Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Philadelphia Swings Into Spring with Jazz

Philadelphia will celebrate national Jazz Appreciation Month (JAM) in April, for the first time in many years. This national celebration, sponsored by the Smithsonian National Museum of American History, and also promoted by the United States Conference of Mayors, is now in its 10th anniversary year.

Recognizing this quintessentially American art form is especially appropriate for Philadelphia, which has an extraordinary legacy of leadership in jazz. Beginning with Ethel Waters, and extending to John Coltrane, Billie Holiday, Joe Venuti, Eddie Lang, Stan Getz, the Heath Brothers, Dizzie Gillespie, Sun Ra, McCoy Tyner, Grover Washington Jr, Stanley Clarke, Philadelphia has an illustrious roster of jazz greats who were either born here or lived and worked here for a significant portion of their life. Despite the demise of many of the City's historic jazz clubs, the City still has a vital, thriving jazz scene, with many venues and a strong and deep array of renowned working musicians. There is a nice succinct history of jazz in Philadelphia on the "Music of Philadelphia" page of Wikipedia.

A few months ago I organized a group of leaders in the Philadelphia jazz scene to discuss how to better support and promote this great art form. This followed a meeting with some members of the Clef Club's staff and board about how to revive its fortunes. I am grateful to Warren Oree and Gaciella D'Amelio of Lifeline Music for getting me started down this path. Working together, and with the Office of the City Representative, my colleagues in City government, we have organized a special promotion of Jazz Appreciation Month in Philadelphia.

This celebration was announced earlier this week right outside City Hall, on a chilly but sunny morning. With musical accompaniment from Warren Oree and the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble, we announced a Citywide celebration of Jazz Appreciation Month in April, A new logo has been created (shared above), and banners have  been designed that will hang in the City Hall portals, and have also been produced in poster size.

L-R: Charles Truxon, Gregory Jones, Melanie Johnson (City Representative), Gary Steuer, Warren Oree; showing off the new Jazz Appreciation Month banner designs. Warren, Charles and Gregory are the Arpeggio Jazz Ensemble.

In addition to the banners in City Hall, and the logo that will be used throughout the jazz community, we have also created a website: that has information on how to celebrate jazz, including a complete list of the Coalition members, downloadable versions of the logo, and a special Jazz Month event listings site, organized with the help with our friends at the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance and their Philly Fun Guide listings site. That special jazz listings site can be directly accessed here.

So with April beginning Friday, make your plans now for how to make jazz a part of your life this month, how you can support the art of jazz. And if you are not in Philadelphia, there are opportunities to support and experience jazz wherever you live. Here is a link to a great resource on the Smithsonian's site: it is called "112 ways to celebrate jazz".

As an aside, I have a somewhat personal connection to jazz, having been a major appreciator of the art form pretty much my entire adult life. In college at SUNY Purchase I was President of the student group charged with concert promotion and produced a jazz festival featuring the likes of Bill Evans, Elvin Jones and Betty Carter. Later, while Managing Director at the Vineyard Theatre in New York, we produced a concert series called Vintage Jazz at the Vineyard that highlighted jazz music from the 20's 30's and 40's, and featured many of the musicians from that era who were still around and playing, often paired with young proteges. That concert series was recorded and transformed into nationally broadcast radio programs. (Sadly, these radio shows, of which I think there were about 30, seem to have been lost to the mists of time. I never had the masters, and have been unable to track them down to make sure they are archived somewhere - it is a great loss, if in fact the masters are gone; most of these artists have now passed on.) Also while at the Vineyard I produced Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, a musical about the last days of Billie Holiday, that went on from its Off Broadway run to be produced all over the country. Growing up in NY, I sort of lived at clubs like the Village Vanguard, Sweet Basil, and The Blue Note. And more recently, my wife worked at Jazz at Lincoln Center for several years, during which I was a regular at their programs, including the extraordinary Essentially Ellington national high school jazz band competition.

Let's end with images of the two banners that will be "swinging" in the City Hall portals during the month of April!

