Ariell R. Johnson, founder and head nerd in charge of Amalgam Comics & Coffeehouse in Kensington, has been awarded the Knight Foundation Grant. This competitive award invests $50,000 into strengthening Johnson’s artistic vision of building community through comics, games and more at her shop. Amalgam is only in its eighteenth month, and Johnson has been trying to catch up with her own success.
The shop has exceeded her expectations, a vision she says she’s been ruminating since 2003.
“I’m in a constant state of disbelief,” she reveals. “So when other things happen—with every new accomplishment, there’s new work on the table.”
Clearly dedicated, Johnson’s hard work is illuminated by her humility and compassion. Amalgam has quickly become a safe haven for the entire community.
“We’re in Kensington, which means the community here isn’t affluent,” Johnson says.
Kensington’s rapid gentrification has been ripe with disquieting controversy. For example, this past spring saw vandalizing by an anarchist group that caused over $100,000 in damages, backed with the message that “gentrification is death.”
Part of Amalgam’s vision is to mitigate that sentiment: “I feel like there’s this unspoken but understood thing that these new businesses are not for the people who are native to the neighborhood, but Amalgam bridges that gap and includes everybody. Different backgrounds and socio-economic upbringings is always something that I wanted.”
It’s a refreshing rhetoric to hear, and with the grant, Amalgam’s expansion will have more room and more opportunities to be inclusive.
Rumors of another store opening started to spread quickly once it was announced that she’d won the grant, but Johnson quickly assured that there’s much to do before something like that can happen. She promised new curriculums for workshops and a renovation in the backspace to expand the store. However, Johnson didn’t deny the possibility of opening a new location but made it clear that she wants to focus on building her team and continue to grow as a businessperson. “We’re still learning, and we had an untraditional beginning. Everything’s been happening so fast and it keeps happening and now we want to catch up and get ahead.”
The shop hosts anime film viewings every Wednesday, a monthly book club, movie screenings, book signings, and a variety of other events.
Find Amalgam on Facebook and Instagram @amalgamphilly to stay up to date with what Johnson has in store.