GAD Balloons. (GIH | Dashiell Allen)

Sunny weather, mild temperatures, and blossoming flowers set the scene for the first annual Germantown Arts District (GAD) Festival this past Saturday. The organization, founded last April by born-and-raised G-Town creative entrepreneur Kristen Clark, brought together 64 visual artists and vendors and 16 performance groups—almost all local to Germantown or have close ties to the area. 

Germantown residents and visitors leisurely strolled down Germantown Avenue between Armat and Coulter Streets, passing between tents displaying the craftsmanship of local artists and entrepreneurs. Musicians and dancers performed on stages at either end of the closed-off blocks, while in the center, children drew on the street with chalk and wrote poetry at interactive tables. Next to them, teenagers thought about their future while hearing directly from college students who attend HBCUs. 

It’s been a “year of love” running GAD, Clark said. “I am very excited that I was able to see this through,” she told the Germantown Info Hub. “I’m excited to do this next year. I’ve learned a lot more about my neighbors [and] about my community. This festival is a huge initiative, and it is completely and totally community-funded.” 

Among the artists displaying their work was Nicole Cameron, a teacher who, in her free time, creates upcycled clothing and original pieces using African Ankara fabrics and accessories such as earrings. She also happens to have been Clark’s elementary school teacher. 

“I’m very proud,” Cameron said. “I told her to revel in everything that she’s accomplished because she shut down Germantown Avenue–-twice–and that’s a feat, and she’s bringing the arts back to Germantown, so I’m very proud of her.”

A few tents down from Cameron was Ali Derricotte, a painter originally from Newark, New Jersey, who has called Germantown home for the past 20 years. 

His art “represents our individual journey, trying to figure out our passage, what’s right or wrong,” Derricotte explained. The black line that’s featured in all of his works is “like a person’s consciousness as it’s traveling, and the color [surrounding it] is like everything else, a part of life that they’re trying to figure out and create things as you go, but you don’t necessarily think about it as it happens, it’s when you take a step back you see.” 

Derricotte said that being in Germantown and Philadelphia at large has inspired his artistic practice, especially by exposing him to the many murals throughout the city. 

He loves“the openness of the artwork, the connected tissue that every person has” in Germantown. 

The festival also gave singers an opportunity to share their talent. Candice “the bandit” Murray, from nearby Mt Airy, sang her original song “Slow,” about the lust she felt for a guy five years ago, along with two of her friends. She started singing “as soon as I could talk,” Murray said. 

“It just feels good to be able to work within my community that I’ve grown up in and see what we can do as a community, so I just love being a part of that,” Murray said of the GAD festival.  

Festival Goers expressed excitement at seeing an artistic community form in Germantown to the Germantown Info Hub. 

“I think there’s a lot of artistic people in Germantown, but I feel like there’s a lot of small gatherings happening in spaces and getting the word out and having things more organized as a community,” said Sidney Williamson. “And bringing people together makes all the difference and really does make it an art district whereas people doing art in their homes.” 

Williamson was at the festival to support her aunt, Elizabeth Whatley. She has been crafting with wood since she was seven years old, and her grandmother taught her how to whittle. “I have no borders, I have no boundaries, I make whatever I feel like,” she said proudly. 

Whatley lives in Cobbs Creek but visits Germantown frequently to see her family. “I love Germantown. When [Kristen] first started the Germantown Arts District, I said this is where I want to be,” she said. “I just saw something that said, ‘You stick with her.’”

Many artists expressed that they would love to have more events, like GAD Fest,  more frequently. 

“They need more outlets where they can show more work,” Cameron said. “To do art is expensive, and an artist needs that venue to showcase their work, and I think this is perfect–so we need more of that around the city.” 

Clark said putting on the festival wasn’t without its challenges. She strove to make it as accessible as possible to artists of all income levels, charging visual artists and entrepreneurs $75 for a tent. For those who couldn’t pay the total price, Clark said she was able to work out compromises. Performing artists were originally going to receive compensation but later agreed to perform as volunteers due to budget constraints.

“The whole mission is for art to be accessible in Germantown, and you can’t price people out of participating,” she said. 

Clark also learned to “respect people and meet them where they are.” 

She elaborates: “What surprised me the most was how married to the idea of collaboration I was. That’s not necessarily where everybody comes from. And you have to learn to respect that and honor that. Some folks have their own goals and initiatives and motivations behind stuff and you have to respect that.” 

Clark said she’s “3,000%” likely to bring back GAD Fest next year. “I have the next five years planned out. It’s going to be better; it’s going to be bigger and a smoother experience.” 

For more updates on GAD Philly, visit their website or Instagram.