The celebration of Pride Month encompasses more than just parades. And for years, organizers and activists have worked to extend the celebrations far outside the city center, recognizing that queer people exist in every community in the country. Those two ideas dovetail this month at the King of Prussia Mall, where Valley Forge Tourism and Convention Board has sponsored an ongoing art installation exhibiting the works of LGBTQ+ artists from across the region.
“The Mall has definitely been looking for unique non-retail amenities, and we were able to partner with them about a year ago to launch an art wall in their connector corridor,” said Bryan Buttler, a spokesman for Valley Forge Tourism. “This is now the third installation that we have done with them that features artists from Montgomery County and adjacent communities.”
The artists were selected to represent a cross-section of identities and career stages. They include Anthony Casasanto, a Philadelphia-based painter of still lifes and landscapes; Kayla Cayemitte, a student at Ursinus College specializing in photography; Aaron Feltman, a recent graduate of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts; Chelsey Luster, a multidisciplinary artist whose work explores queer Black womanhood; Joe “Mac” McFetridge, an Ardmore-based photographer; and Meg Wolensky, an artist whose work focuses on living with and recovering from chronic post-traumatic stress disorder.
The diversity and breadth of the art on display represents the rich artistic community in the Philly suburbs, which spectators might not be familiar with, according to Buttler.
“One thing people don’t necessarily realize about Montgomery County is there are over 200 arts organizations in the county,” he said. “We reached out to some of our partners and essentially put the call out via our connections with these different galleries, venues and theaters. We got responses that way, and there’s really a bit of everyone. We worked with everyone from students to artists who are very established, whose work people might already know. It really is a span of professional artists who have been doing this a really long time to emerging artists from the great colleges and universities in our backyard.”
The exhibition provides a high level of visibility to the artists’ works, especially from shoppers who don’t necessarily realize they’re going to encounter a gallery in a public space. This works not only to boost their profiles but to engrain expressions of pride in everyday experiences.
“The installation gets tremendous foot traffic,” said Buttler. “It gives really great exposure to these artists. There are QR codes on the wall, so people can scan and get more information about the artists, more information about Arts Montco as a whole. It’s been a really great partnership, and it just felt inevitable to do something that featured LGBTQ+ artists — not just for Pride Month, but beyond.
“These are people who would probably never see this art otherwise, or they don’t know that it’s going to be there,” Buttler continued. “It’s a little bit of a surprise. It highlights not only these artists for Pride but their work all year round. People learn something new just by showing up and shopping.”
The feedback has already been overwhelmingly positive.
“A lot of times the artists will go and see their art hugely blown up and think it’s so cool,” Buttler said. “It’s awesome for the artists, and we’ve definitely seen a rise in people scanning the codes, showing more direct interest. There is also a rise in seeing something that celebrates Pride, that celebrates LGBTQ folks that isn’t the parade or something at a bar. There have been a lot of people interested in this expression incorporated into something that’s part of everyday life. It’s a real thrill to see the artists react to it — how they’re part not just of the artistic community in the region but the larger community of Montgomery County.”
The Valley Forge Tourism Pride Installation will be on display indefinitely at the King of Prussia Mall. For more information, visit artsmontco.com.