There’s always something hauntingly alluring about old spaces. Places that still hold the spirits of those who once stood on the same spot. The Philadelphia Mausoleum of Contemporary Art, or PhilaMOCA, has that allure more than most.
It’s a unique space for a music venue and art exhibition hall certainly, but part of the fun is taking an existing story and adapting your own on top of it. In PhilaMOCA’s case, it means a unique blend of first-rate music event production and the progressive, but eclectic draw of contemporary art, all in a space that once held mausoleums back in 1865.
Of course, I could go on and on about the amazing history of the space or the remarkable calendar of 250+ events a year they hold there now. But instead, I spoke with PhilaMOCA Director and Curator Eric Bresler to get his view from the inside of a space and organization he knows so intimately.
The first thing that threw me for a loop was your name. I bet a lot of people think it’s “Museum of Contemporary Art” but it’s actually “Mausoleum.” What’s the story behind the name?
We’re housed in a 100+ year-old former salesroom for mausoleums. It was a three-generation family business, so people used to come in and pick out their mausoleum here.
Music producer/performer Diplo purchased the building and used to run his recording studio out of here. When he left Philly for California, we took over the building and molded it into this all-purpose art and event space.
Tell us a bit about the museum, what are some of the highlights for visitors?
We’re a small room with a lot of character. We’re known for hosting subversive/alternative-type of stuff, a lot of indie/punk bands, and underground cinema.
The art on the walls changes every month. One month, it might be all movie posters from Ghana, the next, a David Lynch-themed art show. We make sure that we keep things diverse but all under a DIY-type umbrella.
So from there, how did you get into music and hosting events at the PhilaMOCA?
I used to set up basement shows when I was in college back in the late ’90s, and I’ve been programming films in Philly for just as long. So PhilaMOCA is really an extension of what I’ve always been interested in. It’s nice to have a room to myself, where I can oversee all aspects of the place.
When curating events, what’s the overarching philosophy with how you find artists and construct lineups?
Well, in addition to booking and searching for performers in-house, we get a lot of offers from agents, local promoters, and performers themselves. And those people always understand the atmosphere that we’re going for. I get 20 to 30 offers for events every day and it’s pretty easy to sort through them. I look for original and inspired performers and will often go out on a limb to book things that I feel are important, even if they won’t pack the house.
While music is a big component of your event calendar, that’s not all there is. Can you tell us a bit more about what else goes on?
I’ve always tried to keep things diverse here, partly because Philly is a big music city with more than enough active, worthwhile music venues to choose from.
We installed a 26-foot-wide movie screen right behind the stage, so we do a lot of movie screenings, which is my primary interest. Over the years, we’ve hosted everything imaginable, from burlesque performances to podcast tapings, to wedding receptions.
For somebody attending one of your events, what do you hope they come away thinking?
I’ve always said that we’re the friendliest art space in the city. We have a great track record with like-minded staff and volunteers who are drawn to the place due to their interests or past experiences here.
We have a top-notch sound system that receives a lot of compliments and we’re very welcoming and warm to attendees, which I think takes some people pleasantly off-guard.
What do you think about being in Philadelphia and the Philadelphia music and art community overall?
There’s always something going on in this city, it’s great for music and art, which is why I’ve stuck around for over 20 years now.
What upcoming events are you most excited about?
This Thursday we host Lavender Country, the world’s first gay country band from the 1970s, this will be their first-ever Philly show, so that’s exciting.
On September 23 we have legendary industrial performer <PIG> coming in, which is exciting for a lot of us who enjoy that music.
We recently had My Life With The Thrill Kill Kult in for a sold-out show. Also, this fall will be our annual David Lynch-themed event called Eraserhood Forever, that’s always a fun sell out.
531 North 12th Street
Philadelphia, PA 19123