Mt. Airy native aims to launch three-story community space for artists

Mt. Airy native Keisha Whatley has a deep connection for art rooted in her DNA going back two generations. She plans to transform a three-story building into a studio space for artists, lunch café, and community space for events to help entrepreneurs grow called the 'Germantown ARTHAUS.'

Video Transcript

ERIC MOODY: Mount Airy native, Keisha Denay Whatley, has a deep connection for art that is rooted in her DNA going back two generations.

KEISHA WHATLEY: I've always been a creative. I went to Creative and Performing Arts High School as a visual arts major, attended Parsons School of Design in New York City, and School of Visual Arts in New York City.

ERIC MOODY: Keisha, who was the founder of Custom Art Studio, which is a full service art design company, plans to transform this old building along Germantown Avenue, into an artistic space to benefit the community.

KEISHA WHATLEY: I've had this idea for at least two to three years, maybe even five years. I've been building out this plan to have a creative hub, a building with three floors. I was actually away for the holidays in December, and a good friend of mine, who's a realtor, went ahead and called me up and told me about this amazing building on Germantown Avenue.

ERIC MOODY: This 120-year-old building shows the historic past, Keisha says, that helped fuel her vision for this community hub.

KEISHA WHATLEY: What really struck me about the space, was that the former owners, right before I purchased the property, were an African-American couple. And they weren't just a run of the mill African-American couple that decided to buy a Victorian three-story building in 1979. They were very historical people in the Philadelphia community. And I just really fell in love with the story of the former owners of this space.

ERIC MOODY: With all of the unique items left behind, Keisha says it fits right into her vision to preserve this cultural community landscape.

KEISHA WHATLEY: Custom Art Studio was born out of an idea to create art, not just for my sake, but customized for other people. And again, just always being a community-minded person, it only makes sense for me to extend what I know to other people and really create something that other people can find joy in and prosper from.

ERIC MOODY: Keisha adds, before 1979 the building used to be a pharmacy where a lot of the old items, dating back to the 19th century, were able to be restored with plans to display in the new space. A three-story artist studio, lunch cafe, and community space for events to help entrepreneurs grow coming off of a difficult year amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

KEISHA WHATLEY: When we were in the process of purchasing the building, we knew that there was going to be a shortfall between the funding that we were able to secure, purchasing the building and the renovations that are needed. There's a lot of work to do.

ERIC MOODY: Keisha says she would love to open the Germantown Art Haus as early as November of 2021, but that all depends on capital raised and final licensing approvals.

KEISHA WHATLEY: My goal is that when people walk in the door, they feel like they own a piece of this. That this is for them, in service of them. Just to be a space that people can come and breathe, you know, come and commune and connect with each other, especially after the pandemic.

ERIC MOODY: Reporting from Philadelphia, Eric Moody, Channel6, Action News.