"Smoke Break, Camp America," by artist Debi Cornwall. Cornwall is a CFEVA Visual Artists Fellow.

Philadelphia’s CFEVA Offers a Platform for Emerging Artists

For emerging artists, life is fraught with an infinite set of new and daunting challenges: building a personal brand, running a small business, reaching new audiences, financing work and balancing personal and commercial projects. For artists of all walks of life, whether you are emerging or well-established, the greatest service and most challenging hurdle that you can do for yourself is one and the same: build a strong community around you.

No successful creative reaches prosperity alone—it truly takes a village to raise an artist—and having a solid and supportive network of fellow artists, curators, gallerists and industry leaders in your corner is the key to developing opportunities and building the foundations of a healthy and sustainable career.

CFEVA Fellow Mi-Kyoung Lee works on her installation, “Yellow Forest of Twist Ties.”

For residents in the City of Brotherly Love, that community and solid foundation can be found at the Center for Emerging Visual Artists (or CFEVA). Founded in 1983 by Bebe Benoliel, the center was created in order to serve the local emerging artists community in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas. The center champions both established and emerging artists by stimulating professional development and acting as an arts incubator to position visual artists as a valuable and recognized piece of the area’s cultural identity by linking artists both with colleagues and the general public.

Today, the non-profit organization runs a slew of art initiatives that reach nearly 50,000 people a year, including hosting public and private exhibitions, art festivals like Philadelphia Open Studio Tours and Art in the Open, residency programs, educational and community outreach and their flagship Visual Artists Fellowship program.

Attuned to the Needs of Philadelphia’s Emerging Artists

“The issues facing emerging artists are pretty global,” explains Genevieve Coutroubis, CFEVA’s Executive Artistic Director, “but the needs of Philly artists is to be respected and compensated for their work. Artists are often asked to do things for free, donate their work or go somewhere and do a bunch of work and not be compensated for it. There is a huge need to support artists and try to create sustainable careers and that is what we do.”

emerging artists
Amze Emmons “Root Cause Analysis” is drawn with colored pencil and gouache on handmade paper.

The need to support sustainable careers has lead to one of CFEVA’s most important and prestigious programs, the Visual Artists Fellowship. What was started as an initiative to connect local emerging artists and create exhibition opportunities has evolved into a comprehensive two-year fellowship program that hosts about eight individual visual artists at a time. The CFEVA program also provides direct funding of up to four thousand dollars over the two-year program.

The basis of the program is to assist emerging artists in ways that allow them to grow in their own unique paths. “We understand that each artist has a different set of challenges. And today, ‘arriving’ isn’t so fluid,” says Coutroubis. “There is no one way to do things. The map of the fellowship comes from the fellows themselves. We are here to get them to the next point.”

In order to assist individual emerging artists, an artistic board of well-established artists, gallerists, and museum personnel provide hands-on mentoring through the two-year fellowship program. “What artists want the most is time to dedicate to their studio practice. They’d prefer to be in their studio rather than figuring out how to navigate avenues like funding and exposure. We are able to help make those connections,” says Coutroubis.

Community-Focused Programming to Engage Philadelphia Residents

In addition to being a practicing artist, Coutroubis channels her experience in the non-profit sector, social work, fundraising, and communications to inform many of the programs her and her team have rolled out. A strong emphasis is placed on social change through art and focuses on inserting emerging artists directly into their community through social based-programs including lecture series and art instruction in hospitals, schools, and shelters.

“We wanted to create programs at CFEVA that would take artists out of the studio and into the public. When we began, there were certainly artists whose practices were social practice-based but it was less prevalent. The problem often is that artists are asked to do too much for free,” Courtoubis explains. “We decided to create fellowships that brought artists in to work in social-based practices that would be compensated through the fellowship. So now, if an artist has the space to create a pilot program and they are being compensated even a small amount, they can build that out into something and create a career out of it.”

emerging artists
“Freewoods,” a sculptural work using ceramic and steel, was created by a recent CFEVA Fellow, Syd Carpenter.

Other community-based initiatives include POST, the Philadelphia Open Studio Tours, the largest tour of artist studios and workspaces in the region and amongst the most ambitious open studio events in the United States. Every October, POST takes over twenty different neighborhoods in the city of Philadelphia to welcome the public into the studios of 300 visual emerging artists to provide the public with a unique behind-the-scenes look at the city’s creative community. Likewise, AiO, or Art in the Open, is a public initiative that brings emerging artists into public spaces by allowing them to create work outdoors and interact with the local urban environment.

“Philadelphia is an amazing city to be an artist. You can be an artist and you can own a house and have a studio and a family,” Coutroubis concludes, “Philadelphia is primed to get a lot of new attention. We are on the cusp of more institutions opening. This is a city that has always been supportive of artists and as artists, we are generous among ourselves. It’s an exciting time to be a part of this community.”


About the author

Nicole Martinez

Nicole is a veteran arts and culture journalist. Her work has appeared in Reuters, VICE, Hyperallergic, Univision, and more.

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