’s orange/green/blue color scheme, and classes are assigned by room color, which makes it both fun and easy for students and teachers. Markovitz brought in her good architect friend Michelle Salerno Ziegler for the renovation, and she made sure the design choices were thoughtful and reflected the founder’s vision.
The center is quite a sanctuary, for both adults and kids. In addition to hosting many daily programs for children of all ages, FAC remains open even on major holidays and snow days – a godsend for parents (and kids). Instead of sitting at home, under stimulated in front of the TV or iPad, kids have an opportunity to channel their energy both creatively and logically. “I think something that sets us apart from other classes is that we are really teaching kids. We’re not just occupying people's time in a play space that’s entertaining; there is crucial learning going on here.” By providing the curriculum and materials, they aren’t just doing arts & crafts, they’re developing serious motor skills and learning how to problem solve because they are always challenged to think outside of the box. “It's about them seeing the world in new ways and inviting them to ask questions. If we do a portrait, we're looking in the mirror and making really fun expressive faces and then noticing what happens to the cheeks, eyebrows, and nose. This gets them to pay more attention, to be present with themselves, and allowing themselves to make mistakes.” And while the kids are at play, moms and dads get some much needed free time.
The benefit for parents doesn’t just end there; they can take classes at FAC too. “For adults, it’s a different space. It’s a way for them to get out of their regular life and to stretch their minds, and to think in new ways and new processes.” Jill even said that the adults love the classes so much it’s sometimes hard to get them out of the door. “The other night, Teacher Alex couldn’t get her class to leave,” she chuckled. “They were just having such a great time!” And while the art world can seem intimidating, Jill promises that her intentions are to encourage instead of intimidate. “I think art can be a scary territory to head into when you're a bit older,” she says. “But we ensure that it's a supportive environment.” This goes for the combo parent-child division as well, which invites adults to be present with their children by learning from both the child and the course. “Everybody gets into what we do here because we’re focused on hands-on, explorative, play-based learning.” Many lessons are based on researching and reflecting the style of legendary contemporary artists, which presents students with tasks that are creative and educational. The organization also does its fair share of community outreach and considers it their duty to be active within the local neighborhoods.
As the 10 year mark quickly approaches, Jill and her team look back fondly on the kids who have grown up with the organization. One young lady, who started classes when she was eight, is now turning 18 and is preparing to graduate from Philadelphia High School for the Creative and Performing Arts. “The art center has really played a huge role in her life. She was always really shy, then one day she came in for her usual summer camp volunteering and all of the primary teachers had called in sick. When she was asked to step in, all of a sudden this teacher came out of her! She was expressive, engaging, and organized! She’s been teaching with us every since and she’s waiting to hear from colleges. That has been one of the most amazing things for me. I was once her teacher and now here she is.” And Jill is more than thankful for her staff because. She says FAC wouldn't exist without her incredible team. “I can’t do this without my teachers. They are what make this. They are educators and artists and they put in their all every single day. These are people who are really dedicated to what they’re doing.They have to be excited about what they’re doing and they have to be excited to work with the kids. It’s what makes this place so happy.”
This Sunday, April 6, from 2 – 6 p.m., you can help the Fairmount Art Center ring in their 10-year milestone with an all out birthday blowout bash on the block of 25th Street. It’s in conjunction with the Fairmount Art Crawl, which was also spearheaded by Jill but now has been taken over by the Fairmount Community Development Corporation. The entire block will be lined with tables hosting various activities like screen printing, pottery demonstrations, painting, sewing, and other crafts that both and kids and adults can enjoy. There will also be a baby and toddler zone located inside FAC featuring music classes, a play space, and other fun events. You can also expect birthday treats, a live performance by the Avalon String Band, incredible airbrush face painting by Peanutbutter, and delicious food provided by Tater Tot Cart, Hot Diggity, and Lil’ Pop Shop. Raffle tickets will be sold with proceeds benefitting the Bache Elementary School’s Home and School association. The grand prizewinner receives a full season of After-School Care, which includes After-School Care with daily pick-up.