Da Vinci Art Alliance (DVAA) is raising funds to make essential repairs to its 19th-century building at 7th and Catherine streets in Philadelphia. The community space and art gallery fosters equitable opportunities and a sense of community for marginalized creative people from all walks of life. DVAA accomplishes this by welcoming people of diverse backgrounds, including LGBTQ+ community members, immigrants, people of color, people with disabilities, elderly people and youth. The DVAA team hopes to raise $15,000 by Aug. 15 to carry out the first leg of structural repairs.
DVAA staff was told that within the next two years, the building would need to be stabilized and repaired. However, heavy storms dictated that the repairs be completed as soon as possible, explained DVAA co-director Sam Connors.
“We’ve existed for 92 years, and we’ve always tried to provide space for marginalized communities to be able to gather and spend time together,” Connors said. “We create a lot of programming for people who have never seen themselves within our community before — providing opportunities for them to make things. I personally really think that art is a communication tool, so giving people the tools to find another form of communication and expression, I think, is really important.”
DVAA provides free monthly art exhibitions and free programming, including fellowship and residency programs that offer opportunities and support to develop and exhibit projects, gain feedback and professional development, access studio space and more. The fellowship program is similar to the Leeway Foundation grant programs, Connors said.
“It’s just about personal identity and creating an exhibition out of that,” they added. “We’ve had really incredible exhibitions and programming that developed out of that in the past.”
In 2022, the team at DVAA started the program STEAM Explorers, in which DVAA members team up with underfunded public schools to teach students about art and science. The mini documentary series “Artists, Makers and Neighbors” is another DVAA program, which showcases the backgrounds and histories of the people who use DVAA’s space. DVAA also hosts the Everyday Futures Fest, a free annual community arts and science festival.
DVAA’s building is a row home, which was built in the 1800s, so providing programming for people who have a disability affecting their mobility has been challenging for DVAA leadership. To remedy this, the DVAA staff has been working with Community Design Collaborative, an organization that helps nonprofits thrive in the spheres of community and economic development, to plan longer term renovations and make the building ADA accessible.
“We work with a lot of aging populations and also disabled communities,” Connors said. “I myself am disabled, and it’s really hard to navigate our space.”
Free access to creating art and a physical space to do it is important for LGBTQ+ and other marginalized communities because, “it’s a space to gather to find your community with them,” said Connors, who identifies as nonbinary. “But it’s also about communication and being able to share your personal story. It’s a space for us. It’s a space for marginalized people, whether they’re under the queer umbrella or any other type of marginalization, to find one another and connect.”