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At about 8 p.m. on July 3, while Jessica Watkins was putting the final touches on the installment of a pop-up exhibit on the corners of Walnut and Broad streets, some punk took a bright metallic pink sharpie to the windows of what used to be Robinson Luggage.

“OKAY,” they wrote on Matthew Roop’s digital print that reads “Just Crank Up The Bass.” “Get Over It” was emblazoned over Rachael Longo’s “Fragile Existence,” an ink and watercolor work that depicts a nude female crouched in a fetal position. “Ugly Hat” was tagged over Ryne Fuller’s huge and beautiful “Phlash City,” a futuristic runway of sorts with android supermodels strutting straight at you.

This is a pitfall that Watkins learned firsthand: it’s not easy dealing with such a public and, to many, mind-boggling display of art. Watkins and Carl Staven, who runs the University of the Arts’ animation program, have curated a temporary collection of current and past student work, as well as some faculty output, while the empty retail storefront awaits a new tenant.

“They must have done it with no fear,” said Watkins, standing with me on Walnut Street while bums asked us for money and SEPTA buses screamed past. Many of the building’s windows are still filled with Metro Commercial Real Estate “FOR LEASE” signage, but they conceded about five huge windows for use by U Arts until August 15. There are 33 artists involved, all told, and nearby businesses and curious passers-by were more than pleased to see something, anything, happening at the corner of what Watkins described as “ground zero for Center City.”

“We’re so glad to see something going up now” and “We’ve been wondering” were regular compliments strangers paid to Watkins during the exhibit’s installation. “Everyone seemed to be very excited that artwork was now visible,” she said.

Mark Campbell, dean of the College of Art, Media & Design at U Arts, said “generally speaking, we’re trying to turn what we do inside out so you can see what we’re doing here.” The corner storefront lives below just under 20 floors of U Arts facilities that house hubs of dance, theater, music, animation, creative writing, and film. “We’re important members of the South Broad community so we’re trying to make ourselves more visible,” said Campbell.

The work itself is as varied as the school’s myriad disciplines of study. The Broad Street doors encase monitors that run a loop of work from the School of Film, the animation program and the School of Film’s faculty works. Four beautiful squares of silk-screened and cut paper by MFA ’14’s Robert Darabos are evenly situated on the two doors, and above it are three of Longo’s (BFA ’17) “LOVE IS GENDERLESS” hand-drawn and digitally printed series.

But the highlight has got to be Fuller’s triptych of space-age fashion. The BFA ’16 illustrator printed his work on a massive scale and took bright acrylics to it, seemingly slicing it into three to accommodate the three-paned space he’d been allotted. Heiroglyphic-looking symbols flank three femme bots striding towards the viewer adding to a tribal-flavored notion of time-traveled futurism.

Also of note is Rachelle Lee Smith’s “Speaking Out” series, or a group of scribbled-on photographs (by the subjects themselves) she calls “Queer Youth In Focus.” Perhaps with the help of the pop-up exhibit, Smith got her IndieGoGo project funded so that the series can be turned into a book. She reached a $15,000 goal by July 11 and her project’s headed for funded printing now.

“We decided that we would use the available time before the next tenant comes in to show some of our student, alumni and faculty work,” said Watkins, an administrative assistant at the school. “There’s so much foot traffic and actual traffic – I proposed dates and they said ‘That’s fine.’” Sounds like a pretty simple transaction that’s now reflected by 33 artists showing off, daily, their finest efforts.

You can put your hands all over these works, too, the super-strong plexiglass protects everything from fingerprints to graffiti. It’s another way that pop-up fever is spreading through Philadelphia, this time for art’s sake. There’s no free wine or h’ors d’oeurves, in fact, there might even be skittish wayfaring strangers bugging you as you gaze on these artists’ work. And that’s part of its charm.

About The Author

Staff writer

Bill Chenevert went to journalism school at the U of O (Go Ducks) and then interned for Willamette Week, Next and Out magazines, and Flavorpill.com. Now he's the senior music writer for the @PhillyWeekly, where he blogs on LGBT stuff, style, art, music, and dance. He's also the staff writer for the @SoPhReview, writing community news stories about development, cultural organizations, and local heroes.

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