Monday, March 21, 2011

Art-Reach Program Uses Art to Fight Violence - Funded by City $

Art-Reach students and staff in Art Gallery at City Hall with artist Ben Volta

The past year the Philadelphia Cultural Fund (the vehicle through which the City distributes funding through a competitive peer process) for the first time ever allocated a portion of the funding to go into a new "Arts for Youth" project grant program. This new grant program, which I encouraged, allowed a group of exemplary projects using the arts to address critical challenges facing our youth to be supported. Given that the process for the next round of grants for this year will be launched soon (at a significantly reduced funding level, due to budget cuts), and that City Council is now holding budget hearings, it seemed like an opportune time to highlight one of the projects supported in 2010

Art-Reach is an organization devoted to "enriching lives by connecting underserved audiences to cultural experiences so that they may benefit from and enjoy the transformative power of the arts." Teens from the Martin Luther King Recreation Center in North Philadelphia and Wissahickon Boys and Girls Club in Germantown spent 12 weeks last fall working with professional silk screen artists to create original T-shirts with an anti-violence theme. They visited a hospital ER where they saw the devastating effects of gunshot wounds, and that led them to explore designs around the theme of the human heart (the literal, anatomical human heart, not the cartoon Valentine's Day version). Last week a group of the teens visited me at City Hall to present me with a T-shirt. They were accompanied by artist Benjamin Volta, who worked with them on this project, Michael Norris, Executive Director of Art-Reach, and other staff from the participating organizations.

It was a great opportunity for me to see this grant program in action, to meet the kids, and also to talk to them a bit about what I - and the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy - do. The kids also got to see our new show at the Art Gallery at City Hall, and learn a little but about the history of City Hall. In the photos above we are standing in front of a large work of art created by the kids and Ben Volta. One of the things I especially like about this program is that the winning designs have been mass-produced and are now on sale at the Villa stores at 1231 North Broad Street, and 5700 Germantown Avenue, or online at The shirts are $10 each and all the proceeds go to teen programs at these two centers. So this not just an arts program, not just an anti-violence program, but also an entrepreneurship and micro-enterprise program; the work of these students will generate business revenue that will go back into programs serving youth. The kids are also learning that art has value, and that designs can actually be sold in the marketplace. Would love to have more resources to better support programs like these. Very inspiring - this is why I do what I do...

Monday, March 14, 2011

Philadelphia Population Reverses 50 Year Decline - How Are the Arts Involved?

The new Census numbers for Philadelphia are in, and the city managed to actually record a population increase, the first in 50 years. And while the increase was tiny - 8,456 residents, which represents a .6% increase to 1,536,006, the reversal of the decades-long decline is huge. Many older industrial cities are shrinking in population - Chicago, Baltimore - so this increase is especially notable. It is also notable because it confirms that Philadelphia has recaptured the "fifth largest American city" spot from Phoenix, which had passed Philly for a few years. (Click here for sample of press coverage.)

There are two big phenomena that jump out as you look at the detailed numbers, by neighborhood and by ethnicity. Clearly, the City is becoming much more diverse, and immigration, especially among Latino and Asian populations are a major contributor to the growth of the City. Philadelphia was a "majority minority" city in 2000 and that trend continues in 2010. The percentage of the population that is Asian has increased almost 50%, from 4.4% to 6.3%. And the Hispanic population had a similar scale increase, from 8.5% to 12.3%.  The Black population remained somewhat steady and the White population shrank from 42.5% to 36.9%.

In terms of neighborhoods, there are enormous differences from neighborhood to neighborhood. Center City East saw a 25% increase. Large double-digit increases were also recorded in Center City West, Fishtown/Northern Liberties and Bella Vista. The diversity make-up has also seen huge variations by neighborhood. In my neighborhood, Bella Vista, for example, the Hispanic population is up 170%.

Virtually all the neighborhoods that have seen huge population increases during this ten year period have also seen large increases in the number of arts organizations and artists living and operating in them. This is not an accident. Arts and culture are definitely part of the mix of elements fostering the population and economic resurgence of these neighborhoods, along with retail, restaurants and residential real estate development. Looked at by neighborhood, the population gain has largely been a Center City phenomenon, and there are many reasons for this - the great work by Center City District and Paul Levy; the impact of the cultural investments made by the City over the past couple of decades; the support those cultural investments have had from major foundations and individual philanthropists (Pew, William Penn, Lenfest, etc.); the growth of a vibrant Philly culinary scene; the real estate tax abatement program that helped spur development of new residential condominiums.  According to Center City District over the past ten years the number of arts organizations in Center City has grown from 314 to 415. Only NYC and DC have more downtown arts groups. The growth of cultural vibrancy in Center City has clearly been a factor in attracting more residents - and more residents attracts more retail and more restaurants.

