Zakiyah Coleman is one of the many talented artistic students at the Emlen School in Mt. Airy who have benefited from The Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG), an incubator for both professional and emerging artists. (Photo by Ruth Joray)

by Mary Ann Domanska and Arleen Olshan

The Mt. Airy Art Garage is a nonprofit member arts organization celebrating its 10th anniversary this year. We provide communal space for creativity, collaboration and self-actualization while utilizing creative expression as an instrument for social change.

MAAG serves as an incubator for professional and emerging artists who work in creative partnerships with local adults and youth to spread the spirit of art, community and sustainable living throughout Northwest Philadelphia. We foster civic engagement and community revitalization through the arts while serving as a center for children and adults to learn, find safe space and rejoice in the unique creativity that springs from us all.

We have established partnerships throughout the city that include City Hall, Philadelphia Parks and Recreation, Lovett Library, The Philadelphia Theatre Company located at the Suzanne Roberts Theatre, The Fabric Workshop Museum, La Salle University Museum and other local organizations in our community.

Nonprofits like ours have been vulnerable to economic downturns. Trends for arts and culture nonprofits take the hardest hits whenever there is a recession. In our current climate, now more than ever, creativity is vital to underserved populations.

Fortunately, over the last few years MAAG has survived and, looking toward the future, will likely continue to thrive. MAAG has been going through a time of major transition. After losing our home on Mt. Airy Avenue in 2016, we continued to grow in our small gallery space at 6622 Germantown Ave.

For the past three years, another wonderful alliance has been the creation of the Community of Pride Mural and Literacy Project at the Eleanor C. Emlen Elementary School in Mt. Airy. This program provides a rich curriculum with opportunities for 4th and 5th grade students learning to draw and paint full-sized murals which have become permanent fixtures at the school.

These classes aim to provide a safe space to nurture creativity, self-esteem, teamwork and a sense of accomplishment in seeing their original work on the walls. Most recently, MAAG created a free After-School Community Arts Project at the Mt. Airy Playground for children ages 10 to 14. The culminating mural design will be mounted on the three window panels outside of Jyoti’s Indian Bistro at Germantown Avenue and Nippon Street by the end of the school year.

We continue to hold our annual Holiday Arts Market, and for the second year in a row we will be working with the Mayor’s Office of LGBT Affairs to host the Philly Family Pride Picnic and Arts Festival. This event will be held once again at Lovett Library Park, 6945 Germantown Ave., on Saturday, June 22, 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., with a rain date of Sunday, June 23.

Admission will be free and open to all ages, families and community members. This event will have family-specific entertainment, fine art and handcrafts, music, food trucks, and resource tables from a variety of organizations and nonprofits that provide services and support to LGBTQ families and youth.

In the coming months, we plan on moving into a large space in Mt. Airy, which will enable us to expand our programs, offer classes, rent out multiple artist studio spaces, hold events, continue our gift shop and have a dedicated gallery space.

As we grow in size and offerings, we need to expand our working board. In addition, we are seeking a grant writer who understands our mission, is an art lover and is supportive of our child-centered arts programs. This a paid position for a dedicated individual committed to helping the organization with funding for current programs, future projects and for operating expenses.

Donations of money, time, service, talent and writing skills are all welcome. Our thanks go out to Northwest Philadelphia and Mt. Airy Neighbors for all the support you have shown us. MAAG could only have been created in the Mt. Airy community.

For more information or to inquire about becoming a board member, contact arleen@mtairyartgarage.org. You may send resumes to Mt. Airy Art Garage, 6622 Germantown Ave., Philadelphia, PA 19119.

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