New media, new goals, new generation

Philadelphia is a city with a storied tradition of the arts, but for the city's young artists and upcoming artists, the path isn't necessarily tradition. Whether visual or performance artists, as a group they appear to be getting younger and younger, and unlike the generations that preceded them, they don't always need (or want) a traditional arts education to set them on their way.

As corny as it sounds, this new generation of artists has followed the path set by their dreams — not someone else's — and it has worked. Turn on the radio, walk into a museum or take a look at the clothing people around you are wearing. Philadelphia's young artists are everywhere and working in every medium. 

Here I introduce you to eight of most interesting of the young artists of the city — and to the realities and dreams that can only find their full expression in the art they are producing. 

Jordan Baumgarten

Jordan Baumgarten is a Philadelphia photographer living in Kensington. His love for photography developed when he was 14, after his father handed him a Pentax K1000 to keep him busy as he recovered from a broken leg. "It became a love affair," said Baumgarten who received his bachelor's of fine arts in photography at the University of Arts and a master's in photography from Rhode Island School of Design. 

Baumgarten identifies himself as an emerging artist, and one who works hard at it. In September he published book through Parts and Labor Books. The project is titled Briar Patch, and is about the dissonance of being at home but feeling you don't belong. The images explore Baumgarten's life and his relationship to the sometimes violent neighborhood where he lives. Some of the images explore the anxiety about violence disturbing the safety of home. 

"Living in Philadelphia has been the single most life changing decision I've made," Baumgarten said. "It has benefited me and my work in every way imaginable The city itself is an endless source of subject matter everywhere I look."

Although his inspiration changes daily, he connects with what he sees in his everyday life. "Photographers that just stare at things with no real connection to them bore me," he said.

He's recently been interviewed by Vice Magazine and Photo-eye in Santa Fe, and has had his work published in Flak Photo, Fraction Magazine and PDN Photo of the Day. It has given him more exposure and opened up opportunities that put him firmly in the list of young artists to watch. 

Though he's proud of the book he's published, what delights Baumgarten most is simply his ability to work to keep doing what he does on a daily basis. "Honestly, I make my living as an artist," he said. "How cool is that?" 

Miguel Antonio Horn

Another artist who has been doing creative work since a young age is South Philly's Miguel Antonio Horn. He grew up with the artistic influence from his grandfather, who was a painter and an architect. "I've been making art since I was a kid," Horn said. "I've always been interested in developing the technical prowess associated with different disciplines and media." 

But it wasn't until he enrolled at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts that Horn developed a love for sculpture. His experience evolved after landing an apprenticeship with a sculptor in Mexico City. 

"I think anyone would agree it's not an easy process (to develop a unique vision)," he said. "Each incremental gain is matched with an equal part of energy, discipline and fortitude" 

While he always has his hands full when it comes to projects, he is currently working on a Latino-centric web series with two other local artists, Hugo Marmugi and Huan Bustamante. He also is collaborating with another Philadelphia artist, Chris Landau, for spots at the 2014-2015 Vancouver Biennale International Residency Program. The project contemplates how rising sea levels might affect the diverse topography of the Salish Sea Basin along the US-Canada Border. He will be spending five weeks next summer in British Columbia sourcing inspiration from the topography for his project. 

"I can't wait to see how it materializes," he said.

2013 has been one of his busiest years: he's a newlywed, and has participated in a museum shows, completed a large-scale commissioned sculpture and embarked on collaborations with other artists. 

"It's always rewarding when people take interest in your work and want to get the word out about it," he said.

Liam Fennecken

Branching out to a different art form, Liam Fennecken is a recent Penn State graduate who has done the impossible for a college student. The 23-year-old from Bucks County, has been living in hotel rooms across the country. "I've been performing for years but my real career has only just begun," Fennecken said. He is on national tour, with a a role in Green Day's American Idiot theater production. 

Living in the greater Philadelphia area has molded Fennecken's artistic consciousness. "Learning to appreciate other artists and their creations is as easy as walking down the street," he said.  With all of the art being created in the city, he said, it was easy for him to find his niche.

Performing is nothing new to Fennecken. Since a young age he dabbled with music and singing, and was the front man of his own band in high school. "Ever since I can remember I've been making music one way or another," he said. "When I got to college I decided to make a career out of it." 

There is no doubt that for funny guy Fennecken landing a role in American Idiot was a tremendous accomplishment. As a major touring show it has given him the opportunity to make numerous connections within the business. 

