28th Annual October Gallery Art Expo; Then & Now

The Tradin’ Times: One Man’s Trash is This Woman’s Treasure

This years October gallery art expo was missed by many who long for the return of the times when thousand of attendees and an unlimited amount of artists would flood this city with guests for the annual art fest. 2012 is 28 years since the early 90’s beginning of the art expo’s start. The annual event began at the Philadelphia convention center and then evolved to the Liacouras center when it enjoyed it’s largest and longest venue placement.

I was a student of Moore College of Art & Design then when I had the pleasure of displaying my photography at the expo and reading poetry during their weekly panoramic poetry readings; featuring the likes of Trapeta Mason, Rich Medina, Jill Scott and Poetica to name a few.
I was Introduced to the poetry scene via the panoramic poetry venue developed by the October Gallery inheritance, Lamar Redcross, son of October Gallery founder, Mercer Redcross.

My invitation appeared after a performance with Timi Dread and the Dub Warriors, a local dub roots, reggae band (Timi currently performs with a collective entitled “Urban Shamen” ) with whom I would sing and perform poetry, I returned to the table from the stage, were my guests and I were seated, to a napkin left by Lamar who had written, “You should come by and perform at Panoramic Poetry, I really enjoyed your performance” I took his advice and then began my history with the October Gallery and spoken word.

The October Art Gallery was then located on Church st and 2nd in Olde City Philadelphia. Years away from it’s current location at 7165 Germantown ave formerly North by Northwest, live music venue which featured the likes of John Stephens prior to his legendary classification. The gallery featured an array of distinguished art from black painters, photographers, illustrators; established and familiar to the public through then popular culture references like “The Cosby Show” highlighting Haitian painter Ellis Wilson’s “the Funeral Procession” causing Vanessa’s fight for her “rich” family name since Claire paid 11,500 for the painting in the episode. ( Wilson in real life never earning more than 300 dollars for the painting and passed in 1977)

The expo is were I met some of the most inspiring poets and visual artists. There is were I met traveling wordsmiths who made their living selling their words pressed between pages of offset printed glossy covers. I’ve written for “The Paint” the galleries corresponding paper prior to them going to cyberspace. In the early 90’s The young Redcross was gathering writer’s to publish his own collection of poetry and photography. I found out once I was asked to contribute to the Panoramic Poetry Anthology of Words, given the title of “Rhythmic” I contributed my words without question to how & why they would be used and surprisingly months later a glossy cover to a collection of words was born and I was among the October Gallery Panoramic Poets whose words wet the pages on the Pisces press release compiled by Lamar Recross published among then poet and now DJ, Rich Medina, and then poet turned vocalist, Jill Scott to name two of the contributing authors to appear with then poet now journalist, poetica.

In the 90’s our backdrop was a art gallery space with hard wood floors that gave in with a old house sound when pressure applied and echoed footsteps against the brick adorned with a mural of jazz artists and in pauses pages were heard turning and coughs were amplified and so was agreeable testimony like oohs and ahhs from the audience or truth revealed ah ha’s that translates into “you go girl” or the popular phrase ” teach” yelled from peers who could relate. It was our church on Church street to visit the word weekly on a Friday evening. There was no open mics then (no weekly, monthly events just one time events feat a poet), just a handful of folks who regularly shared there words from memory or a black and white composition book and the folks who enjoyed them.

The panoramic poetry format was a dozen artists, give or take, set to read 1 or 2 poems and a featured writer/poet sharing poetry, stories, motivation and occasional musical accompaniment; saxophone, vocal, upright bass, violin, and djembe drums and no open mic. Readings were word of mouth, prior to internet marketing and there was always a refreshment table with juice, fruit, chips and cheese and the mandatory socializing afterwards that usually lead to the next venue, dinner invites to share poetry and break bread or invites to volunteer or participate in the Annual October Gallery Art Expo, for some years I participated as a exhibitor, using the expo audience to try out a series of products and performance styles.

The expo is were I met Kwame Alexander publisher of the then popular poetry anthology 360 degrees of Black Poets. The often 3 day event made room for building alliances with other artists and authors and for some years admission to the expo remained Free and you received a original gallery print upon arrival, there were holistic health pavilions, Capoeira, Brazilian martial arts, celebrity arts auctions ( you could spot a Jordan or a Cosby purchasing the rare, striking African american art) and featured vocalists and band appearances. Normally occurring in November it was a major tourist attraction responsible for a large part then of the cities revenue. It was anticipated annually.

October gallery also put out plenty previously for its annual advertising budget, featured ads in essence magazine and highlights in ebony, all knew of its time of year being near by readership via the paint and assisting publications. Fast forwarding to the present, its rumored alliances made in Brasil by the Redcrosses has attention split, some say it became an overwhelming endeavor. What ever it was, change became inevitable for the expo and its handlers, admission rose up to ten dollars at one point, venues changed and the exhibition price had become too high for some long standing vendors.