The city of Philadelphia, in particular the rapidly changing River Wards, houses a unique community of artists and creatives, and Portside has become a hub for these individuals - whether they are taking an art class at the center, their kids are students, or they are simply members of the community whom we have developed friendships with. Among Portside’s own community of creatives are Chris Forsyth, a critically acclaimed guitarist and bandleader, and Maria Dumlao, a visual artist working in various combined media including film, video, sound, photography, and installation. These two individuals are the parents of the talented artist Lee, who attends Portside’s After School Arts Program.
Chris grew up in the suburbs of New Jersey, and Maria was born in the Phillipines and later immigrated with her family to the USA. The two met as students at Rutgers University in New Brunswick where Maria earned a BA in Studio Art & Art History, and Chris a BA in Art History. However, they did not become a couple until years later after they’d both independently moved to Brooklyn in the mid 90’s, and the two wed in 2000. During their time living in Brooklyn, their individual art practices began to take form. Chris studied music and guitar with Richard Lloyd of Television and frequented the club Tonic, a music venue that supported avant garde, creative and experimental music located in Manhattan’s Lower East Side. From 2003-2009, Chris cofounded and played with the self described "gothic-junk-folk-expressionist" trio Peeesseye. During this time, Maria received her MFA in Studio Art from Hunter College and began showing her work in exhibitions throughout the world.
In 2009, Chris and Maria moved to Kensington, Philadelphia, which was reminiscent of what attracted them to Brooklyn; cheap, funky, and rough around the edges. The beginning of the following decade brought about a series of exciting changes for Chris and Maria in both their professional and personal lives, including the birth of their son Lee in 2010.
“Putting art and music at the center of your life and balancing it with marriage and family brings certain challenges in terms of time and economics, but I think parenting also can bring out another level of energy and hard work in people,” Chris says.
Chris was awarded a Pew Fellowship in the Arts in 2011, and recorded and released his LP “Solar Motel” in 2012, which resulted in high praise and various gig offers. He then assembled The Solar Motel Band which evolved throughout the next several years, touring throughout Europe and North America and releasing multiple records. On April 19th, 2019, No Quarter Records released “All Time Present,” a double record credited solely to Chris. Pitchfork described his music as “a near-perfect balance between 70s rock tradition and present day experimentation,” and he was named “one of rock’s most lyrical guitar improvisors” by NPR Music. In addition to working on his own music, Chris co-owns and operates Jerry’s On Front with Maria, a rehearsal studio and music venue under the York Dauphin el stop on Front Street. Purchased in 2016, the couple bought, gutted and renovated the space that now houses six soundproofed rehearsal rooms with 24/7 access to rehearse, record, teach, and more.
Maria became a professor at Bucks County Community College in Newtown following her move to Philadelphia and continues to teach there today. She became a member of the artist collective Vox Populi where she exhibited her work from 2012-2018.
“As technology and the digital media continue to encroach upon and influence our understanding of meaning and reality, the images with which we are constantly confronted are redefining forces on human consciousness. Harvesting images and materials online and in nature, I manipulate, reframe and construct new narratives,” Maria describes in her artist statement.
Maria’s work has been exhibited and screened at Asian Arts Initiative, The Galleries at Moore College of Art and Design, The Contemporary Museum in Hawaii and internationally in Utrecht, Barcelona, Vancouver, London, Madrid, Berlin, and Tokyo. She has also attended numerous residencies including the Vermont Studio Center, Wassaic Projects in the Hudson Valley, and the Atlantic Center for the Arts in Florida. She received a Leeway Foundation Art and Change Grant as well as an Independence Foundation Visual Arts Fellowship.
The couple continues to take on new and ambitious projects. They are currently working on a new space on Germantown Avenue, about a mile west of Jerry’s On Front. The building will house eight new rehearsal rooms, Hiding Place Books and Records in the storefront, and a recording studio upstairs. Maria is getting ready to travel to New Zealand to show work and to participate in Te Whāinga: a culturelab on civility, presented by Auckland Museum and Smithsonian Asian Pacific American Center in Auckland.
“I think it’s fair to say that these have been the best 10 years of our lives," Chris says. "Before Lee, we could coast in certain ways, and now there’s not really any time to do that! So, I think creatively, we’re doing the best work we’ve ever done and I think living in Philly and having Lee are inseparable from that fact."