Office of Arts, Culture and Creative Economy subject of in-depth WHYY report

Posted August 8, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: Philadelphia Office of Arts Culture and Creative Econom

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WHYY’s Alex Schmidt talked to a number of different people from throughout the region’s arts and culture community to get their reactions to the impending reopening of the Philadelphia Office of Arts and Culture. The office has added “and Creative Economy” to its title to acknowledge the role that arts institutions play in creating wealth for the region.

Expectations high for city’s reopened Office of Arts and Culture

by Alex Schmidt, WHYY Arts and Culture Reporter

It’s not always clear what city government can do to help organize arts and cultural institutions.
Many members of the arts community say in its former incarnation, the Office of Arts and Culture didn’t meet the needs of both established and growing institutions. Peggy Amsterdam is president of the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, a group that has been advocating for more city involvement in the arts sector.

“I think years ago, arts and culture were seen as a diplomatic thing, a good thing for mayors to do. There were proclamations to be signed, parades were run. But as a city grows up and recognizes these cultural amenities, there just much, much more to be done,” said Amsterdam.

So when Mayor Street closed the office in 2004, Philadelphia’s arts community experienced an existential crisis.

They held rallies and asked why the city didn’t care about their work. But Amsterdam believes that the closure actually turned out to be a good thing.

“We took the time, we did the research and we looked at what other cities were doing. And we sort of stopped and said, ‘hey, maybe the old office wasn’t doing exactly what it needs to be doing now,” explained Amsterdam.

Over the past 4 years, different local groups have held grassroots meetings, and conducted the research that helped to make art a major platform during the 2007 mayoral race.

Chief among the efforts was the commissioning of a report by the Rand Corporation called Arts and Culture in the Metropolis, which compared the cultural offices of 11 American cities. According to Liz Ondaatje, one of the study’s authors, the report proved the important role that an Office of Arts and Culture can play in a city.

“Having an office and a leader within city government does help focus policy attention on key issues,” said Ondaatje, “not just for the arts sector but for the city as a whole, such as arts education in the public schools, or access to the arts for under served communities, or ensuring that there’s attention to the arts paid in the neighborhoods.”

The Asian Arts Initiative is a community based arts center in Chinatown.  Gayle Isa is the Executive Director.

In January of 2006, Isa received a notification that the Asian Arts Initiative was in the path of the Convention Center expansion.

Just last week, they moved into their permanent home, on Vine Street near 12th.

“Our former home in the Gilbert Building was demolished and over the past year we were moved to two interim spaces,” said Isa, “one that had no heat over the wintertime, and one next to this which is now our permanent home.”

Isa says that a city Office of Arts and Culture could have helped her through the process.

The stretch of Vine Street that The Asian Arts Initiative has moved to isn’t business friendly – trash lines the street, cars speed by, and there’s almost no pedestrian traffic.

The Asian Arts Initiative has cleaned up the area around its new building. It provides free after-school services to hundreds of children, and free events to the community.

In other words, Isa says, institutions like hers do the gritty work of city improvement and they should get help.

“It’s definitely taken a toll to have to learn everything about real estate development, and then at the same time to be able to continue to serve the artists and youth in our communities,” said Isa.

“I definitely think that one of the hopes is that a new office of arts and culture will allow there to be a sort of liaison function in the city to help organizations facing crises or situations like ours.”

The new art czar will answer directly to the mayor — unlike the former art and culture office, which operated out of the Commerce Department. Most artists and arts advocates agree – that’s a step in the right direction.

So, the art czar will have the ear of the mayor but who will have the ear of the art czar?

That’s still up for discussion. With the profusion of arts in Philadelphia, has come a profusion of opinions.

Matty Hart is an arts advocate in Philadelphia. During the mayoral campaign, he was a leader in making the arts a platform issue. He explains that despite the excitement, not all of the cultural players in the city feel included in the process.

“As much as there is this complex, turbulent enthusiasm in the field for what comes next,” said Hart, “the authority of this new office will be the true, big tent incorporation of all of that. As soon as there are real walls built, the tenor of the voice will change.”

For his part, Philadelphia art czar Gary Steuer says it’s too early to share his thoughts on the actual structure of the office. He is new to the city, and he’ll be getting his bearings during the first weeks. He says he has a lot to learn – and many people to listen to.


