How Allison Boyle and Co. are Putting the ‘Magic’ in Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
Read more about Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens via our exclusive interview with Events & Marketing Manager, Allison Boyle.
Tell us about Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and its stunning mosaics.
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) is an immersive mixed media art environment that is completely covered with mosaics. The creator, Isaiah Zagar, used handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirror, and international folk art to chronicle his life and influences. The space is made up of two indoor galleries and a bi-level outdoor sculpture garden.
As a nonprofit museum, PMG celebrates art in its many forms through community outreach, public programs, hands-on activities, exhibitions, and tours. We welcome everyone to explore the space and embrace the possibility of self-expression.
"The creator, Isaiah Zagar, used handmade tiles, bottles, bicycle wheels, mirror, and international folk art to chronicle his life and influences."
Why should guests visit Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens?
Philadelphia's Magic Gardens are a completely unique experience - you're not going to find anything else quite like it in the city, or anywhere else for that matter. It's a genuine expression of creativity that you can enter and be completely surrounded by it. Pictures don't do it justice, you have to see it in person!
"...You're not going to find anything else quite like it in the city, or anywhere else..."
How did you get involved with Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens?
I became involved with PMG when I joined on as a Garden Guide (visitor services staff) back in 2011. I was driving down South Street and saw PMG, and knew I had to work there!
I had studied art history in college and grad school, specifically self-taught art, so this place was right up my alley. I was lucky enough to work my way up into the Events & Marketing Manager position.
"I was driving down South Street and saw PMG, and knew I had to work there!"
What excites you most about working here?
Every day is something new here. Some days we have new folk art coming in to be installed in the space, some days we have big tour groups coming through, some days we have an event going on.
It's always something different, and since it's a pretty small staff we all get to be involved in a lot of it. Plus working in such a colorful setting is certainly very stimulating!
"Every day is something new here."
What makes the Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens different?
It's an instagrammer's paradise that was created way before Instagram. It's one artist's labor of love, his life's work, that he made simply because he had a need to create. It's amazing to get to go inside Isaiah's head and visually see what he was thinking about when he created the space, and to take in all the little fascinating details such as individual tiles or folk art pieces. It's also a living work of art - Isaiah and our Preservation Team continue to add and change the space, so it's constantly changing.
"It's one artist's labor of love, his life's work, that he made simply because he had a need to create."
What is one thing most people don’t know about Philadelphia Magic Gardens?
Most people don't know that although we work with Isaiah Zagar, our founding artist, Philadelphia's Magic Gardens is its own entity. We're a nonprofit museum that operates largely independently of Isaiah.
We host a ton of tours and events: We have a happy hour event in the summer, a meditation class, a concert series, changing exhibitions where we show many other artists' work - there's always something new to see and do here. We're also really striving to be protectors of not only Isaiah's artwork but all public artwork, and to be a resource for other art environments around the country.
"We have a happy hour event in the summer, a meditation class, a concert series..."
Why give to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens?
PMG is a really incredible and unique space, and we want it to be around for years to come. Our Preservation Team works really hard to keep the space shiny and new, but it takes a lot of effort. Donations allow us to continue to do things like buy replacement folk art for items that were stolen or broken, or replace tiles that have worn away, or do bigger projects like structurally reinforcing some of the passageways. The team does a great job, but there's always more to do!
We're also in the first years of our Julia Zagar Women Residency for Women Artists. The goal of the residency is to support contemporary female artists working in the tradition of handcrafting and folk art, with a particular focus on Mexican and South American artisans. Those selected are invited to stay in Philadelphia, engage with the city, and present an exhibition at Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. We were able to host an artist from Mexico last year, and are now planning for our next residency in 2020!
"Donations allow us to continue to do things like buy replacement folk art for items that were stolen or broken, or replace tiles that have worn away..."
What is the most popular event held at Philadelphia Magic Gardens?
