Mt. Airy Art Garage has named a co-founder who is a former owner of Giovanni’s Room as its newest executive director.
Arleen Olshan is taking the reins at MAAG now that her wife, Linda Slodki, stepped down from the position. Slodki served as the executive director since the organization’s inception in 2009.
The nonprofit arts organization supports and connects local multi-disciplined artists through workshops, exhibits and community projects in partnership with organizations in Mt. Airy and Chestnut Hill. Olshan, a visual artist and master leather crafter, said she wanted to created a hub for local artists to share their techniques while developing their art.
“When I retired from social work and being a teacher, I wanted to open a storefront to showcase my work and the work of other artists within the community,” Olshan said. “We started off with an arts and handcrafts market where neighbors could bring their families and friends to eat, drink, buy special gifts and support artists. We’ve since transitioned into being an arts cooperative bringing together artists of all disciplines and providing them with an opportunity to create, exhibit and distribute their fine arts and handcrafts.”
Olshan owned Giovanni’s Room, the oldest LGBTQ bookstore in the country, with Ed Hermance from 1976-86. During that time, Olshan and Hermance wholesaled gay and lesbian books from all over the world — but for Olshan, the dream was to get back to artwork.
MAAG’s beginnings started in a garage provided by Weaver’s Way Co-Op in Mt. Airy in 2009. The following year, the organization moved into a bigger space, located at 11 W. Mt. Airy Ave., which housed the art hub for five years. Slodki and Olshan were left scrambling to find MAAG a new home when the building’s landlord chose not to renew the lease in 2016. Slodki said the loss of the space “was the biggest challenge that MAAG faced.”
“It was devastating to lose a space we invested so much into, but it helped us to build deeper community connections,” Slodki said. “The community rallied around the art garage and stepped up with helping us find a new home.”
Olshan and Slodski moved MAAG into its current headquarters — a small handcraft pop-up gift shop and gallery at 6622 Germantown Ave. that the owners opened shortly after moving out of MAAG’s previous space. Mt. Airy USA, a community- development organization, partnered with MAAG in 2016 to develop a multi-use space at 6651 Germantown Ave. that will house MAAG and other tenants. The new space has been in development for the last two years and there is no fixed date to move in.
MAAG recently completed its “Community of Pride” mural and literacy project in collaboration with the Eleanor C. Emlen Elementary School, a project MAAG started in 2016 to engage students to use art as a means of communication. Students displayed and sold their original artwork at an exhibit hosted at the Lovett Memorial Library June 9.
Olshan said that the delay in moving into MAAG’s new home is not slowing down the art garage’s efforts to move forward with projects and community partnerships.
“Despite the setbacks, we are still moving forward with what we envisioned for the art garage. Our priorities haven’t changed. I have a lot to learn with this new position but we will continue to promote civic engagement and community revitalization through the arts.”