Jul 8, 2022 - Things to Do

Tiny Room For Elephants Festival builds "living art gallery" in Philly

An artist paints on a large plywood canvas he's painted gray.

Artists will paint on massive plywood panels assembled into walls. Photo courtesy of BeauMonde Originals

More than 40 artists are meeting at Cherry Street Pier on Friday to create and paint together over the next 10 days — all to a live soundtrack made by local DJs, musicians and producers.

Driving the news: Tiny Room For Elephants (TRFE), a Philly artist collaborative, is hosting a free festival at the pier through July 24.

  • The public can watch artists paint 10-foot-high, 6-foot-wide mural panels, listen to DJs and producers play and work through their music and enjoy other free activities from film screenings to dance competitions.

Why it matters: "It's a living art gallery," TRFE co-founder YaYa Horne told Axios.

  • "Normally when you go to an art gallery or you experience art, it's the finished product. It's already done," she said.
  • But here, festival-goers get to look behind the curtain and feel part of the creative process in moments that can never be repeated or captured in the same way again.

For the artists and musicians, it's an opportunity to draw inspiration from each other, collaborate and share tips and tricks, Horne said.

  • "We work in silos a lot so to see that somebody else from a different discipline is having sort of the same process is really interesting," TRFE co-founder Dame Ward added.
Artists paint a colorful mural on plywood.
Artists have an opportunity to collaborate together on projects at the festival. Photo courtesy of BeauMonde Originals

State of play: What started as an underground project in an abandoned North Philadelphia warehouse in 2014 has transformed into a massive, evolving creative experiment.

What's new: This year, TRFE is expanding its offerings beyond art and music. They've partnered with cinéSPEAK, which will host a showing of short local films live scored by Philly-area producers from 7-9pm July 14.

  • Red Bull is bringing its one-on-one breaking competition to the festival July 23. More than two dozen of the region's top b-girls and b-boys will go head to head, with four competitors advancing to the national finals in Los Angeles.
  • TRFE is also hosting a free workshop for artists to learn about contracts and intellectual property from 2-4pm Saturday.

Plus: Visit Philly is sponsoring an audio tour of the festival, exploring its theme of "Love + Grit." Visitors can scan QR codes and hear what love and grit means to each of the artists.

  • Festival-goers can also use QR codes to donate to artists' work.
Festival-goers wave their hands in the air in front of a stage.
A past performance at TRFE Festival. Photo courtesy of BeauMonde Originals

The timeline: The artists' 10-day creation period runs July 8-18, and the finished products will be unveiled during a ticketed event July 21.

  • Then the festival returns to being open to the public for its final days, July 22-24. Find more event details on TRFE's Instagram.

The aftermath: The artists decide what to do with their work once the festival is over. Many of them sell their pieces throughout the exhibition weekend. Some donate the art. And for those who don't have the ability to move such a large structure, the festival organizers do their best to find a home for it.

  • 👀 Fun fact: You can find a big gallery of art from TRFE's past festivals at The Fillmore.

What they're saying: "This city really needs it and the artists really need that place to shine," Horne said of the festival. "I think that everyone has been so starved of these sorts of celebratory events that this is a welcome breath of fresh air."


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