Candidates kickstart exhibit funding

Alexis Thompson is an MFA painting candidate and one of the graduates organizing “Ahem.” | ABI REIMOLD TTN
Alexis Thompson is an MFA painting candidate and one of the graduates organizing “Ahem.” | ABI REIMOLD TTN
Alexis Thompson is an MFA painting candidate and one of the graduates organizing “Ahem.” | ABI REIMOLD TTN
Alexis Thompson is an MFA painting candidate and one of the graduates organizing “Ahem.” | ABI REIMOLD TTN

Like most working professionals in the art industry, Tyler School of Art students are constantly hunting for funding for their artwork.

Tyler Master of Fine Arts candidates are all too familiar with this struggle. In attempts to bring back Tyler’s relatively new group show, the Tyler Graduate Arts Committee created a Kickstarter page to raise the necessary funds to bring the show, “Ahem,” to fruition. The title of the show was selected by a group of the MFA students, said Kevin van Zanten, an MFA sculpture candidate.

“The name committee submitted a list of names, mostly onomatopoeia words. Not really a strong word, but something to call it,” van Zanten said.

The past two off-campus group shows that Tyler MFA students produced were equally to-the-point in their title, donning the names “Woot” and “Bang.”

The students launched a Kickstarter page on Dec. 14, 2012, having garnered $3,875, beating their initial goal of $3,000.

“In the beginning it seemed like we were moving really slow, but then it started picking up,” van Zanten said of the page’s progress.

“Ahem” receives partial funding from Tyler, but that wouldn’t nearly cover the extensive costs of installation and de-installation, as well as paying for the space, according to the Kickstarter page. The past two shows, “Woot” and “Bang,” only ran for one week. This year, “Ahem” will be running for two weeks, which further adds to the financial need.

“[‘Ahem’] is not inexpensive,” Alexis Thomspon, an MFA painting candidate, said. “We need money for the Crane [Arts Center], movable walls, trucks to transport things – the nuts and bolts. And we can’t spend [Graduate Arts Committee] money for anything that doesn’t take place on campus. It’s an expensive endeavor.”

In all, Thomspon said she estimates that the total cost of the show sits around $10,000.

This particular show calls for a space large enough to house the work of 30 cross-disciplinary artists with artwork presented from all mediums. The location settled upon for the show is the Crane Arts Center, a popular venue for Philadelphia artists, making it the perfect place for student exposure. The Crane Arts Center also served as the location for the first student-run show in 2011.

“It’s a major art center that can house all of our work, and we needed a big space. There’s a tradition with Crane Arts Center where the art community hangs out every Thursday of the month, so it’s good networking,” van Zanten said.

“Everyone is really excited, it’s a beautiful space,” Thomspon said. “And not to undersell art, but everyone likes to have a party.”

With 30 artists contributing to the show, the questions of division of space and number of pieces arise and demand answers. Submissions are sent to the three designated faculty curators for the show: Rebecca Michaels, Adele Nelson and Christian Tomaszewski, who then select the pieces to be exhibited. Though still undetermined until early February, van Zanten said he thinks that most artists will have two or three pieces to display.

“It depends on size. Some people will occupy the wall, and some people will occupy the floor,” van Zanten said.

This completely student-organized undertaking is a fairly recent development for Tyler. Because most MFA students are working toward their end-of-the-year thesis presentations, the commitment to coordinating an all-inclusive group show has proven challenging for the four members who took the initiative. Thompson and van Zanten are at the forefront of the organization and execution of “Ahem,” along with two other members, with the four of them functioning as the Graduate Arts Committee club officials.

“It’s definitely a lot of work, and a lot of effort. We started putting it together last summer and at times it has been a bit of a distraction from other things,” Thompson said.

But there are some definite benefits both to having a group show as well as holding it at an off-campus destination. As Thompson puts it, “Ahem” is like a “teaser” to the individual thesis shows. “It’s like a cotillion for grad students,” Thompson said.

When shows are held primarily on Main Campus, it’s hard to attract a diverse audience, so having the show in the city provides the artists with a unique opportunity to have their work viewed by a wider artist community.

“Many people we’ve never seen before tend to turn up. Especially with the last show, people were hearing about it through word of mouth,” van Zanten said.

“The individual thesis shows are mostly our friends and family, but this show has a slightly different face to it. Some of the hope is that people in the city come see it,” Thompson added. “We get a chance to showcase how disparate we are as artists yet how cohesive our work is. We can show the art community as well as prospective students what kind of work people are making, what Tyler does and what it is that [Tyler] is all about.”

Now having reached their financial goal, it’s full steam ahead for the artists. “Ahem” runs from March 6-16, with the official opening being held on March 9 from 6-9 p.m.

Marcie Anker can be reached at

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