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September 3, 2014

In Lieu of Birthday Gifts, Please Send Hashtags

About the Author
Erica Minutella

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Up until a year ago, the most famous paper clip collection in the world was probably owned by one Bert – of Muppet origin. While the length of Bert’s collection probably still cannot be rivaled, a local Philly start-up has upped the game: by going digital. PaperClips215, a relatively new yet irreplaceably vital resource to enter the local arts scene, brings its followers clips – or short bursts of information – of cultural events, exhibitions, performances, and more. Recently up for a Philly Geek Award nomination in recognition of their tremendous effots, the team will be celebrating its one year anniversary with a fundraiser and birthday party on Saturday, September 6, 6 – 10 pm at Kongo Kanvas. We recently met up with Sonia Petruse, Director of Social Media and Communications, and Director Lukas Weidner, to discuss their anniversary as well as their ongoing social media campaign, #Clips215.
What were the early steps involved in putting PaperClips215 together?
Lukas: A lot of discussions. A lot of coffee.
Sonia: A lot of camping out at coffee houses for internal meetings. And gathering our team, which of course started with Ian Leibovici and I, Lukas, Kelley Stone and Kat Zagaria, and then Adam Mazur. It was this thing that we started talking about. I was instagramming and tweeting from PaperWeight Design Studios at the time, and covering all of these art events.
Lukas: I got to know Sonia personally at that time. And we sort of coalesced. We said there really isn’t a place to know about all these events.

