Grizzly Grizzly is an artist collective focused on citywide collaboration

When it comes to identifying which arts organization is behind what art project in the city of Philadelphia, attributions can get a little tricky. While artists today are generally known to proffer a collaborative, community-supportive spirit with an understanding that a rising ride lifts all boats, many individuals and collectives are still their own islands.

Grizzly Grizzly is its own unique collaborative of artists and has its own unique approach to curating its gallery space and implementing larger collaborative projects. But Grizzly Grizzly is part of what is a much larger network of artist collectives and galleries in Philadelphia that work very much with each other – to the point that the lines between them tend to get blurred.

Grizzly Grizzly was started in 2009. The physical space is a small gallery in the Loft District, in the same building that is home to a larger arts collective with smaller galleries all around it. There are six artist members involved with Grizzly Grizzly today: Talia GreeneMichael KonradRuth Scott BlacksonMary SmullCindy Stockton Moore, and Josh Weiss.

Cindy Stockton Moore joined in 2011. She had previously worked in nonprofit arts organizations and with galleries, and she and her husband started a gallery in Syracuse while they were in graduate school. When one of the founding members was leaving, they were invited to come on board and thus became the stewards of the space. “For me it was a great way to be connected to the city and be a part of a community, especially working so much with our neighbors. There’s just so much you learn with a DIY situation, but there’s also a lot of burnout which is why so many aren’t with us anymore. It is a lot of work for no money but also the human capital we’re building and making has been great.”

Each of the members is a very different kind of artist from the others. Moore is a painter. Smull works with fibers. Konrad makes installations. “We each have a different skillset,” Moore says. “Working with each other kind of expands our process in a lot of ways.”

The artists at Grizzly Grizzly do not curate their own work into their space. “We’re artists curating other artists,” explains Moore. That includes exhibitions in their own space as well as larger-scale projects, like the Knight-funded CSA Philadelphia in 2012 and CITYWIDE in 2013.

CSA Philadelphia was one of two CSA (community-supported art) programs that launched in Philly in 2012. Members of Grizzly Grizzly, in collaboration with neighboring collective Tiger Strikes Asteroid (which shares a floor in the same warehouse) and with support from the Knight Foundation, Springboard for the Arts, and the City of Philadelphia worked together to find the widest range of contemporary art possible, from small sculptural installations and paintings to wearable paper art and ceramics, to make each pickup as diverse as possible. There were nine artists featured and three pickups, and shares cost $350 – $100 more than the second CSA in Philly that year and more than the standard Springboard model, but an increase that allowed them to give the artists a much larger fee.

They will have another CSA offering in the future; it will most likely be a triennial endeavor. “Part of why we don’t want to do it every year here is because we’re trying to build a collector base but there isn’t a huge one here, and nine new pieces of art is a bit much. We’re trying to keep it fresh and different, then pass it off to different collectives and see what they do with it and act as advisors.”

On the heels of that, in 2013 Grizzly Grizzly helped organize CITYWIDE, a collective exhibition spanning the city of Philadelphia and supported by Knight. “Part of why we’re really strong [as an organization] is because we work together and faction off,” says Moore. “I was really involved in the CSA but other members [focused on] something else. All of our decisions are made as group decisions. We hash out all the details together, which is another thing differentiates from other collectives.”

In 2013, the CITYWIDE initiative brought together 26 different collectives and artist-run spaces throughout the city, very much in keeping with their goal of blurring organizational lines, taking risks, and promoting the arts community throughout Philadelphia. “We’re the insiders; we know of all these great little spaces doing this great programming within their communities throughout Philly. We bonded together as a larger group and were able to publicize everyone as a whole.” All of the spaces hosted open exhibitions and there were also “exchange exhibitions,” in which galleries hosted shows at other galleries. The artist members of Grizzly Grizzly even had their own group exhibition at the Rebekah Templeton Contemporary Art gallery.

Moore says that the project allowed more points of entry for people to “get into” Philly’s underground – or at least the smaller and lesser-known – arts scene. “We were literally mapping the scene. There was also a trolley that would take people around to these smaller spaces that are spread out and helping them connect to this larger whole. Part of the way we’re strengthening the community is making everyone a little stronger by making them more visible as part of this project. All these trolleys, the openings, and the exhibits were free and open to the public.”

CITYWIDE was really a collaborative coup for the arts community of Philadelphia. “The collaborative aspect highlighted by the CITYWIDE project is so grassroots,” she says. “We made these amazing connections to other artists in the city.”

The collaborative and supportive energy in Philadelphia that the members of Grizzly Grizzly propagate also serves them well. A new project Moore is now installing was inspired and encouraged by one of the artists from the CSA. “Had she not [encouraged me] I wouldn’t have turned it in [for consideration]. There is a built-in network of support here.”

As an active working artist, Moore continues to have her own shows outside of the Grizzly Grizzly gallery. Her current show, which officially opens May 9, is at Eastern State Penitentiary, considered the world’s first true penitentiary that was closed in the 1970s and is now a historic site and a famous urban ruin. “They have reopened the site for tours and also invite artists to come in with installations that address the site’s history.” Her project is 50 portraits of people who were murdered by inmates that were incarcerated in the penitentiary. “This project was very research-intensive, much more than my usual painting. Since it is so much more [embedded within the community] and public, it has to engage directly with a very specific audience. I do feel this would not have happened if it weren’t for Grizzly Grizzly. Working with the gallery has made me think about who I’m speaking to in the world more specifically.”