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Who’s Next Arts: 18 young, heavy hitters in the city’s arts scenes

We received more than 125 nominations for this year’s crop of artists and arts professionals.

Correction appended

Public art here in Philly is in a special season. It seems like regularly another young Philadelphia artist starts working with the likes of designer Patricia Field or creates gorgeous album art for an up-and-coming musician. Still, we weren’t expecting to receive the more than 125 nominations that we did.

We pored over them all. Due to the volume, we had to make some tough decisions. We encourage everyone who recommended someone to try again next year if the arts professional you nominated didn’t make this list. Last year, our Who’s Next: Arts list showcased a mix, yet had a particular focus on young people at arts organizations. This year, the field of nominations included many more visual artists. We’re looking forward to what next year’s nominees will look like.

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Kate Abercrombie

Painter and Master Printer
38 years old

With her skills as a printer and painter, Kate Abercrombie's works remind one of imaginative quilt and textile making. From old country floral blankets to tribal patterns and intricate wallpaper, Abercrombie remixes attributes that one might associate with the home, with the schoolhouse, and renders them more complex and colorful. Abercrombie’s kaleidoscopic paintings have been shown in the ICA, PAFA, Vox Populi and Philadelphia Art Museum. She works at the Fabric Workshop and Museum and is quite proud of “working with a supportive and inspiring art community and collaborating with artists.”

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Kate Banford

Co-Founder of Good Good Comedy
26 years old

Aaron Nevins

Co-Founder of Good Good Comedy
25 years old

Fun. Cheap. Smart. Good Good Comedy has carved out a niche of creating line-ups of shows fueled by left-of-center concepts at affordable prices. Did you read our feature on the comedy show that assembles a panel of comics to roast the guy onstage in group text that’s broadcast live? Yep, Good Good Comedy presented that. Have you been to the show where they gather 16 comics, 15 totally of them totally stoned, and the audience has to figure out the sole performer that didn’t smoke? That’s a Good Good Comedy show too. “I got into comedy because it was one of the few things that was fun to take seriously,” writes co-founder Kate Banford. Aaron Nevins says he got into the craft “basically the same way everyone gets into comedy — by realizing I'm junk at most other things.” The two founded Five Dollar Comedy Week in 2014, and that’s grown to the company they run all year round. The Kickstarter they launched earlier this year to fund a permanent space far surpassed their $12,000, netting more than $31,000 in donations. After their $12,000, certain rewards were offered. One of the last perks secured was “free pizza every Tuesday for ETERNITY!” We can’t wait.

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Corey Brickley

Illustrator and Designer
28 years old

Corey Brickley's style feels like it falls somewhere in between a comic strip and a Vermeer. His illustrations have been seen on Buzzfeed, Pacific Standard, GRID and VICE, among others. But this wasn’t always his medium. “I originally wanted to be a movie director but found that I had a hard time relying on other people to help make movies and was also kicked out of the Penn State film program,” he explains. “I went to the Art Institute for design and was told by a teacher to study illustration at University of the Arts. I then emailed as many art directors as humanly possible before I got a couple of lucky breaks with the New York Times.” A career highlight so far is the full-page illustration of his that the New Yorker printed. A regular day is putting in work at his day job as a staff designer then “don[ning] my freelance illustration cap at night when I'm not cuddling and watching the Sopranos with my fiancé.”

Aubrie Costello

Artist, Silk Graffiti
31 years old

Aubrie Costello wasn’t a street artist at first. “I used to sit in my studio with the windows open and listen to the streets below me,” she writes. She’s a painter and a draftswoman, and silk is a material she used in her installations. “I used to shred silk and bind things that I collected and trash-picked in the luxe fabric.” Then, she realized she “wanted out” of her studio. “One day (about 10 years ago) I took out some strands of silk, a pile of loose nails, and my hammer and started writing one of my collected words on the wall outside my studio, mimicking the Philly hands I'd observed. And it just clicked.” Her work has been spotted in Streets Dept, Philadelphia Magazine and City Paper (RIP.) She’s gotten attention from the fashion world and has worked with labels like local designer Dom Streater’s eponymous brand. She’s a member of the all-ladies art collective The Other Woman and recently her work was featured in Truth to Power, the major exhibition that showed in Callowhill during the Democratic National Convention.