It was based around an events calendar, where we would know where to go to on what day. Because there’s no unified events calendar, we’d have to go to 20 different sources.
Lukas: I really think that we’re moving into an event based time now. It’s very much about getting together. And I think that’s really important as we recover from 15 years of being in front of a computer screen.
Sonia: We need to work together as a creative community, not work against each other. So why not share resources, and simple things like retweeting each other? I’m very thankful that we have social platforms like Instagram and Twitter. It’s free marketing. And there’s a line to be drawn. You’re not just a Twitter handle. If I’m at events, I always introduce myself as Sonia Petruse and say that I’m with PaperClips. The whole thing is drawing that line and knowing there’s someone sincere behind that handle.
Lukas: The individual is paramount. A Twitter handle – a handle is a handle on a door. It’s a tool that you use to open a door. It’s only a tool in so far as it is useful to us, and it happens to be extremely useful in democratizing the way you access information. You can’t substitute a personal interaction.
PaperClips is strictly volunteer based. How do you find the time to cover the events that you do?
Sonia: It’s a passion. It’s a drive. And it’s something that I’m totally obsessed with.
Lukas: Sonia has several clones.
Sonia: If I’m grumpy, it’s my grumpy clone. Don’t trust the grumpy clone. I wish I had a clone. There’s so many events that I don’t get to go to because of time and because I can’t teleport. I am obsessed with creative happenings. If I don’t get to go to an event, I’m usually so sad. I need to be there. I think the experience of being present in that situation is amazing, it’s unique. We have followers who aren’t in Philadelphia and they’re able to learn about these artists who they may not have known about because they happen to stumble on Instagram. Or even if it’s ammunition for them to start doing their own work.
Lukas: We want to drive the understanding that there’s more going on here than you aware of or that any one person can convey. It’s bigger than a single editor in chief, it’s bigger than a single social media representative. It’s something you can only really profile if you have everybody pitching in.
Sonia: And that’s what we’re trying to do with the #Clips215 tag. If you’re in Philadelphia, I want you to use that hashtag when you see art you love. Or if you’re at a creative event or happening. Or even if you stumble upon a street performer. Thinking about the things that I run into, they’re so spur of the moment, and it’s serendipity. We want to be able to see these new artists, to meet these random people who are producing incredible stuff.
Lukas: And not just that but we see different things. We see differently. That’s why you need other people. Because you’re not smart enough on your own. It takes a community of different insights to show you something you couldn’t have seen by yourself.
On those nights when you are faced with five different events on the same night, how do you choose? Do you have a selection process that you go through?
Sonia: Unfortunately in my case sometimes it comes down to transportation. If I had a chopper, a hovercraft, I could get to them all. But sometimes I have to go to the events that are close to one another.
Lukas: To give people the priority over what they want to engage with is what is fundamental here. I can’t tell you what you’re going to respond to. And at the end of the day what does any art buyer tell you – don’t buy to collect and sell, buy if it matters to you. And I think that if we can continue to keep that idea alive, we can really help diversify the creative ecosystem.
And it takes the intimidation out of the arts.
Sonia: There’s more accessibility in the arts than I think we allow. When I go to galleries in New York, there’s that coldness about it. Here in Philly, we’re very lucky. I want to say that 99% of the galleries you walk into you’re going to be greeted by extremely friendly people, who are passionate about the art and want to share their passion with you.
Lukas: You brought to light an interesting point. You said you’d like to be everywhere, but transportation is an issue. And I think that we tend to overlook really obvious, fundamental logistical issues. By simply raising the question, how can I get to as many events as possible, you are forced to navigate every step in the procedure from here to there, and you think about those things you take for granted, and hopefully in my mind we can drive a lot of other discussions that are perhaps not directly involved but related.
Sonia: We can talk about civic issues, technology, social issues.
Lukas: Policy that makes it possible for people to sell their crafts. I think that those are interesting side dialogues to have. Art asks a question. And if it’s a good enough question it will lead to more questions. If we’re asking those questions, it will get people to ask the questions that are relevant to them, in their lives and their fields. As long as you meet people who have that compulsion to ask questions – and that’s contagious – then I think something good is happening. And who knows? It could lead to something that develops over time and makes the city a better place, maybe in an indirect way.
You started only a year ago from a simple Tumblr, and you were nominated for a Philly Geek Award this year. What kind of work went into seeing that growth in such a short period?
Lukas: You have to have an appetite for trial and error. Things take longer than you want them to take, a lot longer. And they’re more expensive than you expect. They’re harder to coordinate. I remember when we started it was just us sitting at a table, and I remember thinking I’m really looking forward to meeting people who know what this is before I have to tell them. The Geek Award nomination is an interesting acknowledgement of the reality of that and of the huge potential and great honor that can come with that, and also the fragility and vulnerability that you feel with that kind of public perception. It instills in me an appreciation to constantly be considerate of how many people we are impacting and even yet could.
Sonia: I’m not able to practice my art as much now, but when I was I wanted a platform, you wanted to be able to send your work in progress to someone and get some critical feedback. You need a connection – that’s what artists want, that’s what humans want. We want to be heard. We want to be seen.
How do you see PaperClips evolving over the next five years?
Lukas: In five years I think I’d like to say that we have by that point developed a really powerful infrastructure for engagement that extends beyond this community, but for people who enter Philadelphia, to have a really seamless way of understanding how to get connected with new people in new ways.
Sonia: Don’t be afraid to get off the beaten path, that’s where you’re going to find the most beautiful and transformative experiences that are going to impact your life.
And for that new person coming into the city, what would you say to them as a starting point for diving into the arts scene?
Sonia: Go to If you’re not already on Twitter, please do so. Reach out to galleries, to venues, reach out to us. I’m more than happy to guide you around. Go out. Don’t be afraid to go across town to a random gallery opening. Even to a tech event that may have some artists there. It’s about the experience, whether it’s bad or good. It’s all how you take it. You approach it with a positive mindset and open heart. You’re in the perfect city to do that. It’s okay to let your guard down once in a while here. That’s the beauty of the creative scene. It’s extremely warm and accepting here.
How can people get involved in contributing to PaperClips?
Sonia: Since we’re on a fundraising kick for our anniversary party at Kongo Kanvas, right now we are looking mainly for people to contribute through social media, so using #Clips215 when you see art you love, or if it’s your own work – if you’re a painter, illustrator, performer, photographer – tag your work. It’s all about reciprocal promotion to me, whether you’re an individual artist or larger entity. Closer to mid-September, late-September is when we’re going to be focusing more on contributing writers and photographers.
Lukas: I would say to be involved the first step is to take your opinions and your work seriously. Because we take your work and your opinions seriously. Email us with an idea that could improve things or challenges you’ve experienced. And if we can’t be responsible for helping, we can maybe get you in touch with somebody who has those resources. I think of the #Clips215 as a campaign to profile the city’s identity.
Tell me more about this party.
Lukas: I’m really excited about our host. He’s quite an individual. The guy’s name is Hayes Mcleod and he calls his practice Kongo Kanvas. I met him years ago. His personality’s larger than life. He’s been all over the world. He was born in Germany. He’s extremely benevolent, talented, hard working. He lives his own life and he’s always going to. He has this huge warehouse. It’s 6000 square feet. In my mind he’s the epitome of the type of individual, under the radar and absolutely worth knowing, who you’ll never forget and will make you feel differently about the way you live.
Sonia: That’s another thing we find with artists, they’re always generous and giving and willing to provide support and wisdom to others. He’s in my eyes one of those people. We’re going to have great performances. We’re amazed and humbled by the outpouring from the community who donated to us. This is what’s going to help us go forward administratively as PaperClips. We want to be able to sustain ourselves as an organization so we can continue to help others.
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