Popular Philly Art Center opens in Mt. Airy

by Stacia Friedman
Posted 2/2/23

Jill S. Markovitz is a woman on a mission: To make art accessible to children and adults in ways that did not exist before. 

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Popular Philly Art Center opens in Mt. Airy


Jill S. Markovitz is a woman on a mission: To make art accessible to children and adults in ways that did not exist before. 

Since 2004, she has opened four art centers in Philadelphia and beyond – in Fairmount, Cherry Hill, Queen Village and, just last April, at 530 Carpenter Lane in Mt. Airy. Each is operating at full steam. How does she do it all? Well, admittedly, not on her own.

“It’s taken eighteen years, a lot of hard work, and an amazing supportive team,” said Germantown resident Markovitz, 48, who taught for many years before she launched her first Philly Art Center at the age of thirty. “I continued teaching during the day in schools while also teaching at the Art Center. In 2007, three years after opening my first Philly Art Center, I finally left teaching to devote myself to running the business. I have developed a great team of administrators and instructors, as well as an architect, Michelle Salerno, who designs every Center, so all our spaces look and feel the same.” 

Markovitz traces her passion for art education back to her own childhood. “I grew up in Abington, took classes at Abington Art Center and studied art education at the University of New Mexico. While there, a visiting professor introduced the idea of alternative learning environments outside of traditional school settings. That was the spark that eventually led to creating my own art centers,” she said. 

After receiving an MFA in Photography at University of Massachusetts in Amherst, Markovitz returned to Philadelphia in 2001. Three years later, while teaching art in Philadelphia schools, Markovitz put her ideas into practice, launching her first Philly Art Center in Fairmount. Her approach was unique. “We designed a sequential set of courses, starting with babies three months and up. It’s a balance of building children’s skills without a focus on the final product,” said Markovitz. The response was enthusiastic. “We had to move our Fairmount location three times to bigger spaces,” she said. 

“We are very intentional. We offer classes for babies with a parent starting at three months, followed by Art Start, parent-child classes for ages 2 to 3. At three, parents can decide to stay for the class or not. For children 3 to 5, we have a 2-hour mixed media Mini Masters drop-off class, specially designed for this age group. Our goal is to develop creative thinking.” 

Markovitz’s programs fill a niche. “We offer after school pick up, escorting children who are 4 to 12 years old from their schools to our Art Center. We walk them from the Henry School and accompany them on the bus from Greene Street Friends and Germantown Friends. This is a major asset to working parents, with the option of after school art plus a snack and creative play for one to five days a week.” she said. 

Summer camps for ages 4 to 14 run from June 12 through Sept 1. “Campers always explore a wide range of media, are grouped by age and get outside playtime everyday,” said Markovitz. “For tweens ages 9 to 14, we offer specialty camps in sewing, painting, ceramics and comics.“ Besides Summer Camp, Philly Art Center is open whenever area schools are closed. Their programs never have breaks and sessions run back to back. 

A key factor at Philly Art Centers is the quality of instruction. “We are very fortunate in Philly to be able to hire outstanding teaching artists. Most have BFAs and MFAs. They have to love kids and they have to love art,” Markovitz said. “We place value on paying good wages with benefits for our team. As a result, we have very low turnover and invest a lot of time into teacher training, preparation for classes and creating an inclusive, collaborative work environment.”

Case in point: Caitlin Finnegan, 33, director of the Mt. Airy location, has been with Philly Art Center for seven years. “I started as a full time instructor at  the Queen Village location, then in 2017, became director of our Fairmount center.” Finnegan grew up in Haverford, attended the Agnes Irwin School, received an undergraduate degree in art at Penn State and a master’s degree in art education at Maryland Institute College of Art. In her present role, she oversees children and adult classes, coordinating the curriculum and supporting the staff. “The response in Mt. Airy has been really incredible,” Finnegan said. “We are now running three ArtStart classes for 2 to 3 year olds.”

Adult Classes

Given the many adult art classes already in the area, Philly Art Center, manages to offer a surprising twist. They supply the art materials. Whether you are taking Ceramics, Painting, Mixed Media or Drawing, all you have to do is show up.  “Ceramics is hugely popular now; people want to get away from technology,” said Markovitz.

The Mt. Airy location was not left to chance. “I told my realtor I want to be on Carpenter Lane. As it turned out, the building had just gone on the market four days earlier and it had an artistic history. It had been a ceramics studio in the 1980s. More recently, it was a meditation/yoga/art therapy space. It was exactly the building for us,” she said. “We launched our summer camp and were blown away by the enrollment.” 

For more information, visit PhillyArtCenter.com.