Two years ago, it became clear to Michael Lukasek, the chair of the Clay Studio, that the mecca for aspiring and experienced potters badly needed an expansion. The studio, which was founded in 1974 by five artists, had grown from serving a small group of potters to providing services for over 35,000 people on an annual basis.
“I think there are wheels in the bathroom or something now,” he joked during a press event.
The Clay Studio will be breaking ground on a 30,000-square-foot facility just outside Kensington later this year, designed by Philadelphia architecture firm DIGSAU. Construction begins in the fall and will end in 2020.
“We went to every neighborhood in Philadelphia to try to figure out what felt like home for us,” Jennifer Martin, the studio’s vice president, said. “We picked South Kensington because it already has a good art scene going on. There are lots of makers here and artisanal things happening, and we really wanted to be a part of that.”
The studio’s new facility, which will cost $5 million, is located at 1425 N. American St. and will include state-of-the-art equipment and vastly larger studio spaces, allowing new offerings such as designated youth classrooms, communal workspaces to allow for interaction across all skill levels, new exhibition space, and improved access for day campers and school groups. Martin said she expects the studio to double its capacity for classes.
The Claymobile, the studio’s community engagement program, will also be based out of the new facility. It is currently housed off site because of space issues. Other updates include a new loading dock, energy-efficient equipment, and enhanced accessibility features including ADA capabilities.
“Something we’re working on now is forming connections with the community,” Jennifer Zwilling, the curator of artistic programs, said. “We don’t want to drop into the neighborhood two years from now with no relationships.”
Zwilling said that something she’s particularly excited about is having a better gallery space that is more conducive to showing art.
“Right now I have this hose running through the middle of my gallery,” she said. “It’ll be nice to have a space that’s easier to design exhibitions in.”
The studio has already raised $2.5 million for the move through fund-raising and grants. In 2017, the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage awarded the Clay Studio a project grant specifically aimed at connecting the community with its new location. As part of this grant, the studio’s artists-in-residence have been venturing into the neighborhood with potter’s wheels to show people how to throw.
The Windgate Charitable Foundation also challenged the studio to raise $1 million and followed that with a $500,000 award.
“I’m stunned at what happened with the Clay Studio,” Chris Taylor, the president of the studio, said. “I can’t believe it became what it became.”