For the past two years, a small art collective named Tiny Room For Elephants has been taking shape in Philadelphia. On paper, it is a 30-day, multi-genre, collaborative art and music project. In practice, the collective is so much more.
The collective consists of Chris White, Donte Neal, Damion Ward, Yaya Horne, Chris Malo and Amy Gaio.
During the month of October, TRFE has been working in a secluded Fishtown warehouse where, on any given day, there are a handful of visual artists creating portable murals while rappers, producers, and DJs create and develop new music. The environment is one that is meant to foster creativity and inspiration.
The initial description may cause TRFE to sound like some sort of secret society, but in reality it is about bringing together artists of all types.
The only hitch was that the collective was not sure about the path they wanted their brand to take. Creators Ward and Neal, a producer and visual artist respectively, both knew they wanted to start a new creative project, but how that was going to look was the question.
“Back around the time when Dame was thinking about starting a band, I was thinking about doing a project called Square Spaces,” said Neal, the Art Director of TRFE. “What I wanted to do was have an art show inside my head.”
What resulted was a culmination of both men’s ideas. Damion’s potential band name Tiny Room For Elephants helped morph Neal’s art installation goals into a grander, Philly-centric art project that helped to foster relationships between various local visual creators.
The name speaks to the larger-than-life presence and talent that is possessed by so many Philadelphia artists and what it would be like to place a number of them in a confined area to simply create.
“This place is turning more and more into a lab, where a bunch of huge characters are always filtering in and out the space,” said White. “Not to say that these are the only great artists in Philly — there are a bunch of unbelievable artists in Philly — but these are the people that wanted to be a part of the project.”
This year’s artists included Gabe Tiberino, Benjamin Howard, Amberella, distort, and Airrat.
“I thought that I wanted to build a room for elephants,” said Damion. “They might not be able to fit in it, but it will be their room. I drew a sketch with a house with an elephant looking into it. I sent it to Donte and he came back with some artwork.”
At the first session of TRFE, much (if not all) of the project was geared towards visual artists and the work that they created. The model of TRFE was so new at that point, and with minimal funding, that it was almost impossible to incorporate more than just a visual aspect. During the programing that took place last month, the collective was able to incorporate a more significant musical aspect into their programing.
“I wanted to make sure that I diversified the type of artists we had in here,” said Neal. “I think we would be short changing ourselves to leave out musicians and producers. We planned better for this this year, it allowed us to open up and have more time for music programing. Plus, people really enjoy going to shows, so it seemed like the most reasonable way to have people come and experience art and also see something happen.”
In addition to having local visual artists getting busy, TFRE created a temporary home for musicians to showcase their craft. On any given day, the Fishtown warehouse was full of the sounds of rappers, producers and DJs like Johann Sebastian, Truck North, and John Morrison (a contributing writer for The Key as well as a DJ/producer).
“This shit is better than TV,” said Neal “I’d rather be sitting on a couch watching a graffiti artist do his thing and I just got a free show with Truck North and Johann Sebastian. Ideally we like people to experience it how we do but, you know, we are still growing.”
TRFE garnered a solid buzz during the 2016 Roots Picnic, when they created and hosted the artist and VIP lounge. One of the most striking pieces displayed that day was a large-scale part-woman, part-elephant painted by Gabe Tiberino.
@laolunyc in the tent putting in work on @naomidiazibeyi Backstage at #RootsPicnic. Photos from behind the scenes and backstage action at the Picnic with @tinyroomforelephants and shots by @frame_1 #RootsPicnicTRFE #tinyroomforelephants #TRFE #trfelife #art #music #shows #concerts #backstage #vip #wegotoshows
This past month, TRFE hosted a four part music series in collaboration with REC Philly that featured performances by local acts The Bul Bey, Gogo Morrow, Johnny Popcorn, Aime, Kenny Sullivan and many more.
One of the major components of TRFE is the docuseries that is currently being filmed and edited. White is the man behind this project. With his work and the help of a few local production companies, every day at the Fishtown warehouse is being filmed. Even if there are no shows happening, the daily creation by the visual and musical artists in the space is being captured and documented.
“There is the live thing that happens throughout the course of the couple weeks,” said White. “And we are always filming and documenting it in a sort of longform episodic documentary about the whole process.”
Currently TRFE is preparing for their wrap up event at the warehouse, a First Friday Open House, where the public can experience all the work that has been going into the space for the past month.
As far as future plans go, the collective is looking to branch out to other cities. But dominating the Philadelphia scene is their first task.
“There is such a rich history of graffiti all the way up to fine art,” said Dame. “I am always a big believer of taking care of home and mastering that [before] moving out. I think we will definitely do it again in Philadelphia, but we definitely want to travel.”
On Friday November 4th, Tiny Room For Elephants hosts an Open House where the public will be able to view the art that was created on site over the past month. The event will include DJ sets from Eric Boss.
To stay up to date with Tiny Room For Elephants and their projects and to RSVP to events, make sure to follow them on Facebook and Instagram and be sure to check them out online at tinyroomforelephants.com.
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