A not-uncommon complaint amongst Philadelphia-based artists, curators, and others in the arts and cultural community is that there’s not enough media coverage of the arts. My first question when I hear this said is, “Do you know about Philly Artblog?”
Artblog is an online non-profit arts journalism platform with a hyper-local Philadelphia focus. It has a proven track record of covering underserved, underknown, and marginalized artists. Many then-emerging artists that Artblog has covered are now well-established names in the art world. Take Jayson Musson, who Artblog interviewed in 2011 when he was an MFA candidate at Penn, and who was recently featured in a solo exhibition at the Fabric Workshop and Museum. [Full disclosure: I worked at Artblog for three years under its former director.]
Founded in 2003 by artists and collaborators Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, 2023 marks Artblog’s 20th year of continuous publication. It also marks a historic change in leadership. In October 2022, Julia Marsh — artist, curator, and writer — became executive director and editor of Artblog. This makes Marsh the first non-founding executive director in Artblog’s history, succeeding Fallon, who served for 19 years. Rosof retired from leadership in 2014, but remains an active member of the board. Fallon remains involved with Artblog as the executive editor and as a board member.
In announcing the leadership change, Fallon said, “I am very excited for Julia‘s new leadership to infuse Artblog with energy, and take it in directions that will match her energy and vision.”
Marsh has experience writing and editing for various publications, including Artblog for the last three years, and a history of curating exhibitions, as well as exhibiting her own drawings and installation art. In the four months she has served in her new position, Artblog has brought on additional staff, reimagined their weekly newsletter and comics program, and has updates planned for their content schedule of news, reviews, and features. What they need most during this transition, Marsh tells me, is to raise funds. Part of their plan to do so includes hanging a tribute exhibition of Fallon and Rosof’s collaborative artworks, which will be their 20th anniversary fundraiser in 2023.
Marsh says of her new role, “I see the mandates of my new position as unique opportunities to help shape the future of discourse on art in Philadelphia, by continuing to build on the history of Artblog as a space for documenting what makes up the rich and varied contemporary art world of Philadelphia.”
In partnership with Forman Arts Initiative, The Citizen reached out to Marsh to find out more about her plans for Artblog. This interview has been edited and condensed.
Morgan Nitz: What drew you to Philadelphia and its arts scene?
Julia Marsh: I was born and raised in Allentown. In 2018, I was leaving a curatorial position and I decided to move to Philadelphia to focus on my own art making. In 2020, I left to take care of my father during the pandemic, and returned last year in August.
I love the diversity of approaches and the amazing artists living and working in Philadelphia. I really appreciate all the individuals and groups working together to bring art to the public, who are also making a better world, while making interesting and important work.
MN: Why is art writing important?
JM: It’s an interesting question because by all accounts it is not valued, per se, but the import of art writing goes beyond just getting a review of your show. Art critics and writers are the first line of art history for both art-making trends and artist endeavors. Consider local art coverage of Philadelphia without Artblog. Without Artblog, where would Philadelphia art writers get their start? Who would cover exhibits at the level we have and plan to? Artblog includes an archive of writing that documented and defined the early 21st century of Philadelphia art-making.
As a major city, Philadelphia demands coverage of its visual arts community. I see Artblog’s reporting as an essential service and a necessary element in a healthy art ecosystem. As well, Artblog is not only a record and a resource for our local art community, it is a proving ground for writers, many of whom have gone on to do bigger things. For instance, long-time contributor Janyce Denise Glasper was awarded a Warhol Foundation Arts Writers Grant for short form writing last year. There is a lot of Philly pride in the work we do. The engaged community that drew me to Philadelphia is inherent in the work Artblog does.
MN: Your taking over as executive director and editor is the first time Artblog is led by someone other than one of its co-founders in its 20 years of existence. How will you change the organization?
JM: I want to grow Artblog so we can regain a more consistently-covered Philadelphia. My ambition is to have far more reviews and a farther reach into the neighborhoods away from the centers that are found situated in the eastern corridor of the city. I recognize that Artblog has been dedicated to diversity and inclusion for all of its existence. I see a need to get into neighborhoods and cover the important work happening away from Center City.
