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Posts Tagged ‘philadelphia’


Photo: anekoho/shutterstock
As art classes get cut back, Philadelphia foundations are stepping up to protect a vital part of education.

In this time of cutbacks in school arts programs, it is heartening to see some organizations stepping up to the plate. If the trend continues, we may all need to start volunteering in schools — just as scores of parishioners at my church did for an amazing arts and crafts day yesterday. The only problem is, Who has the time for sustained volunteering when government doesn’t do its part?

In Philadelphia, foundations are providing some respite, as Mike Scutari reports at Inside Philanthropy.

“In June of 2013, Philadelphia’s School Reform Commission approved massive cuts in funding in what critics referred to as ‘The Doomsday Budget.’ Cuts included mass faculty layoffs, reduction of materials and athletics programs, and the complete elimination of arts and music programs.

“Four years later, Peter Dobrin, the Philadelphia Inquirer‘s culture writer, surveyed the city’s music education landscape and convincingly argued that funders sufficiently rose to the challenge, pointing to city’s web of innovative music education programs, including:

  • Play On, Philly!, launched in 2013 with seed money from Carole Haas Gravagno and the Lenfest Foundation.
  • The Philadelphia Youth Orchestra’s Tune Up Philly, which receives support from Impact100, a women’s giving collective.
  • AristYear Philadelphia, which will pay 12 arts teaching fellows in area schools with a high percentage of children from low-income families. The Knight Foundation has supported both Artist Year Philadelphia and Play On, Philly!

“Knight is only one of many influential funders active in the city. William Penn Foundation has doubled down on arts education, allocating more than $12 million over the last 4 years …

“The Andrew W. Mellon Foundation, meanwhile, recently awarded more than $2.5 million to a new program called the Philadelphia Music Alliance for Youth.

“Other examples include the Neubauer Family Foundation, which, in tandem with other local organizations, is ‘working to figure out what arts education programs are here already to determine what’s needed’  …

“The city’s financial woes were so calamitous that, funders, most of whom already had extensive footprints in the city, had no choice but to respond en masse. …

“In many cases, we’re not talking about your standard music education programs.

“Play On, Philly!, for example, is billed as ‘music for social change.’ Its 2017 summer programming included anti-child obesity and ‘active play’ programming at neighborhood recreation centers. ,,,

“More than ever, funders tend to support arts experiences that are immersive, experiential, and drive positive social outcomes.

“Now, consider the supporting role of big data in framing the arts as a means for driving social change.

“Play On, Philly!’s pilot collected data to show that students in the program improve their self-perceptions, academic motivation and school attendance, all while learning to play and perform a musical instrument. …

“Funders, increasingly beholden to this ROI [return on investment] mindset, are more inclined to cut checks when backed by compelling data. …

“All involved parties agree that access and equality is the key. Funders, more than ever, intuitively rally around this idea. Breadth is important, as well — ‘the net must be cast wide to capture all the talent out there,’ said Dorbin. Music education shouldn’t be just for future Julliard students.”

More here.

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Photo: Arden Theatre Company
Staff of the Arden Theatre Company in 1995 celebrating their recently purchased home. The building is at 2nd and Arch, in the Old City neighborhood.

I always enjoy stories about the arts sparking neighborhood revitalization. John Timpane, of the Philadelphia Inquirer, recently covered one from the City of Brotherly Love.

“There’s a lot of turnover in the theater world, many an entrance and exit, so the Arden Theatre Company’s 30th anniversary this season is a testament to clear vision, luck, a lot of work, and even more talent.

“But this story embraces more than a theater – it’s about a neighborhood, Old City, that in part revitalized around the Arden, and how an arts venue plays a potent role in such transformations.

“It began with two 1980s theater buddies at Northwestern University near Chicago. ‘Aaron Posner and I talked all the time about starting a theater,’ says Arden cofounder and producing artistic director Terrence J. Nolen. …

“Cofounder Amy Murphy, who met Nolen when both were at Upper Darby Summer Stage, says … ‘When Terry said, “Let’s do this,” I thought, “Sure, I can go down for a few weeks and help out.” Right. We were 24, young, and dumb enough to do it.’ …

“Arden opened in 1988 with a Kurt Vonnegut adaptation. …

“Is there an Arden philosophy? ‘Our first commitment is to Philly actors,’ Nolen says. ‘When we first opened and started getting great reviews, people said, “Where did you get these actors?” We said, “They’re from here.” ‘

“You can feel that loyalty among grads of the Arden Professional Apprentice Program. … Raelle Myrick-Hodges is founder of Azuka Theatre and a busy theater professional. And she’ll direct an adaptation of Toni Morrison’s The Bluest Eye at the F. Otto Haas Stage March 1-April 1. She says, ‘I began as an apprentice at the Arden 24 years ago, and I’m so grateful I went there instead of to a grad school.’ …

“[Former Arden apprentice Scott] Greer says Arden’s 1995 arrival helped revitalize the ’hood: ‘When they got the space in Old City, they were a big part of changing that neighborhood. There was hardly anything there, and they started bringing in subscribers eight nights a week.’

