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Galactic Panther Gallery: A Hub of Creativity and Culture in Old Town Alexandria Brewing a New Culture of Tea, Art and Music

ALEXANDRIA, VA-Nestled within the vibrant streets of Old Town Alexandria lies a hidden gem that embodies the essence of creativity, community, and culture – the Galactic Panther Gallery on 1303 King St welcomes in artists, comedians musicians and more from all over the country, but it’s so much more than just a venue.

Erik Muendel at the Galactic Panther Gallery during closing hours. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

Founded by Erik Muendel and Eli Pollard, this gallery is not just a space to display art; it’s a sanctuary where individuals come together to explore their innermost passions and connect with like-minded souls.

Alex Haskel on open mic night at Galactic Panther. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

“I originally found out about Galactic Panther, I think about a year and a half ago. And at the time there was an open mic at ESP, the coffee shop. So, I went and it was really great. And two or three weeks later, they had shifted to Galactic Panther. So, I performed there too, said Alex Haskel, a 25 year old Jewish poet. “And I’ve been going pretty much every Sunday since then. It’s really a special experience to be able to find a community of supportive artists who are either finding their own voice or they’re just practicing. It’s really important for me to be able to have this outlet where I can be my alter ego and share my thoughts with people. I’ve had people come up to me after and said they’re really connected with what I say and that’s really meaningful,”

Now more than ever with the tumultuous affairs across the world, the space Erik and Eli have brought to the community is crucial.

“My Jewish identity is central to my art, and I feel safe and embraced at the Galactic, which celebrates identities of all flavors.” Haskel told Zebra Press. “There’s been a lot to process since October 7th. “I’m beyond grateful for Galactic to open that space for me and for everyone.”

The performers and members of staff at the gallery pray together before the show starts. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

The journey of Galactic Panther Gallery traces back to the humble beginnings of ESP, when he purchased it from the previous owner.

“When asked why he bought the café, Muendel said Even though my wife and I have lived here for a while, we didn’t know Old Town that well which is often the case for many. We have our favorite spots and we stick to them. ESP was one of those places we liked, so we wanted to keep it going when the owner was selling it.”

ESP Cafe. From left to right: Erik Muendel, Natasha Wanzer and Casey Brewer. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

“I just knew grocery store tea before ESP. And now I’ve totally immersed myself in it. I’m trying to create a tea culture here in Alexandria, there’s something special about it. We have an amazing selection at ESP, we even serve some of the teas here at the Gallery.”

Tea selection at ESP is unlike any other in the area. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

After speaking to Muendel and attending some of the gallery events, what became clear was the thread through it all is Erik’s love of tea.

Shamanic ritual by Shaman Norma Burton who Erik learned about during one of his tea ceremonies. This is just one of the many fascinating workshops taking place at the gallery. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

However, Erik’s vision extended beyond tea culture. Drawn to the eclectic charm of Old Town, he felt a magnetic pull towards preserving and enhancing the unique essence of ESP. Its hip ambiance reminiscent of cultural hotspots in Atlanta and San Francisco, captured Erik’s imagination.

The transformation of the venue and subsequently the opening of Galactic Panther began with the infusion of art into ESP’s space, featuring the captivating works of artists like Eli Pollard who is now a co-owner of Galactic. The synergy between Erik’s affinity for West Virginia’s art scene and his passion for Old Town Alexandria laid the groundwork for Galactic Panther Gallery’s inception.

“It became clear to me that we needed more space because the open mic nights were becoming so popular at ESP. I thought there was something really special about the community that was growing there, and I knew I had to get more space. And the Art I had decorating the walls, people kept asking if it was for sale, which gave me the idea to open a gallery. There was such demand for it and it was allowing up-and-coming artists to break through.”

Eli’s Murals. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

Galactic Panther Gallery officially opened its doors in August of 2021, unveiling a haven where art aficionados, performers, and seekers of creative expression converge. From open mic nights to photography exhibitions curated by Erik himself, the gallery quickly became a melting pot of artistic talent and cultural exchange.

The eclectic art covers the walls of the gallery with a mix of modern to ancient art depicting tradition as well as modernity. (war stuff).. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

Erik’s philosophy revolves around nurturing a sense of community and providing a platform for emerging artists to flourish.

Central to Erik’s vision is the freedom of expression and inclusivity. While the gallery refrains from engaging in overt activism, it embraces the diversity of voices and perspectives, encouraging dialogue and mutual respect. In Erik’s words, it’s about allowing art to speak for itself and providing a space where authenticity is at the forefront.

Felipe Pino, the Strategic Engagement Advisor for the Gallery for whom art is in the family. Originally a lawyer from Chile, came to the U.S. to support his wife pursue her PHD in Architecture. (Photo: Eliza Nela)
Camilla Mancilla, the wife of Felipe, has a permanent display of her Art at the Gallery. Deeply complex structures inspired by her architectural background. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

The selection process for artists and workshop leaders at Galactic Panther Gallery is guided by a commitment to community relevance and creativity. From sound baths to jewelry-making workshops, each event is curated to resonate with the eclectic tastes of the community and support budding talents.

Galactic Panther Staff and Alexandria community members take part in a gong fu cha tea workshop lead by owner Erik Muendel. (Photo: Eliza Nela)

As Galactic Panther Gallery continues to evolve, Erik remains steadfast in his dedication to the growing vibrant artistic community. With each exhibition, workshop, and performance, the gallery cements its position as a cultural cornerstone in Old Town Alexandria, a testament to Erik and Eli’s unwavering passion for art, culture, and community.

CORRECTION: An earlier version of this report misspelled Erik Muendel’s last name. The error has been fixed.

[SEE ALSO: Friends of Guest House in Alexandria Receives $2M Grant]

Eliza North

Eliza North is a British/American writer. She is currently a freelance reporter at Zebra Press. Eliza studied Social Sciences at Kensington and Chelsea College, and went on to earn her Bachelors in Psychology at the University of Kent in Canterbury England. She recently graduated from The University of Cambridge, earning her Masters degree in Creative Writing.

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