THERE'S NO getting around it: Abstract artist, poet, author, collector, and gallery founder Danny Simmons is inevitably mentioned in the same sentence with younger brothers Russell and Joseph, a.k.a. Rev. Run. And yet, the music moguls' big brother is a big deal in his own right.
The eldest Simmons runs two famous art spaces in Brooklyn and Chelsea - and has exhibited his own work internationally. Last year, right after the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) hosted his solo show, "Badass Art Man," the lifelong New Yorker decided to become a local.
In a Philly real estate deal if ever there were one, Simmons swapped his Brooklyn brownstone for a place in Northern Liberties, with a backyard large enough to store his immense collections, and an old bank building in Logan. Wasn't long before he sort of started dominating our art scene.
This weekend, he has two local openings. "Danny Simmons: Mostly Philly" started Friday at Art Sanctuary. On Saturday, his building at Old York Road and Ruscomb Street debuts as community art center and gallery. The spot's name? Rush Arts Philly - RAP, for short.
He talked with reporter Lauren McCutcheon.
Q How'd you become an artist?
I didn't go to school for art. I went to school for being a social worker. My father was a proponent of: Get a job so you can have a pension and a stable life.
My father was also a writer - not full time. He worked for the board of education. My mother was a painter - not full time.
I started painting and writing more in earnest because social work is a hard job, so I found I needed to express myself. I said, let me start painting to unlock the creativity.
Q It was that easy to switch?
I had a couple of shows and said, maybe I'll try to do this as a living.
I talked to my mom about it. My mom was a big proponent of doing what I wanted. She said, "Go ahead and be a painter. We won't let you starve."
I quit my job, started painting, and it started taking off. But I couldn't find a whole lot of outlets for my work. New York at the time - the art scene was SoHo. There were very few galleries dedicated to emerging black artists. I figured if I was in that position, there had to be other artists in that position.
Q So, you gave it the old Simmons one-two?
I started giving shows in and around the city under the name of Rush Arts. Finally, I said, let me turn this into an organization - not a business, an organization.
I had a master's degree in finance and social development. I turned to my brothers, who at that time were well on their way, for their support.
Russell gave me space at Def Jam, and I started the Def Jam Art Show. I partnered on a gallery in Chelsea. We had huge art shows. Thousands of people would come. Every weekend: film, poetry - it was the beginning of spoken-word as a big art form.
I decided to turn the operation into a real nonprofit, an arts education center. Russell rented a place in SoHo for a fund-raiser. Run DMC played. Eartha Kitt performed. We raised $250,000.
Q You're still raising money for Rush: $1.5 million at a glamorous Hamptons fund-raiser this summer. No offense to my hometown, but why are you here?
I had been doing this for a while. We had the gallery in Chelsea and the gallery in Brooklyn. There were people manning both galleries and teaching the kids. I'd show up and wave and smile. I sat on five boards of directors. My life had become an administrative life. It became routine.
Then, the Tiberino family [a Philadelphia art dynasty] put me in a show called "The Unflinching Eye" about their family at AAMP. AAMP asked me if I wanted to have a solo show there. The germ of the idea started: Maybe I'll move to Philly.
Q Now you're here. What do you think?
Philadelphia sort of feels like New York in the '90s or the late '80s. It's full of possibility. Everybody's enthusiastic about doing something, whereas in New York, people are little jaded. The people I'm meeting are pushing, trying to get things done.
Q What's daily life like?
I'm never bored here. My gym is five blocks away. My comic books store, Amalgam, is right down the street. My son came with me, and his wife.
I've been painting so much more than I was in New York. I'm a poet also, so I've been having poetry readings. And I'm writing another book, an extension of The Brown Beatnik Tomes. I love my neighborhood.
"Guerrillas in the Midst: The Art of the Revolution" opens 5-8 p.m. Saturday at Rush Arts Philly, 4954 Old York Rd.
"Danny Simmons: Mostly Philly," Art Sanctuary, 628 S. 16th St., through Nov. 15, 215-232-4485, artsanctuary.org.
i found god in myself, African American Museum in Philadelphia, 7th and Arch streets, Oct. 1-Jan. 2, (215) 574-0380, aamp.org