Philadelphia has a gym that ditches the whey protein and bench presses for paint brushes and molding clay.
Darla Jackson, a 2003 graduate of Moore College of Art and Design with a degree in fine arts, opened the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym last summer. The gym offers artists of any experience level to become a member, which gives access to wood and metal shops, molding, casting, welding, bookbinding and more.
“The gym itself can also be very much geared towards people who want to go in with no experience, but it’s also for people who can come in and use the jobs on their own and just want a space,” Jackson said. “We do have a pretty wide range, people who have been out of college a few years and are looking for space to continue making what they used to do. We have makers of things, craft people who are making furniture; working on their homes, want to make shelves. People want movement, want to have their hands in sync to make things.”
After graduating, Jackson set out to find her spot in the art world but couldn’t find a space to work on projects. She found that every space she sought after ended up being too small and unable to fit all of her equipment or too expensive. More importantly, Jackson said she couldn’t afford all of the equipment she needed.
Then the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation grant came along.
After submitting a 150-word proposal for a sculpture gym, Jackson was granted the award in 2011. The first step was finding a space, which ended up being right in her backyard.
“I drove by it for years and years,” Jackson said. “Then I realized nothing was in there, called some people up and took a look. It was cold and dirty. There was dog poop, trash and filth, but I knew this was the space right away. Everyone thought I was crazy. It took more work than I ever thought it would.”
The work ended up paying off. Jackson worked alongside a team of volunteers from March 2012 until June 2013 when she opened the Philadelphia Sculpture Gym. The response, she said, was rewarding.
The space is similar to a typical gym where people have monthly memberships, but they can get personal training in specific areas of art. Jackson said people came to sign up right away, and the gym became a community building piece.
“It’s just grown tremendously in the last few months, it really has,” said Kyle Keener, an employee at the gym.
Membership prices range from $25 to $225 a month. Students are eligible for a 25 percent discount with a student ID.
Thanks to the community response, Jackson has cleaned up the inside of her building and the outside as well, with murals painted by members of the gym.
Fixing the inside required more than an artistic edge.
Thanks to the crossover that comes from practicing sculpting, Jackson said she’s done everything from putting up drywall to installing toilets.
“I feel like I can fix almost anything within a safe and reasonable situation, use construction processes, drilling, cutting, nailing – it all crosses over,” Jackson said.
Even though the gym is open to all ages, Jackson said she sees potential in students.
“The arts have a huge place in this world, it’s definitely beneficial and valuable and worthwhile,” Jackson said. “In order to make it as an artist, you have to pay attention to how things are made and put something out there that is special and unique, and just really be true to yourself. That sounds a bit cheesy, but hey.”
Chelsea Finn can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.