PAFA MFA Student Learns Business Skills While Pursuing Art

While putting together their thesis shows in 2015, Morgan Hobbs (MFA '15) and several of her MFA classmates at PAFA were simultaneously opening AUTOMAT Collective, an artist gallery.

“It was extremely time consuming and many days I was like, ‘Why are we doing this again? I’m excited about it but this really hard’,” Hobbs said. “I was feeling pressure to not only have a good thesis show but we were opening our space a month before my thesis show opened.”


The idea for AUTOMAT started out in the fall of Hobbs’ second year in the MFA program. Originally her colleagues threw around the idea of starting of a ‘zine, running an artist space, or even mounting a cross-country exhibition.

“Originally we thought we were going to rent a U-Haul or box truck and put an exhibition inside of it and drive it across the United States,” she said.

A road trip sounded fun but Hobbs and her partners eventually decided to invest in something long-term, and build out an idea that would last longer than a few tanks of gas. After touring several locations in Philadelphia, the soon-to-be collective founders settled on the Rollins Building in the city’s Callowhill section.

“It’s an amazing location, everyone likes to be in the Vox building because we have a really great First Friday so we really felt like we wanted to be here because we’d seen the crowds in here before,” she said. Once everyone saw this space they thought we have to have that. It’s on the second floor which is important because we knew with the traffic of First Friday we’d get a lot of visitors.”

They spent winter break figuring out funding for the project and wrote an application for PAFA’s Fine Arts Venture Fund.

Each year PAFA’s Fine Arts Venture Fund awards more than $20,000 to student projects. The funding is used for various student-led projects from purchasing supplies to mounting an installation.

The AUTOMAT group asked for $13,000 from the venture fund committee. The money would be used for fixing up the space in the Rollins building. The walls needed to be painted, floors cleaned, lighting added, and supplies like pedestals and false walls were needed for exhibitions.

Hobbs also set up an Indiegogo campaign, and looked to family and friends for support.

“We called all of our friends and family and everyone who owed us a favor and asked anyone who might want to show her at some point and ask if they could chip in $20 or $100,” she said.

Through Indiegogo, the AUTOMAT founders raised $7,000 and the Fine Arts Venture Fund board awarded the group an additional $3,000.

“They had a lot of hesitation and kind of put us on trial during our presentation about how are we structured and our business status,” Hobbs said. “At the time we didn’t have a business status so I think that was beneficial to wrap our heads around that now we have to be a business, this is an official organization.”

AUTOMAT formed as an official LLC with Hobbs serving as the main treasurer. Getting through all of the business logistics was difficult but the collective founders leaned on Philadelphia Volunteer Lawyers for the Arts and mentors for help.

Then they were able to focus on why they started AUTOMAT in the first place: to showcase art.

“In the beginning we showed a lot of fibers which people were really excited to see and we definitely have painting heavy shows which is somewhat different from the rest of the building,” she said. “People were really excited to see that kind of being added to the conversation already happening here.”

In addition to balancing their own work as artists and outside jobs, the collective members work in curatorial teams to plan upcoming exhibitions. Hobbs works as PAFA’s Resident Director and Student Life Coordinator. She often jokes with PAFA students that she is an artist and Student Services is her hobby.

Hobbs also works with a gallery in New York to show her own work. She says life is very full but she’s happy to be busy doing things she loves.

“It’s super busy but I think it helps that I enjoy what I do. It’s not so bad to lose sleep about putting an awesome show up like we did this for this last installation. We painted a wall and we got a bunch of beer and hung out here for three days cleaning up the space, painting the wall, and hanging work,” Hobbs said. “It was really fun. It doesn’t feel like work.”

In the coming years, Hobbs wants to see AUTOMAT grow.

“I’d love to potentially connect with collectors in the area. The shows we put on are awesome and our artists are great and who wouldn’t want to have one of these pieces in their house,” she said. “I’d love to be able to offer that to our artists.”

Currently eight devoted artists run the collective but Hobbs said there’s room to double membership. More members means more stability and opportunities for the collective and the artists they exhibit.

“I’m always thinking about places across the country and across the world we could form relationships with to do exchange shows,” she said. “That’s the beautiful thing about artist-run spaces. It’s not just this tight knit community in Philadelphia, it’s a community that stretches across the world.”