But his passion is the acting, and Fennecken strives to give his audience an honest and enjoyable experience in every performance. And he continues learning.

"My greatest influences come from the people I work with" he said. "I get to work with some of the most incredibly talented people I've ever met and they constantly push me to be the best I can be, on and off stage."  

Bethany Welch

Bethany Welch, a 35-year-old from West Philadelphia doesn't think of art as a career but as part of who she is. She studied Studio Art in college and worked mostly in mixed media that united painting and collage, along with found objects, to create assemblages. She later transitioned into graphic design and her most recent work involves printmaking and silkscreen. 

"I create to understand the world around me and express who I am," Welch said. She interweaves the practice of her Roman Catholic faith into the work of her hands, and in her writing. Both, she said, enable her to physically interact with ideas that she finds compelling, exciting, joyful, even painful. 

The most recent influences on her art have come from Paraguay. Her brother lives there and she has had the opportunity to visit him and explore the textile and ceramic art there. "I've spent hours taking pictures, drawing and creating block prints (inspired by them)," Welch said.

After moving to Philadelphia 10 years ago from a small town in upstate New York, Philadelphia set Welch on fire creatively. "I soaked in the graffiti, peeling paint, and industrial feel of the Kensington area," she said. "This area as kept me on my toes."

Today Welch works at the Aquinas Center in South Philly. Through her busy schedule sometimes makes it a struggle to create art, she is happiest when she is creating. She teaches printmaking to high school students and young adults at college, and has recently worked with the Mural Arts program on public art projects in South Philadelphia.

"I feel blessed to be able to bring art and creativity into my work," she said.  

She recently wrapped up a project titled "The Silences of Stone: Forty Days of Prayer, Painting, and Poetry" which she started during the Lenten season of 2012. It includes assemblages, photography, ink drawings, collages, and small paintings with quotes from German poet Rainier Maria Rilke's Book of Hours and from The Book of Monastic Life.  

Welch has also designed and contributed to the projects Live Questions and Five X Seven. Both combine writing, art, and digital media. Welch assisted in curating a special feature for Live Questions called #whatisbeautiful which recruited people to share images of what they find compelling and inspiring. At Five X Seven, a piece of her work titled "Don't Measure Up" was composed of imagery layered into a complicated collage. Layered, like the prayer and art that come together in Welch's life. 

Balance and Composure

Balance and Composure is a new local band from Doylestown and their music is a must-have for your iPod. The alternative/grunge band includes lead vocalist and guitarist Jon Simmons; vocalist and guitarist Andrew Slaymaker; Bailey Van Ellis on drums; Matt Warner on bass, and guitarist Erik Petersen. 

I had the opportunity to talk with Erik Petersen, 27, who says they don't view themselves as a "popular band" even though their audience has grown tremendously over the past year, they just want to create music they love and feel passionate about.

"We are just fortunate enough that others are into what we are doing, which allows us to do this full time," Petersen said. "This is something we never expected." 

All of the band members have known each other since they were very young and come from similar backgrounds, so they admire the same music and have similar interests. "Growing up in the '90s, we all have an affinity for the band Nirvana," Petersen said. "Not only what they did for music and the barriers they broke, but they came from the same 'punk' background." 

The band has recently released a record The Things We Think Were Missing which was a gratifying accomplishment for them. "We wanted to write an honest and passionate record, above all," Petersen said. "Which led us to be nervous about whether people would like it."

The band has seen the intensity of the local music scene, and the dedication that is required to be part of it.  "This city is a hardworking, blue collar city, and I think the music scene here mirrors that mentality," Petersen said. 

The band has just wrapped up their tour with the band Coheed and Cambria which has been part of the music scene for over 15 years and is well-known in the region. It was an eye opening experience. Although grateful for the opportunities the tour presented, it was difficult for the band to blend with the fans in attendance. 

"We are coming to realize that the bigger the band's fan base is on tour, the more ignorant they are towards the opening acts," Petersen said. But he added that the band stuck to their goal of putting on a great show. 

The band headlined their own tour in 2011. "I remember playing a show in Sydney, Australia and the fans there were among the most passionate group that has ever attended our shows," Petersen said. In fact, he added, they made them feel as if they were performing in their hometown of Philadelphia. 

One of Balance and Composure's undeniable accomplishments was this past summer when, as part of the Made In America Festival, they performed on the Skate Park stage.  The festival's scale made them climb out of their comfort zone as a band, Peterson said.

