This past weekend I went down to Philadelphia not for the World Series, but to visit with some very good friends of mine…and to figure out what’s up with Philly! Over the past year and a half, Philly has kept cropping up in conversations whether it’s about the art scene or friends moving there. My curiosity got the best of me and I wanted to see for myself why I kept hearing about Philly and I was pleasantly surprised with, well everything! But to get a true insider’s look, here’s an interview with Michael Hunt, a 6 month old Philly resident who just opened up a studio for repurposed furniture. Check out what he has to say about the City of Brotherly Love, you may be surprised too!
Why do you think people are drawn to Philadelphia?
Philly is first and foremost cheap to live and work in. Paychecks are high while rent is low, so you can find yourself living in an historic building with lots of character and space for very little. Furthermore there is a lot of converted warehouse space to set up a studio in, more often than not a 10-15 bike ride away, so while we are in an urban environment we can easily spread out.
Aside from that logistical standpoint Philadelphians have a sense of pride for their city, and art serves as a great way for people to give back to their community and inspire our imaginations.
So many times visiting friends have commented on how they envisioned Philly as dirty and run down. And while we have our rough patches, more often than not, communities are working to create positive changes in their neighborhoods from community gardens and farmer markets, to art communities and neighborhood events.
Location is another aspect, as we are in the crux of the east coast and get a plethora of artists, musicians and attractions on their way to NYC, D.C. or Boston.
You’ve mentioned that Philly is a culmination of many cities you lived and visited. How so?
Philly is a combination of many of the world’s greatest cities. From the ornate architecture and corner cafes with tall windows that make one feel like they’re in Paris, to the brewing and biking scene that are very reminiscent of Portland, to the tree lined streets and front yard oasis’s that are suggestive of Toronto’s neighborhoods, this city has so many different features.
In many ways it is a perfect example of what America is, a collective of different cultures, influences and styles in a city that is now experiencing a renaissance after digging its way out of the industrial revolution. Philly is a very invigorating place to live right now if you embrace it.
What underground movements are happening in Philly that your average tourist may not know about?
The food scene is certainly undervalued by the outside eye. On the one hand we love our cheese steaks, an indulging of our glutinous senses that we routinely scarf down to our heart and arteries content. Yet beneath that are many amazing chefs that embrace local sourced ingredients and infuse them into some amazing dishes. And while some Philly restaurants lack the pomp and circumstance in their décor, opting for a simplistic candlelight and glass atmosphere, their flavors speak for themselves and allow one to truly enjoy what they are eating.
Paralleling Philadelphia’s restaurant scene are programs such as Fair Food, Farm To City and The Food Trust who have organized farmers markets across the city so we all have the opportunity to cook yummy dishes from local ingredients, as well as organizing CSA’s (Community Supported Agriculture, and connecting chefs with local farmers to get their ingredients directly.
Beer is also an important aspect of our fair city. Within the city limits there are somewhere around 7 breweries pumping out some amazing craft beer. Yards Brewery for example is doing a series of Founding Fathers Ales inspired and even crafted by the likes of former Philadelphians George Washington, Thomas Jefferson and Ben Franklin, or Dock St. Brewery which has a delicious beer called the Sudan Grass made from sorghum and Pennsylvania sourced wildflower honey.
Aside from the delicious local brews, there are many amazing watering holes that pride themselves on keeping their taps flowing with suds that embraces the craft beer movement. Bars like Sidecar, Monks, National Mechanics, Good Dog, The South Philadelphia Tap Room, Graces, Standard Tap and Local 44 all have a great variety of US and imported beers at relatively low cost. And with these bars comes a renewed sense of one having their local bar, that they routinely frequent, thus getting to know your neighbors in a relaxed setting.
What is one area you’d recommend to check out to get a nice sample of the scene?
Philly has a great deal of neighborhoods to check out, each with their own character. Northern Liberties is turning out to be really amazing with lots of local shops, restaurants and music venues such as Kung Fu Necktie and Johnny Brendas. But there is also Fairmont that has a more quasi-urban feel to it with lovely brownstones and a beautiful tree canopy. The Graduate Hospital area has really created a community feel and delineating itself from Center City with lots of local businesses and a more relaxed feel.
You’re opening your own studio in Philly – what will you be making?
My focus is with woodworking. I really enjoy taking old wood, be it from salvaged beams and joists to used furniture, and coming up with new and fun ways of reconfiguring them into something useful yet playful. From taking an old desk and lowering the middle portion to turn it into a vanity, to building a large bed loft out of timbers salvaged from a church, my hope is to have fun with wood that would otherwise be tossed.
Does Philly have any current repurposed art/furniture?
Philly has a lot of industrious craftsman. For example Deckstool creates stools made out of broken skateboard decks. Or Fabrichorse, who takes old seatbelts from junkers and recycled fabric to create backpacks, bike lock holsters and a variety of other creative apparel.
I think a lot of Philadelphians pride themselves on the DIY concept, and repurposing and recycling is certainly a part of that notion. Philadelphians also seem to be drawn to everything local, and taking something old within our city and giving it a new life invigorates that sense of locality.
You’ve mentioned an article in the NY Times about the Philly art scene – what’s the article?
If you’re interested in Mike’s repurposed furniture, he can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org.
A special thanks goes to Mike for the interview and both Sarah and Mike for the unofficial photo shoot, among being fantastic hosts and friends!