“Ellen Yin, proprietor of Fork at 306 Market St., … said the Arden presence ‘helped build a clientele for the earlier 5:30-8 p.m. dining hours, which are crucial.’ She and several other restaurant owners regularly have partnerships with the theater. …

” ‘Blown away’ is a term Murphy uses for the whole Arden story. ‘All the people we know, all the good work we’ve done because of it,’ she says. ‘I’m very grateful. All of us are, and I think we always will be.’ ”

More here.

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Photo: Jonathan Wilson
ArtistYear Fellow Aqil Rogers explains to Harrity School students in West Philadelphia how to assemble a contact microphone from component parts.

Many people worry about the drastic cutbacks in arts programs in schools. Not that many people do something about it. Pat Zacks of Camera Werks, Providence, is one person who does, as you may recall from this post.

In Philadelphia, another great idea is moving beyond the piloting phase — a kind of AmeriCorps for arts in education.

Peter Dobrin writes at the Philadelphia Inquirer, “With major new funding from a federal agency in hand, a Philadelphia service group in the arts is going national.

“ArtistYear has been operating since 2014, placing a few recent college graduates into Philadelphia schools each year as teaching fellows. This year, the program will expand to 25 full-time fellows who will teach music, art, dance, creative writing, and media arts in low-income schools in Queens, N.Y., and Colorado’s Roaring Fork Valley, as well as Philadelphia.

“A big boost to the program comes through AmeriCorps, part of the Corporation for National and Community Service, which has awarded ArtistYear a three-year, $1.45 million grant and extended certain benefits to the teaching fellows. …

“The grant is a first for AmeriCorps. ‘This is the first time there’s been a program that allows artists to dedicate a year of service to their country,’ said AmeriCorps spokeswoman Samantha Jo Warfield, citing the innovative model as one criterion for the award.

“Service-year programs for college graduates are common — to build English-language curriculum in Tonga, or to work on food-justice issues in Milwaukee. But ArtistYear may be unique. Its leaders call it the ‘first organization dedicated to national service through the arts.’

“This school year in the Rego Park neighborhood of Queens, storyteller and improviser Jill M. Pullara will put to use skills she learned earning an MFA in writing from the Royal Central School of Speech and Drama in London. Will Brobston, a guitarist and composer armed with a master’s degree from the University of Denver, goes west to the Colorado towns of Glenwood Springs, Carbondale, and Basalt.

“In Philadelphia, Aqil Rogers, a metal sculptor and designer who grew up in Lansdowne, is teaching at Mastery Charter Harrity Upper School at 56th and Christian Streets.

“ ‘What I’ll be doing is helping them create a maker space,’ said Rogers, 22, a Drexel University graduate whose senior thesis was Empowering Underserved High-Schoolers to Engage in Design/Maker Education through Hip-Hop and DIY Electronics. ‘We’ll work our way to electronics, robotics, lots of different sewing techniques — anything that can be done with hands, I suppose, will be learned at some point. And a lot of design-thinking work, which I think is critical.’ …

“In choosing fellows, the group wants artists who see teaching not merely as a space filler, but as a calling. ‘What we’re looking for is what kind of work experience they have that makes them think they are ready for a year of service, and that they want this as a piece of their career,’ says ArtistYear chief program officer Christine Witkowski.”

Learn more about the program and how it aims to supplement (not replace) arts in schools that still have them, here.

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Photo: NextCity
A Philadelphia street scene

The ideas of writer Jane Jacobs, well-known for her influence on city planning, continue to be tested. Is it true, for example, that having a lot of “eyes on the street” reduces crime? Jared Brey writes at NextCity about efforts in Philadelphia to find out.

“In the five-and-a-half decades since Jane Jacobs published The Death and Life of Great American Cities, her core contention — that urban vitality and safety are a function of small-scale density, a mixture of uses and ‘eyes on the street’ — has become conventional wisdom in urban theory. …

“In June, a team of researchers released a paper, titled ‘Analysis of Urban Vibrancy and Safety in Philadelphia,’ that attempts to begin a quantitative analysis of Jacobsian theory by bringing together publicly available data sets related to crime, business activity and the built environment. The study is the first of a series they have planned.

