Linda Blackaby


Linda Blackaby

07/01/18   Linda Blackaby  

Interviewed by Terry Fox

Old City was different from Powelton’s wider, tree-lined residential streets where I lived.
Powelton was a transitional neighborhood between university and professional wealth and low income
Mantua. But Old City was in the “city,” dense, historical. There was Church Street, Market Street, Christ
Church and the Friends Meetinghouse. The part that we were around was not the touristy part. Don’t
remember when WHYY was established there. [1979-80]. It was before the [Vine S.] Expressway.

I came to Philly area in 1972. In 1973 moved into City/Mt Airy with my husband.
I got involved with Old City Arts through Academy Screening Room. Ralph Moore was at the film festival
at the Walnut. He and his partner started the Academy Screening Room [2023 Sansom St.]
David Rosenberg and Jeff Cain were projectionists. Ralph had hired Jeff.
[TF: we knew Ralph through Sam Maitin] Bruce ( ?) worked there. He was an Annenberg grad student at
the Christian Association [on Penn’s campus]. David was a filmmaker who you all connected to.

[TF: When did you start Neighborhood Film Project?]
1975. Michael Selzter helped write a grant for seed money from the Philadelphia Foundation.
It was based at the Christian Association at Penn with student interns as staff. Seltzer was at the Peoples
Fund and started the Philadelphia Clearinghouse, which is how I got involved with them. Bread & Roses
was a spinoff of that.

[TF: Your admin chops helped us with OCA]
David and I started coming to things at the Bride on South St and to events in Old City. I also worked at
TLA [Theatre of the Living Arts] in the box office with Danny Miller.

We did a few outdoor screenings for OCA. I think it was included in a PCA grant. There was a rapid
sequence of happenings and events in Old City. I brought a projector from Neighborhood Film Project
and projected from my station wagon on to a wall painted white behind 228 Arch Street. Electricity came
from Mary Nomecos’ apartment. People came on their bikes, brought lawn chairs, Grumbling gallery’s
had folding chairs…. We showed shorts. We had to change reels, so there was time in between for beer
and socializing… great fun.

[TF: David always had his camera at the ready. He did lots of documentation. He was in No Man’s Land]
I was in No Man’s Land too. Lenny Seidman and I waved the parachute on cue. Sometimes we got
carried away.

I went to I-House in ’79.
Jeff Cain and Old City artists did a fundraiser for I-House. Ellen Davis became enamored of Jeff .

[Demographics: ]
My parents were both college graduates… My grandfather was a college math professor
I went to grad school for English but never finished. Just needed to write one paper on 16 th c poetry.

Started out showing movies because I did that at college to raise money for SDS [Students for a
Democratic Society] Coming to Philly was coming to the East Coast of my parents, from the West Coast.

[TF: What other memorable Old City events?]
A lot was memorable. Jeff and Charles’ music. (Charles Cohen) Your dance performances.
I was audience for Living Room At The Bottom Of The Lake, No Man’s Land and Wear White at Night. It
was mostly social at 217 Church St. with potlucks and dance parties.

I don’t remember when artists stopped getting together socially and decided to become an organization –
[TF: There were factions in the OCA about its future – organization VS anarchy] – that may have come with
gentrification. By the early 80’s gentrification was really taking over. Some artists went off to New York
and elsewhere, which was the logical expectation, anyway. Not to stay in Philly. When Wilson Goode
came in (as mayor) and Oliver Franklin became a cultural officer, it may have been too late for artists in
Old City. David Speedy was in the City Cultural Office during the late 70’s but it was still a conservative

When did the GPCA start? [GPCA website -1972]. It did not recognize small arts organizations. You had
to apply but you did not get in. It was very elitist. Did it include Taller [Puertorriqueño]? or Prints in
Progress ?

[TF: There were very few dance organization members, except the PDA and Ballet].

What did they do then anyway? What were they formed initially to do? Marketing? They did a cultural

[TF: What was your rent in Powelton ? ]
I don’t remember? Can’t have been much I was underemployed, mostly had hourly wage jobs.
In college, my rent was $35/mo.

[TF: Old City Hangouts]
Mostly we’d hang out at people’s lofts. I saw shows at ETAGE, but I didn’t have a lot of money.
[TF: Do you remember Miss Headleys and Khyber Pass and the Continental ?]
Yes. We went to Chinatown to eat cheap. Wasn’t a “foodie” time…
[TF: although some of the artists worked for Steve Poses].
3 rd Street records. Don’t remember galleries. When did the Ritz start ? That tagged onto development of
Old City. South Street was crowded. On South Street there was a food coop [Essene] and the Free
People’s Store and a great Thrift Store.

Charles Cohen, Chuck Grumbling, Chuck Mattern, Gil Ott. Mary Nomecos, Jac Carley, the Mulgrew sisters.
Mark Campbell, Don’t remember seeing Bric productions… think I saw “Taking Tiger Mountain.” Kaye
(Pyle) started coming down to Old City (She worked at the Fels Fund and Phila Fdtn) Sid Reppelier or
John Ruthrath at the Philadelphia Foundation supported NFP but, Kaye did not fund my first proposal
when I started at I-House. Sid and John understood how arts could be very community oriented. Keith
Ragone, Terry Kreuzer, Kathy Halton. Sig Kaye, Helen Cunningham and Ted Newbold who worked at the
Betsy Ross House started coming around…and Peter Baker as Brickman.

[Temper of the times:]
First impression upon arriving to Philly was that it was a dark and private town and segregated at night.
It was mean, because it was Rizzo [Mayor Frank Rizzo] time. MOVE had a house in Powelton, which they
barricaded. They had no skills, to make their back to nature philosophy plausible. Their idea of compost
was to pile garbage in the backyard. They appeared with guns. I was surprised that recently when one of
their members was released from prison they were described as an activist. They were much more fringe

and more cult than say the Panthers. Times were polarized, Viet Nam War, Nixon, Carter. Reagan
defunding the arts. Late 70’s and 80’s a lot of what we were doing was never able to really flourish.
It was amazing what OCA got done on just individual initiative without institutional support.
For example – Wear White at Night…
[TF: A block party raised money for Posters. No one got paid]
It was really stone soup at that time. People left, but it really was a community for while. Typical perhaps
as artists are followed by gentrification. Who were the patrons?
[TF Miriam Mednick and others made small donations]
How did they make art i.e. Living Room ?
[TF: There were budgets, and artists used what was available. Sometimes there were small grants via the
Bride or other fiscal conduit like Old First Reformed Church]

[TF: … the kind of art Old City artists were making was then an anomaly]
And so not elitist. It was gay. It was intergenerational.

The research for the OCA History Project is ongoing...

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