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Chris Davis

Actor and Writer
34 years old

This Fringe, maybe you caught Chris Davis’ one-man interpretation of Apocalypse Now. This play came on the heels on his stand-up comedy debut in Scotland. “I am proud of still believing in myself and challenging myself to make work that scares me,” he writes. Aside from being one of the coordinators of the local one-man/one-woman festival SoLow, he’s garnered raves for both solo plays and cast productions. His show Drunk Lion, which appeared at New Orleans Fringe and Edinburgh Fringe, won critics over on both sides of the pond.

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Kai Davis

Poet
22 years old

We’re not quite sure how many times Kai Davis has gone viral. This spoken word champ and Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement alum has been blowing up YouTube since she was a teen. There’s her classic defense of being smart black student “Fuck I Look Like;” there’s the anti-gentrifier collaboration “Dear Dirty Hipster;” there’s this meditation on black womanhood and black feminism; there are at least two pieces on dismantling colorism with tens of thousands if not more. She’s glad for the “small impacts I've had on young people, specifically other young Black queer women. I didn't start writing for other people. I just wanted an outlet to express myself openly and honestly,” she writes.

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Tommie-Waheed Evans

Dancer, Choreographer and Teacher
35 years old

In a release announcing that Tommie-Waheed Evans would be their 2016-17 Choreographic Fellow, BalletX had this to say of his style: “He strives to create works, which highlight the interplay between the various elements of a dance, with special attention to the relationship between physicality and musicality.” Evans’ versatility, backed by some serious modern chops, has allowed him to leave his touch around the city’s ballet scene. He was a principal dancer and choreographer at Philadanco, where he’s still a guest dancer, and he’s currently a visiting professor at UArts. Evans, who describes himself as someone who “never giv[es] up,” also is pursuing his own dance project, WaheedWorks.

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Jamie Hughes

Assistant Director of Development at Fleisher Art Memorial
31 years old

Before her current gig, Jamie Hughes worked at the Art Museum and Please Touch Museum. But now, at Fleisher Art Museum, she’s blossomed into an artist, advocate and fundraiser. In her six years at the Bella Vista community arts institute, she’s been responsible for raising $2.5 million. She plays a role in free Saturday classes offered to 500 children weekly, the mobile art studio ColorWheels, which travels around the city and Dear Fleisher, their massive biennial exhibition. “I enjoy fundraising for Fleisher because its mission is so strong and its history is compelling,” she writes. “It exists not only to present art, but to make sure that anyone who wants to explore their creative potential should have the opportunity to do so, not just those who can afford it.” She’s taken some classes herself, and now sells her photography too.

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Submitted by Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela

Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela

Writer
38 years old

Marissa Johnson-Valenzuela is a Philadelphian by way of Wichita. Her work is often political, and she has become known for her focus in prison literature. “Growing up, I thought writers were ordained by some sort of god. So, I thought there was no way someone like me could be a writer, because I would not be 'called', because I did not come from such people,” she explains, writing. “And hey, I liked myself. I did a lot of seemingly daring things. But before I could think about being a writer, I had to learn and change to understand what else was possible. And I had to stop believing in wise men.” She currently teaches at CCP. She has been published in a long list of literary journals and runs a small press called Thread Makes Blanket. Two years ago, Thread Makes Blanket published Dismantle, an anthology from the Voices of Our Nations Arts Foundation workshop for writers of color.

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Sara McCorriston

Co-Founder of Paradigm Gallery + Studio
28 years old

Jason Chen

Co-Founder of Paradigm Gallery + Studio
30 years old

“We joke that it started as naiveté,” explains Paradigm Co-Founder Sara McCorriston, “kept going because of pertinacity, and now, almost seven years later, we're really getting the hang of it.” Well, seven years later, their Queen Village establishment is one of the best small galleries in Philly. McCorriston and Co-Founder Jason Chen keep their calendar s t a c k e d with A1 exhibitions. Both are artists themselves; McCorriston creates mixed media and sculpture, Chen is a photographer. “We are both passionate about the art that makes us go ‘Wow!’” writes Chen.  Currently on show? Believers, the solo show of local painter Katherine Fraser.

