Out & About: A stroll left of center

Once a month, art galleries in Philadelphia throw open their doors to welcome the public late into the night while local jazz acts perform at restaurants and galleries for a nominal fee. In Old City, it happens on the first Friday of every month.

In the Powelton Village section of University City, it happens on the second.

The appropriately titled “2nd Friday, Left of Center” was created to show off the cultural awakening happening in Penn’s backyard. And there’s a lot going on. From performance to painting, the area along Lancaster Avenue is beginning to support galleries, a wide array of restaurants and a general cultural renaissance.

David Lawrence, co-owner of the Lancaster Avenue gallery Art on 38 and one of the creators of 2nd Fridays, says while the event was inspired by the successful Center City art evening, University City’s happening offers something a little different. “You come here to be entertained more,” says Lawrence. This means 2nd Fridays offer gallery open houses, as well as performances and events—from an improvisational dance workshop at the Community Education Center & Meeting House (3500 Lancaster Ave.), to comedy at Mokas Mediterranean Restaurant (3505 Lancaster Ave.). Events run from 5 to 11 p.m. and while most are free, some performances can cost anywhere from $5 to $8.

Growing roster

With support from the University City District, 2nd Friday continues to grow, adding more and more galleries and other businesses to its roster of events. In January, 15 local businesses participated. Urban & Bye Realtors (3529 Lancaster Ave.), which hosted a drawing for a $25 gift certificate to one of two local restaurants, is the newest addition to that list. “There has been a tremendous response both from the community and from folks coming to the community to participate in the event,” says Lori Klein Brennan, senior director of marketing for the UCD. “Every month it grows.”

The goal is to make this area of University City (between 34th and 40th streets and Lancaster Avenue) a vibrant nightlife destination and entice restaurants, cafes and jazz clubs to plant roots in the neighborhood. Lawrence adds that this summer, they plan to offer a trolley that loops between the neighborhood and 40th Street, banners to advertise 2nd Fridays and even a big parade.

“We have to build up the [foot] traffic,” Lawrence says. “All the areas that are hot spots now have nightlife.” He also hopes to get students excited about the growing arts community in their neighborhood. “The Penn students are right there at the doorway,” he says. “If we’re visible to them, they might venture.”

Art walk

Despite the chill in the air, people did venture out on Jan. 14. Patrons walked briskly between the Esther M. Klein Art Gallery (3600 Market St.), to check out the group exhibition, “The Americas,” featuring the work of 12 female artists, to Art on 38 (3808 Lancaster Ave.), where Lawrence and a group of lively patrons were celebrating the opening of an exhibition by painter and graphic artist Charly Carlos Palmer.

Around the corner, tucked behind Lawrence’s warm gallery space, the East Africa Resource and Study Center (3809 Pearl St.) opened its doors to the public. Co-founder Bill Baumann—an anthropologist and builder who lived in Kenya with his wife, Betty—was on hand to talk about their non-profit community center and chat about the exhibit, “Ordinary Objects—Extraordinary People,” a permanent collection of East African nomadic materials. Handmade beadwork hung from display cases alongside knives, bowls, stools and other objects. Color photos and text described the origin and use of the objects for the nomadic people of sub-Saharan Africa. A complete nomadic shelter set up along the back wall provided context. An extraordinary collection of Sudanese contemporary art, “Supressed Voices,” was installed in the intimate upstairs gallery.

Lawrence is confident more people will stroll the streets during 2nd Friday events each month to sample the blend of art, performance and international eateries. “Once we get the community to rally around it, I think that we will start to grow.”

Originally published on January 27, 2005