Brewerytown Social: Local Businesses on West Girard do First Friday Differently
First Fridays in Philadelphia have come a long way since they first began in the early 90’s in Old City. The event was created as a way for artists and art lovers alike to meet, socialize and enjoy multiple gallery openings in one night. The tradition has since evolved into a city-wide affair, with regular First Friday showcases in Spring Garden, Fishtown, South Philly and Brewerytown all popping up in the nearly 30 years since. While the model for First Fridays has generally been a populist approach towards art making and art viewing, Maryan Captan of Brewerytown Social wondered if a First Friday event could do more than just make art easily accessible, but also represent the neighborhood in which it lives. “I wanted to be really mindful of the art we had hanging up here,” Captan said, “I didn’t want to put something up that was just really beautiful, I wanted it to have an intention.”
Brewerytown Social is a group of businesses and artists in the neighborhood that have been organizing Brewerytown’s First Friday events since 2015. Unlike other groups that organize First Friday events, Brewerytown Social seeks to intertwine the fun of First Friday events with the important work of social activism. As per their mission statement, “through exhibitions, performances and social events, Brewerytown Social aims to spark public dialogue around socially relevant issues and to provide accessible, fun and inclusive programming that celebrates Brewerytown’s dynamic identity.”
The beginnings of Brewerytown Social, the period of time which Captan affectionately refers to as its “babyhood”, began at The Monkey and The Elephant Café on the 2800 block of Girard Avenue. The Monkey and The Elephant is a non-profit café that hires kids that “age out” of the foster care system. One day while working at the café as a manager in 2015, Captan noticed something — the walls were perfect for hanging art. “We have gallery-white walls, we might as well do art,” Captan recalls saying. Owner Lisa Miccolis agreed, and The Monkey and The Elephant hosted its first showing by an artist named William Lucas, who did a show examining the death of imagination through funding cuts to the arts, followed by an artist discussion in the café’s backyard.
Captan, having worked as the operations coordinator for the literary magazine Apiary, decided it was time to apply the Brewerytown Social principles to literature the same way it did to visual art. Captan felt that young writers in Philadelphia were not being afforded the space they needed to perform their work in front of an encouraging audience. “One of the things I try to do, me being sneaky, I try to take all the things I’m involved in and make them kind of melt together.” Captan said. Since many of the readings in Philadelphia are usually later at night or at bars, it makes them sometimes impossible for younger writers to go to. So she started Youthquake, a poetry reading series for poets aged 13 to 23. “A lot of times it’s their first time being on stage, it’s extremely diverse which is amazing,” Captan explained. “It is uniquely Brewerytown. You see people you see on the street in here, clapping along, cheering kids on.” The event has gotten so popular that groups of young writers from outside Brewerytown, some as far as Camden, have become regular contributors to the reading series.
It was then that Captan and The Monkey and The Elephant realized they may have been on to something.
Captan then began looking to other businesses on West Girard Avenue to expand Brewerytown Social into a fully-fledged First Friday event. Brewerytown Beats, Crime and Punishment Brewing Company and Lather Hair Salon, all businesses on the 2700 block of Girard Avenue, quickly joined the fold. Brewerytown Social quickly developed into a neighborhood mainstay for First Friday.
Fast forward a few years and The Monkey and The Elephant, Crime and Punishment, Rybrew, Brewerytown Beats and Lather are all continuing the tradition. This past Friday, the businesses all hosted this month’s event. Crime and Punishment had a visual/musical collaboration between Sirena Niesley and Mike Wambolt, The Monkey and Elephant featured original art from some of their current and former employees, Rybrew hosted a show featuring Talenitart, Brewerytown Beats featured photography from Kadee Stephens and Lather featured photography from Dot Vile.
When asked what got Brewerytown Beats owner Max O’Chester involved in Brewerytown Social, O’Chester said, “Maryan’s enthusiasm and great ideas [for] the community, and [her] trying to bring people together in the community.”
“A lot of the artists we’ve shown have been clients of ours,” Dena Epstein of Lather Hair Studio said. Abbey Dernoga, the manager of Lather, added, “It’s just been a really awesome experience. I just love this neighborhood and I love that we get to do an event every month to connect with people on a little bit more of a personal level. Our job is really personal already, we talk to people all day, but it’s really interesting to see the community in a different light.”
For Captan, her love of Philadelphia comes down to one thing. “I’ve been to a lot of cities in America, I’ve travelled a lot this summer, and Philly is the most honest city I’ve ever been to. We’re honest about our problems, we face things head on—there isn’t a pretension here when it comes to the art scene,” Captan explained, “People wanted to experiment and to see what happens, and you don’t see that in a lot of places.” •