Former Old City art dealer Florcy Morisset has long known the secret to a great exhibit: Turn it into a party.
Vivant, her gallery of African Diaspora art, opened in 2007 and quickly became as well known for its vibrant, culturally-rich original works as for its vibrant, culturally-rich social scene. As Jenice Armstrong wrote for the Daily News when the gallery marked its fifth anniversary in 2012, "Vivant feels more like a cultural hub than a stuffy art gallery… free wine flowed, local artists performed, and the place was packed with hip young professional types."
In 2014, after hosting 12 openings a year for seven years, Morisset closed Vivant and left Philly for graduate school. Today, she lives in Boston, has a full-time corporate job, and operates Vivant as an online gallery and art consultancy.
So Vivant — which means "living" in French and her family's native Haitian Creole — lives on. On the occasion of its 10th anniversary, Morisset has planned a major, albeit temporary, Philly comeback. This Friday through Sunday, the consummate host will host art-centric events at the Bazemore Gallery in Manayunk. The long weekend centers around an exhibition of works by Nataki McNeal Bhatti, Bariq Cobbs, David Lawrence, Danny Simmons, and other esteemed black artists.
But those three days and nights aren't just for wine and watching. They'll also include a panel discussion on arts advocacy, funding, and politics; a session of pro-arts postcard writing to Mayor Kenney; and a Saturday night art auction benefit to Rush Arts Philadelphia, Danny Simmons' community-minded Logan art gallery and studio.
Of course, there will be wine, too. And champagne. And a Parisian Harlem Renaissance-themed Friday soiree. We spoke with Morisset about how she and Vivant have changed over the past three years, about her vision for art transforming the cultural and political landscape — and about her plans for squeezing 300 or so guests into Lenny Bazemore's Main Street spot.
Philly misses you. Where've you been?
After closing Vivant, I needed a break. I went to Maryland to get dual master's degree in business administration and design leadership at Johns Hopkins and Maryland Institute College of Art. My friends laughed at me, saying only I'd take a break by pursuing a dual masters. But owning your business was way more work than graduate school. For the past year and a half, I've lived in Boston and worked as a senior project manager for the services division of a major technology company.
What's become of Vivant?
When I first went back to school, I thought I'd go into the museum world. Instead, I decided to go into technology and bring my creativity there. I've since been able to redesign a model for how I want to operate Vivant as an online art gallery, and how I can align the work I do with a new community mission.
A mission? Sounds serious.
In the past, Vivant's mission was supporting artists. Now, I want to do more. I want to support arts organizations. When a government is looking at a budget, when politicians are involved, arts and culture are the first to go. I can still sell art — and I do that online — but I can also give back. I want to use my voice to do things on a grander scale. At my gallery, I hosted 12 exhibitions a year. Now, I can do fewer events, like the one this weekend, and have a greater impact, a more concentrated focus.
With Vivant being online-only, I have less overhead. I'm able to donate a portion of the event's proceeds to Rush Arts. I thought I'd never be able to be a philanthropist. I thought I'd have to be super rich. But with this model, now I can.
This weekend will also have advocacy work around arts, culture, and political engagement. As young people, we have to be vocal in politics. We have to be civically engaged. We'll be partnering with the National Coalition of 100 Black Women on a postcard-writing campaign. We're going to be writing to Mayor Kenney, asking for more funding to support smaller arts organizations.
Ten years later, I'm doubling down, making Vivant even bigger.
Still, people are going to expect a party.
I know. The party is just the clothing, the fun part of it. Underneath is all the work we're trying to do. I've maintained a lot of my relationships in Philadelphia. As of last weekend, there were over 300 RSVPs of people who miss Vivant, too. The event is free, and will eventually fill up. But we'll be open. We'll work it out.
What do you miss about Philly?
I miss the way that arts and culture thrives in Philadelphia. I opened the gallery when I was 27 on gallery row in Old City. That is unheard of. I could not have done that in any other city. Not in Chelsea. Not on Rodeo Drive. I was hungry, and people just embraced me and worked with me, and I learned so much from them. I'm so indebted for the opportunities that Philadelphia gave me. I stand on the shoulders of my ancestors, my supporters from Philly. I had to come back and say thank you. That is what this whole weekend is about. I'm still working for Philadelphia.
Art Soiree Friday, 5:30 p.m.- 9 p.m.; Arts & Politics session Saturday 1-3 p.m.; Art Auction Saturday 4-7 p.m. All events free at the Bazemore Gallery, 4339 Main St., Manayunk.