Posted tagged ‘philadelphia’

These aren’t your typical Sesame Street puppets

August 26, 2008

Usually when folks think of WHYY and puppets, they think of some talkative little creatures with an inclination towards letters, numbers, near and far.

In a feature for WHYY’s Arts and Culture Desk, Alex Schmidt visited with some of the performers – both human and otherwise – who will taking part in the Philly Fringe. Apparently, puppet-using performers face a little bit of dilemma – to categorize themselves as puppet theater or just theater. Alex talks with folks on both sides of that choice and finds out what inspires them to be “puppet practitioners.”

In addition to recording the audio that went into the piece, Alex also shot some video so that you can get a sense of what these puppets look like. Meet Venus, Eve and… a… giant squid:


Next generation of radio stars!

August 18, 2008

I’m a little late in posting this to The Sixth Square, but on Friday, Alex Schmidt did a quick story about a program headed up by the Asian Arts Initiative:

Chinatown Youth Radio Philadelphia (ChYRP) is an intensive, 3-week summer experience for high school students to create a blog and podcast featuring radio stories of Philadelphia Chinatown. During the course of this summer pilot program, youth learned the skills involved in creating a radio story, engaging community members, and the new media technology involved in radio podcasting.

Her story includes some cuts from the work done by the youth radio stars.  Unfortunately, the listening party to celebrate their work came and went on Friday evening and I can’t seem to find any links to their stories or podcasts.  Hopefully those are available or will be available soon.  If I find them (or if someone can post the links in the comments) I’ll be sure to share them.

Hardhat tour of the new Tyler School of Art

August 15, 2008

[UPDATE: Hi folks.  I’m loving that this post and issue is generating such a great discussion.  Just want to let you know that we’ve moved The Sixth Square to WHYY’s server.  Please consider continuing discussion of this story at its new home.  Click here to read the post and comment.  Thanks! – Dan P.]

Temple University’s Tyler School of Art is currently ranked in the top 15 art schools in the country. It’s about to make the move from its suburban setting in Elkins Park to join the rest of the Temple Campus in North Philadelphia.  From WHYY’s Arts and Culture desk, Alex Schmidt took a tour of the new facility with the architect. Here is a a slideshow of Alex’s tour.  Read the story below.

For more descriptions of these photos, check out our Flickr set.

Listen to this story here.

Carlos Jimenez, the architect of the new Tyler School of Art, only makes it out to Philadelphia from his home in Texas once a month to check on the progress of his building. In the few days he spends on site, he scrutinizes every detail of the construction.

“It looks like they’re making good progress here,” he says, pointing to one of several areas that is getting closer to completion in anticipation of the school’s mid-fall opening.

Jimenez is an award-winning architect who is on the faculty of Rice University.  He has built other art schools and museums but at 250,000 square feet, Tyler is by far the largest.  It accommodates several sub-departments – photography, graphics, ceramics, printing, metal, fiber, painting and drawing, sculpture, and glass blowing.  Jimenez’s challenge was to connect all of those into one whole, within a strict space, and on a tight budget.

“It has been a rewarding job but also a difficult job. You want to do lots of things and there are always lots of limits. The difficult thing is how to balance all those aspects of a job that by nature is highly complex,” he explains.

According to the construction schedule, there are only two months left until the art school is set to be completed.

The entrance, which will be a staircase flanked by sloping lawns, is still a mountain of dirt. But inside you can start to see what a Tyler student will experience.

Continuing the tour, Jimenez explains the idea behind the entrance.

“We are now in the main lobby. The idea that everybody comes to this passageway, and you right away are encountering this very dramatic circulation point,” he says.

An even more dramatic passageway with 30-foot high ceilings leads out from the lobby and into the school. On one side of this hall is a wall of enormous windows looking out on what will be the largest green space on Temple’s campus. Opposite the windows, there are wide, rectangular columns painted a bright green.

“You know color is a way of enlarging the limit of a budget because what i mean by that is you still have to paint these walls, but it doesn’t have to be white. For instance, these are mechanical shafts. All of these green areas have functions that are particular objective,” Jimenez says as he points out the columns.

Here on the ground floor are the most heavy duty studios — glass blowing and sculpture. At the end of the long passageway, you ascend a staircase to the second floor — for graphics, metals, fiber and printing. Jimenez calls the very top floor, which is the space for drawing and painting, the attic. You can see the shape of the sloping angle of the roof, as you would in a house’s attic. Only this attic has floor to ceiling windows looking out on a sprawling city view. North Philadelphia looks both urban and bucolic from up here, with trees peeking out between the buildings.