My first challenge has been to create a regular stream of content. We are currently only publishing two posts, our newsletter, the news, and comics each week. This is largely due to limited resources both human and financial.
I think if anything changes at Artblog it will be how much, who we cover and who writes that coverage. I am dedicated to continuing to diversify our staff and our roster of writers as well as topics.
MN: Artblog has plans to bring art critic Lori Waxman’s 60 wrd/min art critic project to Philadelphia. Can you tell us about the project and how it will operate in relation to Artblog?
JM: I am so excited to be hosting Lori Waxman’s project. We have been friends for decades now and I have been trying to bring her project east since 2014. Lori, who has been the Chicago Tribune’s art critic for about a decade, started 60 wrd/min art critic in 2007, when she was invited to do a project at Mess Hall, then Temporary Services project space in Chicago.
She invited people to send her their work, as slides or digital images and she would review their work. These first reviews with an image were hung in Mess Hall as part of the installation. In 2009, she got a Warhol Grant to take the project to smaller urban centers in the United States as a way of bringing art writing to places where there may not be a great deal of art writing. She has visited 18 cities. Philadelphia will be her last city after Cleveland, OH.
The project works like this: Lori comes to town for three days and sets up shop in a storefront or office with a small staff of assistants. Then anyone who wants to submit their work can. Lori then works through a first come-first served submissions, writing a thoughtful, critical and not necessarily positive 100 to 200 word review in about 20 minutes. She may do as many as 36 in a weekend. The texts are printed by an assistant then hung in the project space, so they can be read by anyone entering the space. Typically she has a publishing partner who will post all or a selection of the works.
For our iteration we will be at Moore College in the atrium and will publish a selection of what is produced. More details about submitting will be coming over the summer.
MN: You are working on a tribute to Roberta Fallon and Libby Rosof, Artblog co-founders. Can you tell us more about this?
JM: This is so exciting. It really came out of working on the fundraiser last year when I heard we were going to be 20 years old. Patrick Coue [a member of the Artblog Advisory Committee] and I were discussing the need to have a really good party for this anniversary and I just thought we need to honor these two pillars of the art community, who have given and done so much to promote and support the Philadelphia art scene.
Last week three of our interns began to inventory and document Libby and Roberta’s works. Our plan is to mount an exhibition of their collaborative art works, which by the way led to the creation of Artblog. The exhibit will include a selection of their paintings, a restaging of at least one of their performative works, and including some of their giveaway works in swag bags for the fundraiser’s attendees.
MN: In addition to written articles and podcasts, Artblog publishes comics series by local artists. You mentioned plans to change Artblog’s comics program, and the way it engages with its contributors. What will this entail?
JM: We are scaling back from our pandemic high of publishing more comics than art reviews. We are grateful to the comics artists, who not only produced material in their studios, when exhibition venues were closed, but lightened the heaviness of the pandemic. We are working to expand the number and diversity of the comics artists we publish. In April you will start to see one comic a week and a more diverse lineup.
MN: If you had to choose one thing, what would you hope is Artblog’s lasting impact?
JM: I think the big thing about Artblog is the will to make it so. Roberta and Libby held this organization together to make sure it lasted. They didn’t give up and they brought me on because I think they know I am as tenacious as they are. In addition to demonstrating the value of commitment and inclusion, Artblog is also a space of opportunity. Our work provides a platform for young people who want to write and learn about publishing. In general our mission is all about covering art, but backing all this, as Roberta and Libby will tell, is education and mentoring.
What Artblog needs most is funds. We are seeking to raise $75,000 to accommodate our staffing needs and support more writing. With this in mind, we are working on diversifying our fundraising efforts to include smaller events to recruit and celebrate our donors over the course of the year; and focusing on planning for a more robust annual fundraiser and annual winter campaigns this year. Also, by following Artblog on Instagram @phillyartblog and sharing our posts with your friends will help us spread the word.
This story is part of a partnership between The Philadelphia Citizen and Forman Arts Initiative to highlight creatives in every neighborhood in Philadelphia. It will run on both The Citizen and FAI’s websites.