Making Place Matter will be an ambitious and experimental six-month exhibition, symposium and publication that will inaugurate The Clay Studio’s (TCS) newly built home in the Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia, set to open in Spring 2021. As TCS begins this new chapter in its own history, the idea of ‘place’ takes on critical importance as we seek to understand and grow into our new home. Building a resonant conversation between clay, artists and audiences in our new gallery, Making Place Matter will be organized around the complex meanings of place in our contemporary social conversation.
Making Place Matter will invite leading artists, Kukuli Velarde, Molly Hatch, and Ibrahim Said, to explore the idea of place with regard to personal history, cultural heritage, and social justice. Clay is the material embodiment of place. Made of the earth we stand on, it has the capacity to articulate cultural perspectives, social engagement, and artistic intentions. By using clay as a means to investigate place, Making Place Matter will draw powerful connections to share with our new and established community, creating a sense of agency within the gallery among TCS’s various constituencies.
At the core of Making Place Matter are its three invited artists: Kukuli Velarde, Molly Hatch, and Ibrahim Said, who each reinterpret historical objects tied to the sites of their cultural heritage. Drawing on the traditions of three continents, one linked to colonization, one to a distant aristocracy, and one to a generations-long family tradition of making, each artist makes powerful works of art that manifest how their histories have shaped their current identities. Velarde’s angry Inca deities, Hatch’s grand scale reinterpretations of her ancestral heirlooms, and Said’s complex, imposing sculptures made with skills passed down from his father’s work in a centuries old Egyptian pottery town will prompt visitors to consider the places that inform their own identities. This directly reflects TCS’s history, as we capitalize on this geographic move to also move forward with our mission. Through this exhibition and beyond, our new gallery will act as a laboratory for our two-fold mission: to serve artists in our community, and our community with art.
As a new member of a culturally rich neighborhood that is experiencing the turmoil of rapid gentrification, The Clay Studio must work to demonstrate our commitment to being a positive force within this changing environment. We are responsible to our existing community, and to the local, national, and international art spheres as a place to experience the best of ceramic art. With this project we have the opportunity to thoughtfully advance our methodological approach to reflect the founding principle of The Clay Studio: collaboration and creative expression.
Engaging community members in the planning and implementation of Making Place Matter (and future exhibitions), is integral to forming a robust long-term relationship. As such, we will develop an Exhibition Council for Making Place Matter, bringing together the voices of many constituent groups. This widely encompassing Council will design and create programming for a Visitor Engagement Gallery adjacent to the main gallery. Visitors will have the opportunity to respond through art making activities designed to connect their own ideas of place to the exhibition, and interact with Hatch, Said, and Velarde during each artist’s short residency in the Visitor Engagement Gallery.
Our goal is to present art exhibitions that inspire transformative personal experiences for all of our audiences. Through the vision of artists Velarde, Hatch, and Said who each substantiate the importance of place to explore identity, Making Place Matter will empower visitors to use their creativity to examine their own connections to place and identity, as they also form a deeper connection to The Clay Studio in its new home. This meaningful exhibition will provoke discussion, inspire art-making through responsive activities for audiences, and therefore will promote a sense of agency over the gallery space for visitors.
We have incredibly talented and devoted staff members, a community that is ready and willing to get involved, and a historic moment to celebrate. With support from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage, we can amplify our efforts, create the most impactful exhibition and programming possible, and honor our new neighbors along with the hundreds of people who have dedicated their lives to building The Clay Studio over the last 47 years. Through this inaugural exhibition in our new home, Making Place Matter, The Clay Studio will demonstrate another major step in our commitment to the community by incorporating voices from each of our constituencies into the planning and design process.
Making Place Matter will lead by listening, using clay as a metaphor for place, and place as a metaphor to examine the relationship between The Clay Studio and our new neighborhood as well as each visitor’s personal connection to their own place in the world.
This program has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.