When PhilaMOCA isn’t running more than 250 shows per year, the space is quiet. The half-dozen volunteers relax and watch a film on the large screen in the space, including Sean Coleman, an eighth grader who lives a few blocks away.
Coleman is PhilaMOCA’s “mascot,” as described by the venue’s director and curator, Eric Bresler. Coleman’s smiling face can be seen on a mural near the front of the building.
Bresler said he considers most of the work at the Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art “unclassifiable.” The multi-purpose art space hosts concerts, film screenings and other art-related events he said goes against the mainstream arts.
“My interest’s all over the place so my immediate goal was to make this multi-disciplinary and just invite all sorts of art in,” Bresler said.
Music producer Diplo purchased the nineteenth-century mausoleum in the mid-2000s to use as a recording studio and the home base of his label, Mad Decent.
When Diplo left Philadelphia, he rented the building out to Gavin Hecker, who founded PhilaMOCA as a recording space for musicians. In 2012, Bresler took over after Hecker’s relocation to New York.
Bresler said there are a lot of multi-disciplinary spaces like Cha-Cha’razzi, Goldilocks Gallery and Little Berlin, but the large size and low rental prices of PhilaMOCA sets it apart.
“It is important to have a space where the arts can thrive and where you don’t have to jump through hoops to book something,” Bresler said. “If I get pitched for an event by an artist I have never heard of and I’m just wowed by their work, than they are more than welcome.”
Bresler graduated from Drexel in 2001 with a degree in film and video production. Prior to his time at PhilaMOCA, Bresler was working for the Philadelphia Film Society.
“I was very disillusioned with the state of film in the city,” Bresler said. “I wanted a venue where I could program films that I was both interested in and felt like the city should be exposed to.”
Right off the bat, Bresler began hosting burlesque shows and installed a screen that would be paramount to the films shown at PhilaMOCA. The Drexel graduate wanted to showcase films that would otherwise never make their way to Philly.
“Last week, we showed an Ethiopian film called ‘Crumbs’ and we had 140 people and turned away another 40,” Bresler said.
Bresler established the “Eraserhood Forever” night honoring filmmaker David Lynch, who lived just a few blocks away from PhilaMOCA in the 1960s.
Bresler added PhilaMOCA is different than most other arts organizations in Philadelphia because it is not considered a nonprofit.
“We don’t take corporate sponsorships, there are no membership fees,” Bresler said. “We completely rely on our own creativity to hopefully draw in enough people to make it work and we do.”
One of the volunteers and curators, Jay Bilinsky, a 2012 studio art alumnus, said he enjoys how each arts event is different.
“Since we do such a wide range of events from movie screenings to burlesque shows, it is nice getting out to see all these different things that I wouldn’t otherwise see,” Bilinsky said. “It has opened my eyes to what is going on in Philly.”
PhilaMOCA is also host to public access shows like “Mausoleum Party,” which includes all of the disciplines of comedy, music and performance art. The organizers filmed seven episodes this year to be featured on Philadelphia Community Access Media.
Bresler said he hopes people will follow in his example of hosting alternative events.
“It was always about providing the city of Philadelphia with an alternative to what has always been here and that is what it is still about,” Bresler said. “Hopefully people will say ‘We don’t need to start a nonprofit. We can find a place and just be creative and survive.’”
Emily Scott can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
CORRECTION: In a version of this article that ran in print Dec. 1, it was incorrectly stated that PhilaMOCA runs 250 shows per week, but the venue runs 250 shows per year.