THE MAKING PLACE MATTER - clay cultural identity, and community BOOK, IS A TESTIMONY OF OUR PROCESS.

We intended Making Place Matter to bring powerful art into our gallery, amplify the voices of our visitors out into the world through their participation in the MPM Council and community-centered exhibition design process. In any neighborhood experiencing the sometimes painful process of gentrification, tensions can run high. We want TCS to be a site of cross cultural understanding and positivity amid the gentrification happening in South Kensington, Philadelphia. Ceramics have traditionally been a democratic material, as almost every culture in the world has ceramic art traditions, and ceramics exist at every level of society. The ubiquity of the material, and the practicality of objects made with it, make it a particularly powerful transmitter of meaning. We believe the ceramic arts can be employed as a force for good.

A major vehicle for sharing our experiences and outcomes is the Exhibition Catalogue with essays by co-curators, community organizer, project coordinator, evaluator, Director and Deputy Director, along with professional photos of the artwork and installation, and photos of the activities. We want to share with you the reflections done for the catalogue, please feel free to browse the different essays included in the printed version.

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By Jennifer Martin

Laying the Groundwork

The Clay Studio’s new building rises up from the ground as I write this essay. I am grateful that my lifelong love of building has led me to serve as executive director of this organization because building has always been central to The Clay Studio’s mission. Whether it is a pot, a community, an artist’s skill set, or a new building, we at The Clay Studio build things together. In 1974, the five founders recognized the value of working together in a shared space. They knew they were building something valuable but could not imagine how the organization would amplify their initial ideal, building a community that serves tens of thousands of people in Philadelphia and around the world each year nearly half a century later.

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By Jennifer Martin

Sentar los Cimientos

El nuevo edificio del Clay Studio se eleva desde el suelo mientras escribo este ensayo. Estoy agradecida y honrada de que mi amor por la construcción me haya llevado a servir como directora ejecutiva de esta organización porque la construcción siempre ha sido fundamental para la misión del Clay Studio. Ya sea una vasija, una comunidad, el conjunto de habilidades de un artista o un nuevo edificio, en el Clay Studio construimos cosas juntos. En 1974, los cinco fundadores reconocieron el valor de trabajar juntos en un espacio compartido. Sabían que estaban construyendo algo valioso, pero no podían imaginar cómo la organización ampliaría su idea inicial, construyendo una comunidad que sirve a decenas de miles de personas en Filadelfia y en todo el mundo cada año, casi medio siglo después.

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Asking to be Welcomed

Making Place Matter was born out of The Clay Studio’s move from Old City, our home since 1974, into a new, purpose-built facility about a mile away in the South Kensington neighborhood of Philadelphia. We examined how the location of The Clay Studio had shaped the organization over forty-seven years, how a move would affect the organization, and how we could respectfully enter a new neighbor- hood. We asked questions: How can we ask to be welcomed into a new community? How can we build connections where all can flourish? We centered ceramic art and artists to help us answer these questions and to frame our first exhibition in the new building around a central question: What makes place matter?

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By Elizabeth Essner

In Place

At first, defining the idea of place appears to be a simple equation—obvious, even. Look down at your feet, and there you are. Place would seem to be the wholly quantifiable result of person plus location. However, like all outwardly simple things, what appears on the surface to be concrete belies an expanse of shifting ground underneath.

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A Conversation with Molly Hatch

In this conversation with artist Molly Hatch, co-curators Jennifer Zwilling and Elizabeth Essner discuss the ways in which history, memory, and the domestic overlap in her work for Making Place Matter.

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A Conversation with Ibrahim Said

Egyptian-born, North Carolina-based ceramic artist Ibrahim Said discusses the process behind his large-scale sculpture On the Bank of the Nile with exhibition co-curators Jennifer Zwilling and Elizabeth Essner.

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By Kukuli Velarde

A Mi Vida

I am a Peruvian-American artist. My work in general revolves around the consequences of colonization in Latin American contemporary culture. It is a visual investigation about aesthetics, cultural survival, and inheritance. I focus on Latin American history because it is the reality with which I am familiar. I do so, convinced that its complexity has universal characteristics and any conclusion can be understood beyond the frame of its uniqueness.

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By Ana Gabriela Jiménez and María Albornoz

The Council

When we learn to speak we are learning to translate; the child who asks his mother the meaning of a word is really asking her to translate the unfamiliar term into the simple words he already knows. In this sense translation within the same language is not essentially different from translation between two tongues, and the histories of all peoples parallel the child’s experience. Even the most isolated tribe, sooner or later, comes into contact with other people who speak a foreign language. — Octavio Paz, Theories of Translation.

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By Kelli Morgan, PhD

Caring Matters: How Collective Care Shapes a New Institutional Culture and The Clay's Studio New Place

I have always described my curatorial practice as a care praxis because my approach centers people over objects. As debates regarding diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) abound in the arts and culture sector, my curatorial radar is constantly active because building a genuine culture of DEI within any arts institution is no small feat. This is primarily because genuine DEI work necessitates that institutions decenter themselves to share the seat of power with surrounding communities. Even more so, the work requires that both the interpretation and the display of art objects is informed by all people with relationships to those objects. As beautiful and compelling as I find visual culture to be, it is nothing without people.

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From Jennifer Zwilling and Elizabeth Essner


Standing together with our community at the exhibition opening surrounded by tremendous artwork in a beautiful new gallery with the people who made this project possible was a moment to remember. Making Place Matter was conceived in 2017 when we as an organization chose this neighborhood, South Kensington, and began two projects to deepen our relationship with the community.

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Discover more aspects about "Making Place Matter," the ambitious project that turned into the inaugural exhibition at our new home in South Kensington, as well as a symposium and catalog.


Thank you!

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Making Place Matter has been supported by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.