Founded by YaYa Horne and Damion “Dame” Ward, Tiny Room For Elephants is a collective of artists, DJs, musicians and producers who have residencies in the commercial spaces at Cherry Street Pier. The collective is on a mission to break up art cliques and disrupt the local art scene by giving artists the space and freedom to execute work and collaborate with each other, while aiming for intentional inclusivity and diversity.
By helping others find their artistic purpose, Tiny Room For Elephants helps to create a sense of community through supportive growth opportunities for the artists, including paid job placements, exposure, free open access space, and time to explore their craft. Artists are in turn encouraged to host exhibitions, podcasts, workshops, music events and find creative ways to utilize the space.
CityWide spoke YaYa and Dame about the collective and its mission.
How would you describe Tiny Room For Elephants?
YaYa: We are a studio, a gallery, a festival, and an agency. We are a liaison for folks looking to engage creatives in a way to enhance their space or experience. We vet everybody through [the] Tiny Room For Elephants Festival; we don’t place anybody with a brand or any type of organization unless they’ve done [the] Tiny Room For Elephants Festival because that assures us that we know they’re professional. Everything culminates [with] the festival because that is how we grow and get more artists to pitch to brands and organizations, so that they can actually make money.
Right now, we have about 50 visual artists in the collective, probably about the same [number of] musical artists and DJs. We [offer] a full round experience with music, djs, [we have] hosts in our fold, [and] chefs in our fold, so we can really create a full experience from concept to creation.
What is the Tiny Room for Elephants Festival?
YaYa: What the festival is — it’s basically a month. We move into a location, we build a structure, we build the room (which is a 10×24 room), [and] we begin to install. Then we invite all of the artists to come and decorate the walls together. They have a ten day period to do that, [and] they come in at all hours, we’re pretty much running 24/7 over those ten days. All of that creation is happening live, in-person, over ten days, and then we celebrate all of this wonderful collaboration with our three day festival. [The Festival is then held] the third week in April, and has been for the past two years, so we’re going with that date each year. It worked out really, really well this year. We had over 10,000 people come through the whole weekend.
What can someone expect to see in the room?
YaYa: When you come and you see our artists, you’re going to see classically trained artists … you’ll see your favorite street artist, your favorite wheatpaste artist, you’ll probably see a lot of artists that you don’t know that, [artists that] have never even painted this big before. We’re really big about mixing it up, so they can learn from each other, trade tips and tricks. [There is a] musical portion, so over the ten days, we have producers and DJs playing live because we want everything created live in the moment.
What were some of the challenges of organizing the event at the pier?
YaYa: When you’re in that room and you’re painting for ten days next to somebody, especially, here being on the Waterfront, [it] brought up a lot of challenges. It was so moist, we never anticipated that. The paint wasn’t drying as fast, the tape wasn’t sticking, so they were all forced to work together to find solutions to help one another and that really brings it all together.
How would you describe the space where the residencies take place?
YaYa: Our space is our office, but it’s also another resource we have for artists. Every six weeks the space changes. We offer it to our artists to use as a canvas for four weeks — they come in, they concept, they work on a project and complete it and we exhibit it for two weeks, we never did this before. A big way we are able to be in Cherry Street Pier, which is so amazing, all the rents here are subsidized, you can find this on the website, we pay $400 a month for the studio, but there are certain conditions for that, you’ve got to be in here!
The community has to be able to come in and see art being created, and Dame and I are not artists. When we first got the space, we thought, “What are we going to do that will be engaging for the public?” and so we decided we’re going to turn the space over to our artists.
How do you find artists?
YaYa: We only focus on Philadelphia artists. We don’t feel like we need to go outside because we have so much talent here in our backyards. How we find artists for the festival, [there] is really no formal vetting process, it’s not application-based. Every artist here does it for free because they’re invited and they understand that this is about building community and that it’s an experience, and a moment, so all artists come in through word of mouth.
Myself, and my partner, Dame, we go to so many art shows throughout the year, and we have what we call our art crushes, and we just make cold-calls and we invite people to be a part of it.
Aside from the festival, how else does Tiny Room For Elephants support artists?
YaYa: We have the space now, and I’m able to help nurture and grow it, and we’re able to really focus on artists and focus on acting as an agency, which is where we really are now. It’s helpful that I come from [working with] Redbull, I come from [working in] advertising and I have all of those connections still, so all of the business we’ve been able to get as an agency has come from word of mouth.
What brands and organizations have you worked with in the past through Tiny Room For Elephants?
YaYa: We’ve worked with SONY and Live Nation. We did instagramable murals in Live Nation venues for SONY all across the country. We did Urban Plaza in New York, the Wiltern in LA, House of Blues in Chicago, and, of course, the Fillmore here in Philly. We helped Champion curate their whole upstairs, their customization station, and worked with Tiny Room For Elephants to source artists to bring [the] visions they had to life.
We have a mini-gallery at the Fitler Club in Philly. We are working with a couple [of] app and tech companies out of San Francisco, and we work on their trade shows. We’ve curated the Memorial Day weekend programming for Spruce Street Harbor.
What do you love most about what you do?
YaYa: We are able to place artists and get them paid, and we fight for artists, we fight to get them paid. One thing I love about this job that I do now, it’s a thing I’ve always loved, calling the artist and being like, “Hey, I’ve got a gig for you! How much do you charge?”
Dame: Sometimes we have moments where we are like, “Damn, we didn’t do this right,” and then the artists are like, “Thank you so much for doing this for us.” When they’re happy, we’re happy. That means even more to us than us doing a good job. We’ve done this to create a platform for artists and shine a light on artists, and we built a community that are cool with our faults or our hiccups.
How do you motivate each other when times get tough?
YaYa: One thing Dame says is, “We just have to keep doing it. If we do nothing else, we just have to keep doing it to perfect the model, to get more business, to get more eyes on the artists, and to show people how they can work with us.” The agency piece is key, we need to be able to place our artists so they can be able to see the value [of] being part of this.
Dame: I have to give YaYa every ounce of credit and respect. When we go back and go through the things that we wanted to do, she has lists and lists … we wouldn’t be here without YaYa.
Do you have any recommendations on how people can get involved?
YaYa: Just come out. Meet. Greet. Talk. That’s what it’s all about. Follow us on Instagram and Facebook. We do events here all the time from opening exhibitions for our artists-in-residence, to The Parlour Podcast. Come out and meet the family and get to know what we’re all about.