A Complete List of 2008 Barrymore Award Nominees

Posted August 7, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: Music and Musicals, Performing Arts

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WHYY’s Alex Schmidt filed a story about last night’s announcement of the 2008 Barrymore Awards.  In the piece she references several of the theater companies which are in line for the most awards.  After the jump, you can see the complete list of nominees.

[Source: The Theatre Alliance of Greater Philadelphia]

Read the rest of this post »


Posted August 7, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: This Philadelphia Culture, Visual Art

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In this week’s City Paper, Natalie Hope McDonald tells the story of a small but growing cadre of Philadelphia-based photographers who are using the photo-sharing site Flickr for all of its community-building glory.  Many of these folks go by pseudonyms that reflect their attachment to the City of Brotherly Love but they’ve taken to stepping out from behind their on-line personas and gathering in person to talk about their shared hobby and photo subject – Philadelphia.

McDonald writes about Addie Fuller, a 32-year-old Penn employee who also lives in West Philadelphia.  Fuller and her fiance “traipse around the city documenting its often ignored urban landscape, focusing on Philly’s homegrown grit and decay (a common theme among locals).”

“I hope I give the impression that I see beauty in the city around me,” says Fuller, “even when things aren’t necessarily pretty. I think I could spend a lifetime shooting the city and not run out of fodder.”

Many of our Philadelphia readers have probably experienced that feeling when they see something – a new angle on the skyline, a makeshift memorial, an oasis of nature in the middle of an urban wasteland – and wish they had their camera with them.

As part of training for a 60-mile benefit walk, my wife and I have been trekking around town more than ever, starting from our South Philly home and picking a direction at random.  Just last weekend, I went west while she went south.  My walk took me through some of the more distressed, “gritty” (an oft-used adjective for many of Philly’s neighborhoods) parts of Point Breeze and Gray’s Ferry.  Her stroll led down Broad Street past parts which she described as looking like “what she remembers the bad parts of European cities looked like.”  We repeated that five-mile loop last night which also includes a trek around the FDR Park loop.  The park is a study in contrasts between the passive use groves and lakes, the activity of well-kept tennis courts and baseball fields, and the buzz of Interstate 95 and Pattison Avenue.  One is never far enough away to forget that they’re in a city.  If I had my camera, I could have snapped pictures of the algae bloom on the park’s various lakes, the silohuette of the skaters on the half pipe and the two cop cars, lights on, tearing under I-95 in pursuit of who-knows-what.

Until I start remembering to bring my little digital camera along, I’ll have to depend on this intrepid band of Flickr users to provide me with more unique views of this very visually stimulating city.  Check out flickr.coma and just type “Philadelphia” in the search.  You’ll be amazed at what you find.

American Revolution Center opens up on a new front

Posted August 6, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: Historical Preservation Policy

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This morning on 91FM, WHYY’s Alex Schmidt continued her reporting on the embattled American Revolution Center with a story about the Center’s plans to share a “sample” of their historical holdings.  As Alex reports, the Center is partnering up with the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts to put several paintings and other artifacts on display in September.

According to ZeeAnn Mason, Senior VP of the Center, the exhibition, though independent of the legal challenge, could help turn public opinion in favor of the project.

“We’re pleased that this exhibition will allow people to take a look at a sample of the real purpose and mission of the American Revolution Center,” said Mason, “which is to portray history in a dynamic and unusual manner.”

You may remember Alex’s past reporting about the controversial museum and hotel complex here, here and here.  In addition, the Philadelphia Inquirer just ran an interview of one of the ARC’s most prominent financial backers, former cable tycoon Gerry Lenfest.  Lenfest acknowledges that the fight over the Center may eventually lead to the end of the project:

During an interview last week at his foundation offices in West Conshohocken, Lenfest emphasized that constructing the museum on the north side of the Schuylkill remains his first, best choice – but that he recognized the development could not continue to endure endless delays.

“How long we’re going to stick around remains to be seen,” he said. If the project drags on indefinitely, “we may well lose the support of the board and abandon it.”

The Center is still embroiled in a battle with historical preservation advocates who claim that its plans for building on a slice of Valley Forge National Historical Park would irreversibly degrade the historical sanctity of the park.

Clearly the future of the Center is still in the air.  If anyone close to the issue or a neighbor of the area in question is reading, feel free to contribute some insight in the comments into the concerns of the Center opponents.  If you have any pictures or video of this part of the park, please contribute links so I can share them in a separate blog post.  You can use the comments for that as well.