"Looking out at the crowd and staring directly at City Hall ... was surreal," Petersen said.  

Kelsey Martin

Twenty-four-year-old photographer Kelsey Martin is a recent graduate of The University of the Arts in Philadelphia, who has been taking photographs since high school and just landed a job as creative merchandising coordinator for Bodek and Rhodes in northeast Philadelphia. 

Martin has done wedding, food and commercial photography, and though she is pleased with how her photography has developed, the process has been difficult. "I always try to push myself," she said, "but I hope that I can live up those who have come before me."

While the Philadelphia area is full of fine photographers she admires, Martin singles out Annie Leibovitz — the famous portrait photographer whose work has appeared in Rolling Stone magazine, among others — as her idol. "I admire her portraiture work, she always took a unique approach," she said. Still, when it comes to Martin's photography the greatest influences come from her own life experience. The closer she is to what she is photographing the more passionate she feels about what unfolds in her images. 

Her most recent body of work is now a book of photographs. After going through the tragic loss of her older brother, Martin channeled her emotions into a series of photographs that express her experience of grieving the loss coupled with a sense of visual beauty. 

The photographs were remarkable enough to earn her the "Christina Cullen Memorial Award" from The University of the Arts. But she's not done with the series yet. "I hope to continue developing it," Martin said, "and to one day produce another book from this body of work." 

Living in a city dramatically changed the way Martin was able to create her work. "Sometimes this city can be tough to get along in," she admitted. "But other times it can be great." 

Marcus Branch

Marcus Branch, a 21-year-old from Norristown is extraordinary. Throughout his childhood he was encouraged to test his creativity against numerous mediums — he began dancing and drawing, eventually found his way to photography. Now his primary creative platform is his web site Skltn-M which is part art publication, a personal blog and part photo-heavy fashion manifesto. 

"(The web site) influences my work because it's a basis for my interpretation," Branch said. "It guides me in choices as far as content and approach." He is currently working on his third issue on the web site.

His fashion style is very minimal. He focuses on the bare essentials when it comes to his wardrobe, then tops them off with statement pieces. "I'm very influenced by cultural references," Branch said. Ethnic pieces from the Masai in Africa or from Dayak, Borneo, are a big part of his style, as are elongated pieces that blend through shirt, tunic and dress. "I dress for myself, no one else and its one of the most liberating things one can do," he said.

For Branch, living in Philadelphia has presented certain challenges. While he believes Philadelphia encourages people to work and grow together in a sense of unity, he doesn't have the luxury of immediate access to modeling agents for his photo shoots.

But he said he has found a different sort of beauty on which to train his camera. "I'm interested in flaw, awkwardness, and peculiarity," Branch said. 

In addition to his web site, he showcases his art locally, most recently in an exhibit at Gallery One.  

Erica Mendez

Erica Mendez, a Puerto Rican singer is talented, and not a bit shy about it. Born and raised in Philadelphia, Mendez was surrounded by music from a young age. When she was 14 she was accepted into the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts where she developed an operatic voice, and went on to major in vocal performance at college. 

Mendez often participates in events the City of Philadelphia hosts, as well as Latino festivals around the city, and the annual Puerto Rican Day parade. Although she specializes in hip hop and R&B, she is passionate about opera and believes that it is the musical form that best highlights the strength of her voice. 

Living in Philadelphia has motivated Mendez to work hard over the years. "This city is pretty rough at times," she said. "I just want to do positive things with my talent." 

Mendez said her biggest accomplishments are yet to come, but she not only won numerous competitions at a young age but also had the opportunity to sing for Aretha Franklin. 

Her current project is an album, which is still in the works, but which she hopes to be finalized in 2014. "But expect videos, photoshoots, traveling, shows and projects with well known artists," she said. 

Mendez's local renown may be based on her singing but another of her passions is forensic science. "If I don't become a famous singer, I always said I wanted to become a homicide detective or a crime scene investigator"  she said. She also dreams of attending law school and is set to take the LSATs in February. 

The struggle to stand out as a young artist is real, I know this from my own perspective as a young artist in Philadelphia. The world is filled with creativity, and everyday another new talent emerges. Do we represent competition to each other or do we spur each other to new creative heights and to new definitions of the arts? It is the question itself that molds this new generation of artists, and it's safe to say that our answers to that question will be like nothing that's come before.

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Gabriela Barrantes