Meet Jere Edmunds, a documentary filmmaker and the man behind We Do It Distribution Services who’s posted millions of fliers around Philly for cultural events.
• Surreal circulation: “My biggest job was working for the Philadelphia Museum of Art doing the Salvador Dalí campaign. That was 20,000 fliers and pamphlets I had to get out."
• Distribution method: “It should always be about empowering and reaching out to neighborhoods that are less fortunate and showing them other possibilities. That’s basically what arts and culture is for.”
To many in Philadelphia’s arts community, Jere Edmunds is known as “The Flier Guy” or “the hardest working man in town.”
Since 1983, he’s been the one-man operation behind We Do It Distribution Services, traveling across the city on his bicycle to post fliers on bulletin boards, brochures in businesses, and pamphlets in public spaces. The paper trails he leaves advertise events for theaters, museums, and just about every arts, culture, and educational organization in the city, from the School District of Philadelphia to the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
“People have a tendency to forget the digital because they’re bombarded with so much,” Edmunds, who lives in Powelton, said. “There’s nothing like having that old-fashioned paper trail you can tack onto your fridge or put in your wallet. It’s not something you have to Google.”
When COVID-19 and quarantine hit in March, shuttering events and institutions across the city, Edmunds' distribution service not only took a hit, but he lost his jobs as a server and bartender as well.
But instead of letting it get him down, Edmunds — a member of PhillyCAM (Philadelphia’s public access television network) — doubled down on a project close to his heart: The Inside Look, a series of short documentaries about Philadelphia artists like Leroy Johnson and Betty Leacraft who were part of the Black Arts Movement of the ’60s and ’70s.
“These artists are not underrated, because they are excellent at what they do — they are under-recognized," Edmunds said. “Philadelphia has a rich artistic heritage and culture, especially among African Americans, but a lot of these artists haven’t been documented like others have.”
Last week in PhillyCAM’s Center City studio, Edmunds pitched his series to local activists, educators, foundations, and nonprofits who virtually attended Good Pitch Local Philadelphia 2020, which connects media makers with people able to offer various kinds of support, from production assistance to funding.
“I want to make sure African American artists are included in educational and cultural institutions,” Edmunds told the potential supporters, who offered him equipment, promotional assistance, and screening opportunities.
For the lifelong Philadelphian, this project — like everything else he does — is a way to honor his father, who had a full scholarship to the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts but gave it up to be a husband and dad. In 1968, Edmunds' father was killed by a hit-and-run driver in Brewerytown.
“He saved his mother’s life. He pushed his own mom out of the way and the car hit him,” Edmunds said. “He was my hero so I try to achieve in his name.”
Edmunds, who is in his 60s (he won’t say exactly how old because he’s old enough to remember when you weren’t supposed to trust anyone over 30), studied art at Hussian College and PAFA, but left for New York City before graduating. There, in the early ’80s, he was a “Club Kid” and even got a role as a model in the 1982 punk sci-fi movie Liquid Skye (more recently, Edmunds has worked as an extra in Creed 2, 21 Bridges, and Dispatches from Elsewhere).
When he came back to Philly in 1983, Edmunds began working at the Hot Club at 21st and South Streets, a new-wave punk club owned by David Carroll.
Around the same time, he also worked in telemarketing for several theater companies selling subscriptions. While doing so, he learned that the theaters were looking for someone to go to neighborhoods and post fliers for upcoming shows.
“I went to the library and looked at maps, rode my bike around town, and came up with a price scheme,” Edmunds said.
Edmunds began building a rapport with business owners so they’d allow him to post his fliers in their store fronts (“Sometimes I’d offer to run the store for them so they could step out”), and he learned as much as he could about the productions he advertised.
“You should have knowledge of what you’re putting out in case people ask you about the show,” he said. “And be truthful, because people can tell if you’re lying.”
Sometimes, Edmunds distributes fliers for as many as 50 organizations at a time, but he’s purposeful about the placement of each.
“It’s not rocket science, not everything is going to go in every neighborhood,” he said. “But you don’t want to think less of a possible audience member that may go. You always want to feel that people are enlightened, or can be."
After more than 37 years in the flier business, Edmunds now has his regular route, which includes hotels, libraries, apartment buildings, coffee shops, supermarkets, thrift stores, gyms, and other businesses across Philly.
» MORE WE THE PEOPLE: In a quest for the peculiar, they created Bella Vista’s Narnia
He believes in this age of social media marketing, his old-school, real-world services are still important.
“How we get information has progressed, but people are still going to walk around so there will always be a need for footwork," he said.