From The Philadelphia Daily News, John Snyder, Staff Artist

Many of the City's poorest neighborhoods, however, were population losers, some by as much as 10%. The challenge going forward is how to help make these "shrinking" neighborhoods, many of which are filled with empty lots, abandoned buildings and declining commercial corridors, into good places to live and work. What role can the arts, creative economy and design play in solving this problem? Is there something that can be done proactively, while recognizing that great things can also happen organically (bad things can also happen organically, though...)? The new Philly Rising Collaborative program, initiated recently by the City,  is an attempt to address some of these challenged neighborhoods in a holistic and strategic way. The arts have been one element of this program's approach. The first commercial area to be targeted, for example, Market Street between 7th and 12th Streets, will include a program of free outdoor musical performances as a way to create a more welcoming streetscape. The North Philadelphia effort has involved a partnership with the Village of Arts and Humanities.

The connection between the changing demographics of the City and the arts should be obvious. Our "traditional" (i.e. not community-based, not culturally-specific) arts groups MUST find a way to connect with this growing component of the population if they are to survive and thrive. African American, Latino and Asian-American audiences (and donors!) must be engaged - this is 63% of the market in the City. Our audiences should be diverse not just when we do special "outreach" performances but for our day-to-day offerings and special events.Beyond the imperative to build audiences and supporters more representative of the larger community, the arts also have a role to play in efforts (like Philly Rising) that are seeking to revitalize neighborhoods.

These new Census population numbers are certainly cause for celebration - both because of the vote of confidence they represent for Philadelphia, and the demonstration of the role of creative vitality in how people choose where to live. But they are also another alert that we must redouble their efforts to ensure that our arts groups better serve the full spectrum of our increasingly diverse City.

Thursday, March 10, 2011

Melding Architectural and Natural Beauty

Great story and slide show on the Fast Company Design Website about a $400 million, 18-year (so far) initiative to commission young (mostly) Norwegian architects to create extraordinary structures in some of Norway's most spectacular and wild natural settings - fjords, rivers, forests. These structures are not huge - They are modest (in scale, not design) walkways, observation platforms, rest houses. These are beautiful examples of how human intervention and structures can meld brilliantly with the landscape, and also how design and architecture can become a driver of tourism, and in ways that don't have to involve constructing enormous "architectural destination" buildings. So while it may seem like a lot of money, it has funded 120 sites and they are only halfway through the program. You can check out the slide show here, but I've included an image to provide a flavor of the program (the image is actually not from the slide show at Fast Company but from the Norwegian tourism website). This sure makes me way want to visit these places in Norway!

I can imagine something like this even in an urban setting like the Wissahickon area of Fairmount Park, along the Delaware or Schuykill, or some of the wilder areas of the New York Botanical Garden in the Bronx. Jody Pinto's Fingerspan in the Wissahickon (commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association) and the Morris Arboretum's new "Out on a Limb" Canopy Walk come closest to this in Philadelphia. Here is a picture of the Canopy Walk, which was designed by Metcalfe Architecture & Design, and recently won a 2010 Architectural Excellence Award from AIA Philadelphia :

Monday, March 7, 2011

Belated comments on Arts Supply/Demand issue; Soil Kitchen Project Coming Up!

First off, must apologize for dropping off the face of the earth on my blog for a month or more. It's just been unbelievably busy and I have not found the time to write. The "New Posting" box has been open on my computer for weeks, as has the similar page for Huffington Post.

I had intended to dive in on the debate provoked by NEA Chairman Rocco Landesman on the supply/demand issue (New York Times article is here; Rocco's blog is here; sample blog response from Linda Essig's Creative Infrastructure here ). But now it seems rather anticlimactic. I will say, in brief (OK, I am not so brief), that I think the debate sparked by Rocco is a very healthy one. It is crystal clear if you look at the Americans for the Arts National Arts Index and other research that the number of nonprofit arts groups has been rising dramatically for the past decade or more, while at the same time the "market share" of philanthropy going to the arts has been declining, and the portion of arts participation that consists of traditional cultural attendance (buying tickets to theatre/music/dance/opera; going to a museum) has been flat at best. I have been saying for YEARS (my colleagues in NY can attest to this - I organized a Forum on the subject about ten years ago) that we as a field must look at the fact that the marketplace does not work well in determining whether supply meets demand in terms of number of arts groups.

