We are thrilled to be celebrating the 20-year-anniversary of our nonprofit organization this year!
History of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
In 1986 artist Isaiah Zagar purchased a building at 1003 Kater (now PMG’s Back Gallery and office) as his studio space. In 1995 he expanded his property to include 1020-22 South Street (now the front building of Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens and the courtyard outside). The two lots next to his property where the sculpture garden is now located was an abandoned space owned by a group of businessmen in Boston. They had purchased it in the ‘80s for $130,000 as an investment but did not have any intention of developing the property, and there were weeds, trash, and rodents occupying the space. Isaiah got permission from the owners’ agent in Philadelphia to beautify the space and started doing his own project.
In the early 2000s the South Street neighborhood had become a much more desirable location. The Boston-based owners had the two lots appraised because they were ready to sell them. They found out they were now valued at $300,000, and they also discovered Isaiah’s “little project,” which at that point consisted of several sculptural elements and mosaicked walls. The owners wanted the work removed and threatened to have the entire space bulldozed at Isaiah’s expense. They gave Isaiah the option to buy the property, but he did not have the money. Media coverage drew more public attention to the case, the community came together to raise money, and lawyers and others volunteered their time to help save the space from destruction.
The nonprofit organization Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) was formed in October 2004 by these volunteers and Isaiah when they were finally able to purchase the property. Once Isaiah had possession of the property he did the majority of the work on the space, including everything that is below ground in the sculpture garden and most of the work that is on street level. The museum was manned by volunteers and had irregular hours until about 2008 when PMG hired its first paid staff member.
How Far We’ve Come
Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens now employs over 20 part-time and full-time staff members under the leadership of an Executive Director and Board of Directors, and has become a popular destination for both tourists and Philly-locals alike, seeing upwards of 150,000 visitors a year. The nonprofit offers tours, hands-on workshops, rotating exhibitions in two indoor galleries, outreach programs, after-hours events, and more. PMG proudly welcomes everyone to explore the space and embrace the possibility of self-expression. It has remained strong to its mission of inspiring creativity and community engagement by educating the public about folk, mosaic, and visionary art, and it continues to preserve, interpret, and provide access to Isaiah Zagar’s unique mosaic art environment and his public murals. We’re looking forward to many decades more! Check back on our website and keep an eye on our social media for special 20th Anniversary events throughout 2024!
Support Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens
You can show your support for Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens in many ways, and any help is much appreciated. Click below for more information!