One of our more popular events is our Twilight in the Gardens series. This is our summertime concert series, where every month on the fourth Friday we have a different musical performer and teaching artist. Guests can BYOB and picnic in the space, and we also offer mini-tours of the space so people can learn a little more about us. It's always a different type of music and a different art activity, so people can come to multiple events and experience something completely different every time. It's also a cool way to get to see PMG lit up at night!
"..Every month on the fourth Friday we have a different musical performer and teaching artist."
What does Philadelphia Magic Gardens pride itself on?
We really pride ourselves on our values system. We try to be a really welcoming place to all our staff, visitors, volunteers, etc..!
1. PMG Champions originality and embraces the creative process unbound by conventional norms. This is exemplified by our thinking and actions, and the unique experience we provide our audience.
2. PMG welcomes our visitors and staff with an open-mind. We believe in creating a safe space that embraces a diversity of culture, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, and physical or mental ability. Our policies and programming encourages connecting to others with respect and dignity.
3. PMG values community. We unify individuals through shared experiences and build relationships with diverse Philadelphia residents, businesses and neighboring nonprofits.
4. PMG believes in inspiring others. The artwork and programs provoke inspiration through curiosity, self-expression and awe.
5. PMG approaches our daily operations, programming, and the interpretation of Isaiah Zagar’s art with a lighthearted, celebratory attitude. We believe in working hard while still maintaining levity and humor.
"We believe in creating a safe space that embraces a diversity of culture, race/ethnicity, sexual orientation, gender identity, religious affiliation, age, and physical or mental ability. "
How do you find the artists for your exhibits?
We do a lot of research - both through social media and through going to exhibitions and shows in the area. There are so many cool artists out there we'd love to work with! Our Exhibitions Manager does a lot of work of reaching out to people, and also fielding any emails from interested artists who reach out to us!
"...through social media and through going to exhibitions and shows in the area."
What was Isaiah Zagar’s influence behind the mosaics?
There are a lot of influences behind Isaiah's mosaics! One of the main things that got him going was the time he spent in Peru doing the Peace Corps in the 60s. That's what really got the Zagars interested in folk art and they started collecting it, mostly from South America and Mexico. When they returned, Isaiah suffered a mental breakdown and turned to making mosaics as a type of therapy for him. He incorporated a lot of the folk art they had collected, and that practice continues to this day. There are many other artists around the world who have created "art environments" as well that Isaiah has either studied or visited, so I think he takes a little bit of inspiration from a lot of those places and artists as well.
"One of the main things that got him going was the time he spent in Peru doing the Peace Corps in the 60s."
Tell us about some of your upcoming series/events? Which are you most looking forward to and why?
In addition to our regular programs, we have a few special events coming up that I'm looking forward to! One is a tour and hands-on activity with our next exhibiting artist, Justin Tyner. He's a stained glass artist who creates some really amazing work from glass he finds around the city. He's going to be leading a guided tour of his exhibition, and then we're all going down the street to a bar, Tattooed Mom, to create our own stained glass-inspired art. It's going to be really cool.
Another event coming up in July is our South Street Safari. We had our first one last year, and it was so fun! It's a big scavenger hunt where people have to go around to the neighborhood mosaic murals and find specific images. The winner gets a cool prize basket, and it's a great way for people to get to see some of the 200+ public murals Isaiah has made! Donations collected during the event also go to our local animal shelter, Morris Animal Refuge.
"It's a big scavenger hunt where people have to go around to the neighborhood mosaic murals and find specific images."
Do you offer interactive art classes?
Almost all of our public programming has some sort of art-making element to it! In particular, we host an event called "The Museum As Muse" where people can come in and be inspired by our space and create art. We usually have nude models for people to sketch, and at our last event we also had a print-making and clay activity for guests to do. No experience is required at any of our events, we just want folks to have fun and get creative!
"No experience is required at any of our events, we just want folks to have fun and get creative!"