Looking to DC for a model of bike sharing

Posted August 5, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: This Philadelphia Culture

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The Sixth Square is WHYY’s arts and culture blog.  Culture can include a lot of things.

For example, Philadelphia has a thriving “bike culture.”  To some cycling approached a belief system while others pick up a bike every so often for a nice ride or to get some exercise and of course, many people fall somewhere between.

Those who count themselves among this “bike culture” may be getting some new neighbors soon if attempts to start a bike sharing program are successful here in Philadelphia.  Bike sharing, popular for several years in Europe, is coming to America.  WHYY’s Bill Hangley recently did a story about how Philadelphia is looking to Washington DC’s new program to see whether bike sharing can work here.

Bill talked to some advocates of the program who are skeptical that DC’s program can work since it’s on such a small scale.’s blog, The 13th Floor, agrees that DC’s program has some flaws:

But there’s one aspect of the program that just might doom it altogether. From DCist:

It takes at least a couple of weeks to process memberships, so if you sign up today, you can be one of the first people to try out the new program.

“At least a couple of weeks”?? I’m sure people are excited about the notion of being about to grab a bike and go, but won’t a two- or three-week wait be a huge discouraging factor?

For this to work in Philadelphia, it has to be easy to use, convenient, inexpensive and reliable.  The stations need to be everywhere and there has to be bikes available at all of them.  In other words, when it comes to bike sharing, go big or go home.

Encouraging an expansion of Philly’s “bike culture” can only help in the long run.

What do “All in the Family” and “On the Pulse of Morning” have in common?

Posted August 5, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: This Philadelphia Culture

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Their creators will both be receiving Philadelphia’s Marian Anderson Award this year.

WHYY’s Alex Schmidt reports that the award, given out once a year to honor artists whose work improves society, will be going to television producer Norman Lear and author Maya Angelou.

Angelou and Lear are both being recognized for their artistic contributions and their work as defenders of civil rights.  According to the Inquirer coverage of the event, Lear and Angelou also share a unique connection:

“I’ll be receiving two awards that night,” Lear said yesterday in a phone interview. “First is the Marian Anderson prize honoring a great American activist. Second is sharing the stage with the wonderful Maya Angelou, godmother of my twin daughters.”

That last fact had come as a surprise to Pamela A. Crawley, chair of the award. “We had no knowledge of that before we made the decision,” Crawley said yesterday.

The award ceremony will be held on November 17, at the Kimmel Center.  Past honorees include Sidney Poitier, Danny Glover, Quincy Jones and Oprah Winfrey.

But who was Marian Anderson?  According to her bio on the award’s website, Anderson was born in Philadelphia in 1897, lived at Fitzwater and Martin Streets (in the neighborhood that now bears her name), and began her singing career as a child at her church.

Marian continued to sing through high school at South Philly High, where “she gained recognition and assistance from prominent audience members.”

After being rejected from music school because of her race, Marian received lessons from a couple private and well known teachers.

Anderson would go on to battle racism in the arts throughout her career before finally being hired by the Metropolitan Opera Company in New York.  She was the first black singer to perform for the Met.

Art on wheels

Posted August 1, 2008 by Dan Pohlig
Categories: Visual Art

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I’ll save my thoughts about bikes and biking for another blog.  Suffice it to say, I’m all for it.  I’m pro-bike all the way.  I ride to work.  I ride for fun.  I ride for exercise.  When it comes to the hierarchy of transportation, I put pedestrians on top, followed closely by bicyclists, then mass transit and finally cars.  This means if I come to an intersection at the same time as a car, I’m not stopping and he’s yielding to me.

Yep.  I realize that if the car feels differently, I’m going to get the worst of the confrontation but I’m willing to bleed for my principles.

Anyway, this is all a way of introducing Alex Schmidt’s latest story about and exhibition at the Media Bureau in Northern Liberties featuring art made out of bicycles.  According to the site for the exhibition:

A public gallery opening and auction will be held on Friday night, August 1st, 7:00 PM at Media Bureau Gallery in the Northern Liberties section of Philadelphia. The exhibit is open to the public through the end of August.

So if you’re looking for something to do this First Friday and you’re as fired up about your own two-wheeled work of art as I am about my 25-year-old, cherry red Schwinn, this may be the place for you.