Art & Design

Art In The Open In The Park On The River

May 12, 2014 | by Sarah Barr


Susan Benarcik, Resident Pods, Invasive Grapevine, wire. Grouping: 7'h x 8’w. 2010 | Image courtesy of the artist

Susan Benarcik, Resident Pods, Invasive Grapevine, wire. Grouping: 7’h x 8’w. 2010 | Image courtesy of the artist

Just in time for Love Your Park Week, this weekend one of Philadelphia’s most beloved outdoor spaces, the Schuylkill Banks, will become an outdoor gallery. With Art in the Open Philadelphia 2014, thirty artists will populate the banks of the Schuylkill River from the Fairmount Water Works down to Locust Street (as well as Bartram’s Garden) with outdoor art—and it’s free and open to the public Friday, May 16 through Sunday, May 18, rain or shine.

This will be the fourth Art in the Open (AiO), which began in 2010 the brainchild of artist Ed Bronstein. While painting outdoors as a participant in the Wayne Art Center (WAC)’s Plein Air Festival, Bronstein was inspired by his interactions with passersby, especially inquisitive children. He then sought to create an open-air event that encouraged this kind of artist/viewer interaction in his own Center City neighborhood along the banks of the Schuylkill. After seeking advice from artist Valerie Craig, one of the organizers of the WAC’s Plein Air Festival, Bronstein wrote a press release for the prospective event, piquing the interest of his friends Mary Salvante, director of the Rowan University Art Gallery in New Jersey, and Deenah Loeb, executive director of Philadelphia’s City Parks Association. Largely through friends and family, Bronstein raised enough funds to get the ball rolling, and with Salvante and Loeb, organized the first AiO. In its second year Bronstein passed leadership on to Loeb.

After taking a year off, Art in the Open returns as a biennial. “We determined that restructuring as a biennial would give us more time to fundraise with the intention of providing artists with more financial support and to organize a series of AiO exhibitions at various venues around the city,” said Mary Salvante. Nine more artists will participate this year than in 2012.

This year also brings a new partnership with the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (CFEVA). Art in the Open’s Curatorial Team will select work made during the three days in May for a series of exhibitions, the first of which will be held at the CFEVA’s Gallery at 237 South 18th Street from June 7th through July 31st. The gallery will host an exhibit reception on June 11 from 4–7pm. (Unfortunately, AiO artists are not permitted to sell or promote their work during the May 16–18 event, so keep track of your favorite artwork!)

According to Salvante, more installation-based work will be presented this year. Visitors will find Adam Lovitz’s 4′ x 6′ x 4′ pyramidal structure serving as an interactive painting studio, Heejin Jang’s multi-channel video installations exploring the beauty of text, music, and choreographed movements, and Ellen Brooks’ Open Air Meditation Space built off the structure of a tree.


They’re three among 30 artists drawn from across the country in Art in the Open’s juried competition. Artists range from Seattle to Brooklyn, with 17 hailing from Philadelphia. For a full list of artists and to see some of their work (as well as previous AiO installations), visit the web site HERE.

As the event unfolds, artists will move freely within the Banks over the three days, posting AiO signs in their workspace to make identification easier. AiO will also update twitter (@artintheopen) with ongoing artist locations.

Artist Aaron Lish will engage the Schuylkill River itself in the creative process, assisting it to make a river self-portrait. He’ll access the Fairmount Dam from downstream via kayak and place cold-pressed watercolor paper and soft pastels in a large, orange canister, then toss it into the recirculating water at the base of the dam. Pastel colors will be determined by the water quality data, such as the pH and chlorophyll levels of the Schuylkill at the time of creation, an artistic measure of local environmental conditions. “Through allowing water and other natural systems to create their own self-portraits I am giving them a voice—I am using participatory art to empower the natural world,” explained Lish who plans to display the Schuylkill’s self-portraits outside the Water Works Interpretive Center. Sandy Sorlien’s colorful displays will be pulled from the Schuylkill as well. Sorlien will construct sculptures depicting H20 molecules using a variety of balls (soccer, beach, etc.) pulled from the river and invite visitors to contribute balls or captions to the project.

Some artists, like Noemi Armstrong, will change locations. Working with a portable darkbox, Armstrong will create layered images using wet plate photography. Other artists will choose their locations on Thursday before the event. For instance, Susan Benarcik is considering Bartram’s Garden or a spot near the entrance at Walnut Street as a workspace for creating her suspended (and potentially internally lighted) sculptural mobiles. Benarcik views AiO as a great opportunity to connect with new audiences who may observe her obsessively crafting objects out of reeds, vines, twigs, and wire. Benarcik describes her work as “the result of exploring models of natural efficiency through concepts such as bio-mimicry, and natural architecture.”

One of the three-day event’s signature programs is its Family Day, on Saturday, May 17 from 11am–2pm outside the Fairmount Water Works. AiO organizational partners will also offer family-friendly art making and environmental activities at various locations around the city, including the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, Philadelphia Art Alliance, and Independence Seaport Museum.

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For more information, visit Art in the Open’s web site HERE, the official Twitter page HERE, or the Facebook page HERE.

The image on the homepage is River Testing, created by artist Aaron Lish and painted by the Willamette River, Oregon, January 5, 2014. Pastel on paper, 5.5″ X 14″.


About the Author

Sarah Barr Sarah Barr is a native Philadelphian who has enjoyed many hours in libraries feasting on their resources and occasionally sneaking a Pop-Tart. She earned her B.F.A. from Rosemont College and her M.F.A. in Visual Arts at Lesley University's College of Art & Design.

One Comment:

  1. Aaron Lish says:


    A special addition for Saturday’s Art in the Open festivities! Visitors to the Schuylkill Banks will be able to walk on water, and not get wet! And in doing so, you and the river will collaborate to paint your own self-portraits!

    Visiting artist Aaron Lish, who will be working with the river, helping it paint its own self-portraits each day, will now be allowing AiO guests to get involved with making their own self-portraits! Visitors will enter a “walk-on-water” sphere, which will contain body paints matching the color-code for the river self-portraits. You will then walk around on the water, painting the inside of the sphere, but at the same time the river will paint you – a collaborative self-portrait / portrait will result!

    If you are interested in checking this out, or possibly participating, come by the Schuylkill Banks on Saturday from 11:00am to 2:00pm, about 200 meters downstream from the Fairmount Waterworks (just look for the over-sized beach ball!). And if you want to make a selfie with the river, please wear shorts or a 2-piece swim suit, and plan to get covered in body paint (which hopefully you will proudly display as a living work of art as you explore the rest of the AiO events!).

    Hope to see you there!

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