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Submitted by Megan McGlynn

Megan McGlynn

Artist
26 years old

Megan McGlynn is an architectural designer during the day. Her experience bleeds into her large ink drawings, which often portray cityscapes, buildings and interiors. McGlynn is also a sculptor. What she builds often reflects her architectural background, but some look like arteries and veins, untangled and re-arranged. She writes that early on her dad, an artist and craftsman, had an influence. “I am most proud of the fact that my work as an artist and my work as an architectural designer so fluidly inform one another,” she says. “It's important to me to continue to learn and build skills that allow me to construct spaces for other people to enjoy.”

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Bi Jean Ngo

Actor, Educator and Founding Member of Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists
36 years old

Bi Jean Ngo fell in love with Philly after moving here out of grad school more than a decade ago. “This city is a vibrant, exciting theatre town,” she writes. “I'm proud of the diversity of roles I've been able to play over the years. I've gotten to fly across Neverland as Tinkerbell, interrogate an Internet criminal as a hard-nosed detective, play a Shakespearean queen on trial to an audience of a thousand in Clark Park, write my own solo show, and help other artists devise new work.” But there was more to be done. Two years ago, Ngo co-founded Philadelphia Asian Performing Artists (PAPA). In that short time, PAPA has already created productions and events. Monday night, they’ve got a talk on Asians in theater held at the Asian Arts Initiative.

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Submitted by Gabriel Ojeda-Sague

Gabriel Ojeda-Sague

Poet
22 years old

At just 22, Gabriel Ojeda-Sague has published three chapbooks and a debut book, Oil and Candle. The latter was published earlier this year by Timeless, Infinite Light press. The collection explores racism and identity. In Santeria, the Cuban Yoruba-based faith -- consanguineous with Vodoo and even more closely with Candomblé -- candles light the way, and in Ojeda-Sague’s work, they are a touchstone for reconsidering his identity and experience as a young Latino queer man. Ojeda-Sague has been published in multiple journals, including Entropy and Apiary.

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José Ortiz-Pagán

Artist
32 years old

José Ortiz-Pagán came to Philly from Puerto Rico to study art. We’re lucky he stayed. On steel canvases, Ortiz-Pagán etches incredibly fascinating works using rust. He told ArtBlog earlier this month that his aesthetic was inspired by his postindustrial surroundings growing up. “Every time we went biking around the forest, we would come across these vast structures… most of the time they were rusty or they were decaying,” he said during a podcast. “I come from a colony and this whole aspect of post-colonial[ism] and post-industrialization and how it was speaking to that, as well as the structure— to the [machinery] that was trying to be formed— but at the same time it was decaying and falling apart.” Ortiz-Pagán also works at Fleisher Art Memorial, where he’s the exhibition manager.

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Phobymo

Concert and Portrait Photographer
26 years old

Phobymo was bound to pop. Her concert photography captures the immediacy of the live show without sparing technical precision. Her portraits often have the lush feel of an album cover, whether in rural or urban spaces. Fader, Nylon and Essence have come calling. She balances her photography with a law firm gig, believe it or not. “On a particularly exciting… day,” she writes,  “I'll wake up, go to work from 9-5:30, meet up with a model for some golden hour shoot action, run home to change and head out to shoot a concert until 11:30. Those days are exhausting but always my favorite.”

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Lauren Zalut

Director of Education and Tour Programs at Eastern State Penitentiary
33 years old

Eastern State Penitentiary has garnered international attention for programming that doesn’t just explore the complex’s history, but thoughtfully discusses mass incarceration in America in the here and now. Lauren Zalut is one of the people responsible. She, most notably, led the initiative to hire previously imprisoned people as tour guides, which came after a year of research. Other projects of hers have included collaborations with partners to look at the history of animals in U.S. prisons, and family programming focused on revisiting MLK’s “Letter from Birmingham Jail.” “I'm currently working on a project to engage Philadelphia youth in dialogues about the overlap of race, mass incarceration, and the school to prison pipeline,” she shared. We’ll be watching for that one.

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