Philly’s first NFT gallery abruptly closing in Brewerytown, looking to reopen in Fishtown

There’s a final bash to raise funds for the unexpected move.

Jay Ortiz (left) and Darnell Schoolfield (right) outside Art From the Heart Gallery in Brewerytown

Jay Ortiz (left) and Darnell Schoolfield (right) outside Art From the Heart Gallery in Brewerytown

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY
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The crypto art gallery that opened in Brewerytown this summer is relocating after less than two months. Proprietors are hosting a final goodbye and late-night benefit at their original space to help fund their move to Fishtown.

Art From The Heart Gallery opened in mid-June on a rapidly gentrifying corridor in North Philly, where long-time bodegas share a block with newer restaurant concepts.

As far as the gallery owners know, it was the city’s first brick-and-mortar location showcasing NFTs, or non-fungible tokens, the blockchain collectibles that’ve taken the art world by storm. The first exhibit was by artist Zevi G., featuring physical sculptures and digital pieces.

Business partners Jay Ortiz and Darnell Schoolfield say they’re working to sign a lease for an undisclosed Fishtown location, and targeting a November reopening.

Their fundraiser to raise money for the move will be a traditional Art From The Heart bash, which have toured the world. Ortiz once described the interactive style of party as a “controlled” and “creative circus.”

Partygoers at the Girard Avenue event can expect to see body painters creating on a canvas of live models to a soundtrack of musical performances from Ortiz, EDM artist Bok Nero, and cellist Aijee Evans, all surrounded by installations where makers offer local clothing and art.

To the chagrin of Ortiz and Schoolfield, it has been a mad dash to relocate the space, which they believe had been very warmly received.

However, they never signed an actual lease for the space at 2623 W. Girard Ave, Ortiz said, and were operating on a sublet via verbal agreement with the former tenant, a yoga studio called Your Movement Sanctuary.

The landlord, Three Little Birds Rentals LLC, told Billy Penn via a spokesperson that the company was initially unaware Ortiz was in the space and only found out “by chance, while passing by the property and seeing him inside.” They did confirm rent had successfully been paid since May.

Offered a month-to-month leasing option, Art From The Heart declined. “I’m disappointed for the community,” said gallery owner Ortiz about the abrupt move. “We were spreading knowledge to the community and the local people who had been there for 20 and 30 years.”

Darnell Schoolfield at Art From The Heart Gallery's opening in Brewerytown

Darnell Schoolfield at Art From The Heart Gallery's opening in Brewerytown

Kimberly Paynter / WHYY

As young Black men, Schoolfield and Ortiz were excited about entering the crypto-art scene, which they feel is stilted by gatekeepers like tech titans Jeff Bezos and Elon Musk.

The gallery was earning revenue, Ortiz said. Within about a month, Art From The Heart has handled about 20 blockchain transactions, selling about $15,000 worth of NFT.

The acronym stands for non-fungible token, which is a cryptocurrency kind of like Bitcoin — most NFTs live on the Ethereum blockchain — but instead of being traded like currency, each NFT is one of a kind. That means they can be bought and sold, like art. While the buyer of an NFT is awarded a form of ownership, the crypto allows creators to retain rights, and potentially get paid over and over with each sale.

Art From The Heart successfully sold short, looping videos by Zevi G, that featured the artists’ signature characters, “The Messenger,” and “Mr. Money Bags.”

The gallery’s opening exhibit, called “456 Land, An Imaginary World by Zevi G,” had an interactive, Pokemon Go-style component, where visitors could scan a QR code and “find” some of Zevi G’s characters scattered digitally around the space.

“A lot of this is a gentrified neighborhood, but at the end of the day, it’s still what Philly will consider the hood,” Ortiz said about their closing Brewerytown location. “And I want to give people in this community an opportunity to do things or to even see things that would have never been here.”

Tickets for the closing day fundraiser are $20 for attendees with a $100 fee for businesses that want to vend.

Another way to support? Buying NFTs that were displayed in the gallery. Several cryptocurrency artworks by artist Zevi G are still available.

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