“In order to test the ‘eyes on the street’ notion, the authors — three statisticians at the Wharton School at the University of Pennsylvania and an architect — investigated the correlations between public safety and population density, population count, zoning, business activity, and business hours. They also designed a model of ‘business vibrancy,’ meant to serve as a proxy for Jacobs’ concept of eyes on the street, based on the density of businesses in certain areas and the amount of ‘excess business hours’ on them — meaning blocks with businesses open longer than what the authors calculated to be the citywide average. …

“Among the authors’ findings:

* Population density is not as strongly associated with crime rates as population count.
* More crimes occur on blocks with more businesses, but fewer in the direct vicinity of businesses that have longer-than-average operating hours.
* Crime rates are higher in neighborhoods with high rates of vacancy, but within high-vacancy neighborhoods, fewer crimes are reported in the direct vicinity of vacant properties. …

“ ‘What it says is measuring human activity is subtle and difficult,’ [co-author Shane Jensen, a statistics professor at Wharton,] says. ‘Yes, it does seem like there is something to this concept of eyes on the street, but I don’t think it’s just as simple as making sure that there’s businesses on every street corner and stuff like that. If anything, the more high-resolution you break this down, the more insight you can glean.’ ” More at NextCity.

Here’s my question: as online shopping causes retail storefronts to close, how do we preserve any “eyes on the street” at all?

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Well, here’s a new concept in energy production: braking regeneration.

Diane Cardwell writes at the NY Times, “Along Philadelphia’s busy Market-Frankford subway line, the trains behave like those of any transit system, slowing to halt at the platforms and picking up passengers.

“But more is happening than meets the eye. In an experimental system that is soon to be more widely adopted, every time the trains pull into certain stations, they recover the kinetic energy as they brake and channel it as electricity to battery banks at one of two substations.

“The batteries, managed by software, can then use that power to push the trains back out or to help modulate electricity flows on the grid.

“The system is unusual because the batteries are being used for more than just powering the trains, said Gary Fromer, senior vice president for distributed energy at Constellation, the power provider that will own and operate the system for the transportation authority.

“The electricity savings alone do not justify the battery costs, he said, so it was important to find another source of revenue, which comes from selling energy services to the grid. …

” ‘We don’t have to front the money and we’re reaping both savings and actually money coming back our way,’ said Jeffrey D. Knueppel, general manager of the transportation authority. The base technology of the system, known as regenerative braking, was one of the breakthroughs that allowed for the development of hybrid and electric cars like the Prius.” More here.

This reminds me of my 2012 post on inmates in Brazil who bike to create electricity — and reduce their sentences. And this post from 2013 about lighting schools by playing soccer. All hail to human ingenuity!

Photo: Jessica Kourkounis for The New York Times
The Market-Frankford subway line in Philadelphia is part of a regenerative braking experiment.

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The original idea when the grandchildren visited my workplace was to walk to the new Boston Public Market, but it was too far and there were so many other interesting things along the way.

We will go as a family another day, but I thought I would zip over there Thursday and take some pictures. I arrived at 8 a.m. The market is open Wednesdays to Sundays, 8 to 8, and since the activity wasn’t in full swing, it was a good time to look around.

The Boston Public Market is not as big, as noisy, or as messy as the famed Reading Terminal Market in Philadelphia (and there are no Amish), but it shows real promise. Although the market was fairly quiet at 8 a.m., there was already a line at MotherJuice and George Howell’s Coffee — people getting revved up for work at Government Center and environs. At a farmstand, I bought two small squashes. Fifty cents.

The Vietnamese restaurant Bon Me had a counter, and I saw local honey, fruits, vegetables, artisan cheese, and crafts. The crafts gave me pause as the market is supposed to be mainly an outlet for regional farmers, and much as I love crafts, I have seen them overwhelm another farmers market. As long as there is a good balance, it will be fine.

Note the vegetable soft toys in the children’s play area.

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The Barnes Collection is a quirky museum that is now located in Philadelphia. The eccentric art collector required all his art to be displayed a particular way. Which is perhaps why two Cézannes hidden behind other works weren’t uncovered before now.

Writes Randy Kennedy in the NY Times, “In 1921, the wily art collector Albert C. Barnes wrote to Paris to his friend and fellow collector Leo Stein, who was in dire need of money and had deputized Barnes to sell some of his holdings in the United States. They included five watercolor landscapes by Paul Cézanne, but Barnes reported that he had failed to find ‘anybody who seems to think they are sufficiently important to want to own them.’

“It was pure mercantile flimflam. Barnes turned around and bought the watercolors for himself, at $100 each, installing them permanently in his personal museum near [Philadelphia]. Now it turns out that Barnes got a better deal than even he had thought: A conservation treatment of the watercolors has revealed two previously unknown Cézanne works — a graphite drawing and a watercolor with graphite — on the verso (the reverse side) of two of the watercolors.

“Hidden beneath brown paper backing, the newly discovered pieces are unfinished, but they have sent tremors through the world of Cézanne scholarship, where additions to his body of work are exceedingly rare and where even the resurfacing of long-unseen pieces can be huge news. …

” ‘These are a perfect example of how much we still don’t know about this collection,’ said Martha Lucy, a consulting curator at the Barnes and an expert on its Renoir and Cézanne holdings. ‘To add new work to Cézanne’s oeuvre is incredible.’ “

More here.

Art: “New” Cézanne at the Barnes Collection in Philadelphia

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