Queen Village has only been awake for a few hours. The neighborhood’s occupants are still yawning and stretching at tables in bustling cafes, chatting about what a beautiful Saturday it is. The hum of the breeze is lively, crisp with the approaching autumn.
Paradigm Gallery is in the middle of it all on 4th Street, just a few blocks past South Street. Paradigm, the recent winner of Philly Hot List’s competition for Best Art Gallery, is housed in an old row home with dark wood floors and white walls that soak up the sunshine streaming in from the windows.
Jason Chen, co-founder and co-owner, has already arrived, working at the low table toward the back of the space. Sara McCorriston, his business partner, treads lightly into the gallery a few moments later, carrying her breakfast on a plate.
McCorriston lives just down the street, so Paradigm Gallery is like an extension of her own house, she said. There is something homey about the sunshine-imbued space, inviting any and all passerby to enter, she said.
“We realized people would walk by our gallery, but they wouldn’t come in because they didn’t know anything about art,” Chen said. “I feel like art shouldn’t be on a pedestal. Everybody should be able to have access to it.”
Chen and McCorriston met during their time as undergraduate students at University of the Arts, where they worked on multiple projects together. After completing school, the pair wanted to pursue creating a space together – one that would operate as both a studio and a gallery.
McCorriston, according to Chen, took his suggestion quite seriously.
“One day, she called me and said I had to check a space out,” Chen said. “And I was like, ‘For what?’ I totally forgot about it. But when we got there, I was like ‘Oh! This is awesome.’”
“He’s careful of what he says to me now,” McCorriston said with a smile.
From the beginning, it was important to the pair that the gallery was open to the community, so anyone could have the opportunity to create and discuss art, McCorriston said.
In order to accomplish this goal, the two said Paradigm Gallery engages the public community as much as possible. Though Paradigm is a commercial art gallery, there is programming in place that is more reminiscent of a non-profit, like The Community Arts Project and the mural initiative, “Bainbridge Green” art project.
“Having that connection with the community and being able to give back constantly is important,” McCorriston said.
Sometimes, the two said it is hard to “switch gears” from working with kids on small projects to getting ready for a new artist’s show. But neglecting that community aspect would take away the real reason Paradigm was started, McCorriston said.
Both Chen and McCorriston said they are in this business for the love of art. The pair recalled how satisfying it can be to watch people leave the gallery after purchasing the work of an artist Chen and McCorriston believed in.
Kelly Kozma, a mixed media artist, had a solo show at Paradigm after meeting Chen and McCorriston on the stoop of their previous location at 20th and South streets.
“I was excited to work with them because I felt like were both starting out,” Kozma said. “I think there was a mutual respect.”
Kozma said she was delighted when Chen and McCorriston allowed her to “spray paint and draw on the walls” for her first solo show. She recalled the experience as an enormous confidence boost.
When Paradigm moved to its current location in Queen Village, Kozma was invited to do another solo show in May 2014. The exhibition was titled “Chattersphere.”
“It was a big success for us,” Kozma said. “It was amazing to see how much we had both grown since the South Street show.”
Kozma said that Paradigm has been integral to her accomplishments over the past few years. Additionally, Kozma said that the gallery owners have presented her with a vast amount of opportunities, but also fostered a community that is special to her.
“Sara [McCorriston] refers to her artists as the ‘Paradigm family,’ and it definitely has that vibe,” Kozma said. “I feel like we all support and challenge each other.”
Chen and McCorriston said that being able to showcase those artists and give them a platform means the world to them, but the best part is when people come into the gallery and realize art does not always cost tens of thousands of dollars.
“I sold a piece to a girl who thought she wouldn’t be able to afford it,” Chen said. “And then she looked at the price and said that she’d spent more on a pair of shoes!”
Regardless of price, buying locally – whether from an artist, fashion designer or craftspeople – puts money back into the community, McCorriston said. Paradigm showcases mainly Philadelphia artists. The pair believes the area is “positively saturated” in talent.
“We showcase artists in Philly because we want the art scene to be sustainable,” Chen said. “We don’t want people to feel like they have to travel somewhere else to become successful – because they don’t.”
Victoria Mier can be reached at email@example.com
*Editor’s note: Changes to this article were made on Oct. 21. “Chattersphere” appeared in May 2014, not May 2013.