Blogging about Philly arts

Founders of the Artblog , Roberta Fallon (left) and Libby Rosof, work on the independent news and commentary website in Fallon's Bala Cynwyd home. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer
Founders of the Artblog , Roberta Fallon (left) and Libby Rosof, work on the independent news and commentary website in Fallon's Bala Cynwyd home. RON TARVER / Staff Photographer

Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon are marking 10 years of chronicling the city's arts scene online and now on the streets with Art Safaris, guided tours of artists' studios.

Posted: October 04, 2013

Libby Rosof and Roberta Fallon are ready.

They've got their postcards laid out on Fallon's dining room table.

They've got some stats printed up.

They've got a lime-green tote bag tucked into itself like a tiny sculptural ball!

"It's scary!" Fallon jokes, eyeing a reporter's tape recorder. "It's like us going in and interviewing people. We scare the bejeezus out of them!"

Rosof chimes in: "We tag-team 'em!"

Not to worry, she adds quickly.

"They all emerge unscathed. We ask such hardball questions."

What would those be?

"When were you born?" Rosof replies.

"Were your parents appreciative of your art as a child? It wasn't smooth sailing for everyone."

They laugh, the easy kind of laugh of two people who've known and worked with each other for decades, including the last one, the one that has seen their online news and commentary site, (in case you've forgotten the name), grow from an itty-bitty corner on Blogspot, the free blogging site, to a robust independent website featuring news, reviews, videos, podcasts, slide shows, all focused on the Philadelphia art scene.

Time to celebrate 10 years of chronicling the region's arts scene!

But it doesn't end in the virtual world. They've branched out, thanks to a grant from the Knight Foundation, with guided tours of artist studios around town - forays into the wilds of Kensington and South Philadelphia, dubbed Art Safaris.

Rosof, 67, (married to former Inquirer editor and reporter Murray Dubin) and Fallon, 64, were not always doyennes of the online culture world.

Rosof - the taller of two, with long, silvery hair - is an award-winning writer and editor; Fallon has dark curls wreathing a round face, and is a sculptor and critic. Together, they've created art and performance pieces since the 1980s.

But around the turn of the millennium, Fallon was reviewing art exhibitions for the Philadelphia Weekly, writing about work coming out of artists' collectives and alternative spaces. The gig was frustratingly irregular, thanks to the vagaries of funding and publishing.

"It made both of us mad that we're seeing all this great stuff and it was like it didn't happen because nobody knew about it," Fallon recalled. "So at that point, we said, 'We're both writers, let's do something about this.' "

After a bit of testing, the blog was born.

"We just started it and we wrote and, by gum, people found it!" she exclaimed. "That was the weirdest thing of all."

Rosof said "the blog sort of reflected our own frustration" with local arts coverage.

"Even if you have an art show and one critic in the entire city covers it, not everyone in the city sees that," she said. "You feel like you're throwing something out in the world and it's like you haven't spoken at all."

All artblog reviews, videos, news, and podcast interviews (more than 70 and counting) are archived and available at website.

"We were seeing a very happening art scene that nobody knew about except for the other young artists who were in the collectives," Rosof said.

As an example she noted then-alternative Space 1026 on Arch Street, which the duo has covered for many years. (The Inquirer first wrote about Space 1026 in the fall of 1998, within a year of its opening, and regularly thereafter.)

The early artblog also focused on student art and "pop-up" galleries, said Fallon. Noncommercial spaces, added Rosof. Places that were not "showing art from people who were making the same old landscapes or the same old minimalist work or the same old ab-exp work."

Art, Rosof said, "constantly has to refresh itself. It constantly has to be part of the world that it's grown up in."

Fallon said they also wanted to focus on the art of women and minorities, often ignored by galleries.

Not everyone is enamored of theartblog, for sure. Some criticism has been nasty and personal, reflecting the jostling and abrasive ambitions of the art world in general.

More serious criticism, acknowledged (to a point) by both Rosof and Fallon, is that they serve as "cheerleaders" more than critics.

Nor does the pair shy away from critics. A few years ago, Rosof and Fallon were pummeled during a panel discussion - and then theartblog wrote about it:

"Andrew Suggs, director of Vox Populi Gallery, expressed a yearning for more writing with philosophical underpinnings and less writing that was cheerleading," Rosof wrote back in 2009. "I think I pouted. (Just for the record, we do have philosophical underpinnings, but we don't shout them in the day-to-day posts .. . .)."

Cheerleading or grousing, theartblog reached more than 370,000 visitors in 2012, up 10 percent over 2010. Readers come from all over the world, according to their statistics.

They're celebrating their success and failures at several parties beginning Saturday. Details can be found on the site, natch.