“This is the longest north elevation on the entire campus. And the purpose of that was that they get this even light,” he says, “all the studios face north. If you place them on the east, you have dead light in the afternoon. On the west you have the opposite.”

One of the biggest challenges for Jimenez has been creating a building that is inspirational to artists without over-asserting its own design. Down on the lower ground level, where the photography studios are, we came across a strange, acutely angled corner. I asked Jimenez what would go in it.

“The question you raise is an interesting one, because it’s for them to take over,” he answers.

“It’s for the artist to come up with the next stage of the architecture. If I were an artist and I come in here and I see that, then I would do something with that wall. The architecture is there for you to participate in, or to ignore if you want to. That’s sort of what i always hoped to achieve with this building.”

Faculty will start moving into the new building in October.  Students will start using it – or not using it – in January.

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

August 8, 2008

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.


August 7, 2008

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.

A championship, but does it count?

July 31, 2008

This morning on WHYY 91FM, Elizabeth Fiedler recapped the Philadelphia Soul’s big win in the Arena Bowl with this story:

As the clock ran down during Sunday’s Arena Bowl championship, the people of Philadelphia finally had a chance to celebrate a championship.

“D’orazio runs back, running, throwing…1….0…Take a listen Philadelphia! The Philadelphia Soul are the 2008 World Champions of Arena Football… They do it – they win Arena Bowl 22!”

Thousands of Philadelphia Soul fans cheered on their team, as they clinched the victory in New Orleans. Soul Communications Director Greg Wiley said that 11 percent of Philadelphians who had their televisions on during the Arena Bowl watched the game too.

He said there’s a reason the Soul has so many fans.

“It’s high scoring, fast-paced, edge of your seat action. There’s touchdown after touchdown, a lot of passing. A lot of hitting. It’s football in a contained area,” said Wiley.

“You’re not only worried about getting tackled. You’re worried about getting tackled into the wall. Players fall into the stands all the time. And you can catch footballs. You’re so far away from the action at outdoor football games that’s not going to happen.”

Wiley says maybe one day local sports fans will follow Soul wide receiver Chris Jackson and quarterback Matt d’Orazio with the same intensity they devote to the Eagles.

My question for you, loyal readers/listeners: does it count? Does this championship mean that the “drought” – no major championship since the 1983 Sixers’ victory over the Lakers – is over? Or does it only count if the Phillies, Flyers, Eagles or Sixers get their parade down Broad Street?

Philadelphia’ Only Piano Company

July 30, 2008

(UPDATE) I would be remiss if I didn’t also include a link to a related but separate story that Alex did about Hugh Sung and his “visual recital.” Just this past Wednesday, Sung played one of these recitals at the Woodmere Museum in Chestnut Hill.  He has been working with software that translates the music he plays into a visual representation.  Apparently his inspiration is the great mind of Walt Disney who used the animator’s pen to render Beethoven, Tchaikovsky, Stravinsky and Bach in images.  Sung’s software doesn’t create dancing hippos, which is kind of a bummer, but it’s pretty groundbreaking all the same.  In fact, hearing about this (I haven’t seen it yet, but I want to catch it soon), reminded my Simpsons-phile self of a tripped out Lisa Simpson saying “I can seeeee the muuuusic.”  Sung’s work allows you to have this experience without the psychotropics.


WHYY’s Alex Schmidt took a little trip to the Germantown Ave. home of Cunningham Piano Company and Factory to do a story about their re-entry into the piano making business.

The Cunningham Grand is the company’s attempt to offer a high quality, lower cost alternative to the consumer who has never considered buying their own piano because of the outrageous prices.  As part of the fanfare over the Grand, a number of musicians have been playing the instrument, including Hugh Sung from the Curtis Institute of Music.

Mr. Sung will be playing the piano tonight at the Woodmere in what he calls a “visual recital,” using complex software that portrays the music on a large screen.  In Alex’s piece, Sung describes the inspiration for this performance as trying to recreate Walt Disney’s Fantasia in real time. (Edited: Actually, in this piece, he’s talking about the different pianos and comparing their quality vesus their price.  It’s the piece referenced above that deals with Sung’s “visual recital.”)