With the Spring 2005 semester, The Samuel S. Fleisher Art Memorial realizes a dream eight years in the making. Beginning on March 8th, some 1,400 students – adults and children – return to an extensively renovated facility. Since late November 2004, the buildings at 715 to 721 Catharine Street have undergone a remarkable internal transformation: circulation has been improved with wide gracious corridors and an expanded lobby area; a five-story elevator will take students from basement to fourth floor studios; a sprinkler system will protect students, visitors and staff in the event of a fire; air conditioning will make all of Fleisher’s studios comfortable year-round; two full libraries – one for adults and one for children – will house the ever expanding collection of books and visual materials for art study; and exhibition opportunities for student and faculty will expand with well-illuminated hallways and a dedicated exhibition space for Fleisher’s faculty of 90 teaching artists.
DAS Architects began the process of re-envisioning Fleisher in 1997 when David Schultz (then a board member) and his partner Susan Davidson interviewed staff and faculty about how Fleisher could better serve its audiences and expand programming. The first phase of the program DAS laid out included the acquisition and renovation of a new building at 705 Christian Street in 2001. That building, the Fleisher Center for Works on Paper, now houses printmaking and photography studios and a new gallery. The renovation of Fleisher’s Catharine Street facility marks the conclusion of the transformation that will make it possible for Fleisher to expand its audiences by some 40% and develop programs that are more broadly accessible to those with physical challenges.
In commenting on the impact of the renovations, Fleisher's executive director Thora Jacobson noted, "The Fleisher buildings, beloved as they are, have really limited us in terms of the numbers we could serve, and the ways we could serve students and artists. With the impressive work that has happened over the past four months, we can finally think of Fleisher as a coherent suite of spaces – a real campus – that can be open and available more hours each day, and more months each year."
Clemens Construction Company served as the construction managers for the renovations, employing "a full court press" to ensure that Fleisher could re-open on time. The full cost for this phase of renovations is just over $1.8 million, much of which is already pledged.
Support for the Fleisher capital campaign has come largely from board members and individual donors, with additional support from the William Penn, Connelly, Arcadia, and Hoxie Harrison Smith Foundations, and the Pennsylvania Department of Community and Economic Development. A major bequest of the late Dr. Robert R. Rosenbaum, a former student at Fleisher, has made the swift completion of this work possible.
Ms. Jacobson noted, "Fleisher extends special appreciation to all who have supported us throughout the years as we prepared for this long-awaited improvement and expansion program. This valuable support continues to sustain Fleisher’s historic mission of access to and quality in visual arts education – a mission that now reaches over 3,000 adults and 1,100 children each year."
Fleisher re-opens for evening classes on Tuesday March 8, 2005. Over the course of the next three months, Fleisher will celebrate the reopening of the buildings and expanding programs with open house events and dedications of newly named studios and public spaces.
For more information about the renovations and the Fleisher Art Memorial’s programs, please visit Fleisher’s website, www.fleisher.org.