by Sue Ann Rybak
Solomon “Sol” Levy had a talent for capturing the beauty often hidden in ordinary things – the ability to capture light dancing on the water or trees swaying in the wind. He had the ability to see hidden potential – to look beyond the outer surface and envision a masterpiece.
It’s hard to imagine envisioning a bustling community center filled with brightly colored pieces of artwork when glancing at the “before” photograph of the Mt. Airy Art Garage (MAAG). But, that’s exactly what Sol did. He saw the hidden beauty buried under 20 years of rotted debris, wide-open trenches and bare corroded pipes. And that’s why members of MAAG, a creative arts center, gathered to remember “a dear friend and mentor” on Friday, April 27.
A prominent community leader, Levy touched numerous lives through his work with Habitat for Humanity, Weavers Way Co-op, Mt. Airy Learning Tree and various art organizations in the Northwest. But, it was his vision of a community art center, where emerging artists could flourish and professionals could create works of art, that inspired MAAG to name its center the Solomon Levy Gallery. As a former vice-president of MAAG and a founding board member, Levy, who died in 2011, played a key role in making MAAG a reality.
“It’s not just an exhibit for us,” said Linda Slodki, co-founder and president of MAAG. “It’s an act of love.”
The exhibit, entitled “Travels through Life,” features a variety of Levy’s photography – from his early landscapes to his most recent abstract work. The exhibit will be on display until May 20.
Slodki said Levy was more than a friend – “he was our mentor.”
“Whenever we had a problem or ran into a wall or a door was closed to us, Sol would open it for us,” Slodki said. “Sol actually found our space at 11 W. Mt. Airy Ave. I always informally refer to this place as Sol’s place.
“The day he died we just said, ‘Sol’s not going anywhere,’” Slodki added. “He is going to see this through. And he has been with us every step of the way.”
Arlene Olshan, a longtime friend of Levy and a co-founder of MAGG, said through his knowledge and connections MAAG learned a wealth of information about the Mt. Airy Services Corporation.
“I was so thrilled that he felt moved enough to be a part of our organization,” Olshan said.
Olshan recalled Levy saying to his wife, “They are going to start this Mt. Airy Art Garage, and I believe they are going to do it.”
The dedication also marked the recent completion of phase two of the 5,000-square-foot project: the installation of bathrooms needed to obtain a city permit to begin construction on artists’ studios and an open classroom.
Donna Globus, who Slodki informally refers to as a “construction goddess,” discussed Phase 3 of the project.
“We are proud to have reached this milestone point, which is going to allow us to do a lot more,” said Globus, a MAAG member. “From the very beginning, part of our mission was not only to have a gallery and to have art classes and workshops, but also to have working artists in the space all the time.”
Globus said their goal was to raise $18,000 to begin construction and storefront renovation. She said that MAAG hopes to raise $6,000 by May 15, another $6,000 by June 15 and the remaining $6,000 by July 15.
Globus said that, thanks to a grant from the city to improve its facade and storefront, MAAG would be able to install glass doors at the front of the building. The grant will reimburse the art center for half of the cost of the glass doors, which are estimated to cost between $5,000 and $7,000.
“People passing by on west Mt. Airy Avenue can look into the space and see the energy that is going on in here and be a part of that,” Globus said.
She said if MAAG reached its goal of $18,000, the art center “will be 100 percent built out by the end of the summer.”
Slodki said without the support of local organizations, businesses and residents, the $85,000 project would not be possible.
“We can’t thank all of you enough for the millions of ways you all show your support,” Slodki said.
Slodki encouraged residents “to be part of this vision, this dream … to be part of the spirit that is growing in here” by becoming a member.
For more information about MAAG, go to http://mtairyartgarage.org.