Ars Nova Workshop was founded in 2000 by Mark Christman, whose original purpose was to simply create a Philadelphia organization that would be able to present many of the artists that he found himself traveling to New York City to see: some of the greatest and most innovative jazz and new music artists alive. For many years, ANW was an all-volunteer operation, headquartered in Christman’s spare bedroom. Still, ANW was able to present an average of 40 to 50 concerts per year, in a variety of spaces throughout the city: galleries, clubs, theaters, but also social clubs, architectural landmarks, and other alternative spaces.
Through the first decade of the organization’s history, several of the organization’s qualities rose to the top. First, ANW was winning accolades and awards from local and regional organizations and publications. Aside from local recognition such as Philadelphia magazine’s “Best of Philly” award and four times being named “Best Local Jazz Series” in the City Paper, ANW garnered an ASCAP Award for Adventurous Programming. ANW was covered by The Wire magazine,The Philadelphia Inquirer, The Wall Street Journal, and The New York Times. Spin magazine proclaimed that ANW “has made Philadelphia a welcome stop for premier avant-garde jazz.” The organization gained a reputation among musicians as not only a widely respected curator and presenter but as an outfit that treated musicians with respect and gratitude, making Philadelphia a welcome stop on world-class tours. ANW cultivated long-term relationships among the artistic community that have enabled it to bring these artists to the city, despite a limited staff and shoestring budgets.
Second, without a venue of its own, ANW cultivated partnerships with many other spaces in the city, presenting cutting-edge artists in unusual spaces and creating unique cultural experiences for audiences. The New York Times praised ANW’s “textbook embodiment” of a “more site-specific and curatorial approach” to music presentation. ANW cultivated a talent for finding under-used spaces in a variety of locations that allowed it to reach new audiences.
After many years of this, the philanthropic community in Philadelphia, recognizing the value ANW brought to the cultural landscape, looked for a way to ensure the organization’s long-term success. In 2015, ANW was able to partner with the Nonprofit Finance Fund to secure a major transitional grant from the William Penn Foundation. The grant provided access to consultants, training, and capitalization that made it possible to bring Christman on as a full-time Executive Artistic Director and to create a professional infrastructure to support long-term financial and programmatic planning.
Since then, ANW has grown to support a staff and has moved to a professional office, created administrative and managerial systems, and in general solidified its resources to begin to realize curatorial and programmatic ambitions. The organization has diversified its funding base, winning several prestigious major grants. It has established a major new festival, accomplished a major recording project, and commissioned a major national artist to create new Philadelphia-based work.
Now having achieved more than 800 events in Philadelphia, ANW intends to continue to make Philadelphia an important center for jazz, in the region, the nation, and the world.