It is very hard for arts groups to die - administrators want to keep their jobs, board members don't want to let the ship go down under their watch and are emotionally invested, long-time funders tend to keep supporting weak organizations in hopes that they will turn around and because of their historical commitment. In the corporate world "shareholder value" drives everything - for the most part a merger or bankruptcy happens if the marketplace demands it. Executives and stakeholders in a company being acquired are rewarded/(bribed?) with golden parachutes, stock options, etc. No equivalent to this exists in the arts, so arts groups tend to hang on long after they have lost their "juice," unlike restaurants - also creative endeavors - that come and go all the time and the public is still being served with an array of dining options. And the "barriers to entry" are relatively modest in the arts - VLA can help you get incorporated, you don't need to start out with a building or infrastructure. And virtually every existing organization measures its success by growth. Our nonprofit arts industry - still relatively young compared to other parts of the world - has now been around long enough that it takes a lot of money and a lot of audience to feed that beast. Think of the scale today of the Met Museum, MoMA, Art Institute of Chicago, Kimmel Center, Philadelphia Museum of Art, Millennium Park cultural programs, etc. Many of these organizations have substantially increased in scale over the last ten years - some did not even exist ten years ago. And that does not count the THOUSANDS of new organizations formed in the past ten years. Something has gotta give: either we find a way to drive demand - to make the arts a more compelling experience/cause for audiences and donors, or we are likely to see a wave of reorganizations, mergers, bankruptcy and/or outright dissolution. Funders, board and policy leaders need to think about these issues and figure out how we ensure the survival of the groups making the best work and doing the best job of serving their community. Rocco's comments had a lot of folks protesting that he was somehow saying there was a ceiling of art need that we have somehow reached - that there is not a need for more art. Of course, that is not the case - there is always the need for more (good!) art. But I do not believe we have a perfect system for making and delivering the best art to the public, and for inspiring and engaging the public in that art. That is where the work is needed.

Now that I have that off my chest, on to some exciting and inspiring art!  The City of Philadelphia Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy has been working on a major new temporary public art installation called Soil Kitchen, April 1-6, 2011, by the artist collective known as FutureFarmers, led by Amy Franceschini. This is the first time the City has commissioned a major temporary public art project, due largely to the fact that our public art program is funded by "percent for art" funds that are not flexible, because they are capital funds that MUST be spent on permanent art. This project was made possible by the support of the William Penn Foundation.

Here is some background on the project: Soil Kitchen is a temporary, windmill-powered architectural intervention and multi-use space where citizens can enjoy free soup in exchange for soil samples from their neighborhood. Placed across the street from the Don Quixote monument at 2nd Street and Girard Avenue in North Philadelphia, Soil Kitchen’s windmill pays homage to the famous windmill scene in Cervantes', Don Quixote. Rather than being “adversarial giants” as they were in the novel, the windmill here will be a functioning symbol of self-reliance. The windmill also serves as a sculptural invitation to imagine a potential green energy future and to participate in the material exchange of soil for soup - literally taking matters into one’s own hands. This exchange provides an entry point for further dialogue and action available in the space through workshops, events and informal exchange. Soil Kitchen provides sustenance, re-established value of natural resources through a trade economy, and tools to inform and respond to possible contaminants in the soil.

Soil Kitchen will coincide with the E.P.A.’s National Brownfields Conference. Soil Kitchen gathers soil and creates a Philadelphia Brownfields Map and Soil Archive. In addition to serving soup and testing soil, the building will be a hub for exchange and learning; free workshops including wind turbine construction, urban agriculture, soil remediation, composting, lectures by soil scientists and cooking lessons.

Executing this project required many partnerships, both with City agencies, and with property owners and nonprofit agencies. Many public programs are planned during the course of the project, and I urge you to check it out! Remember, April 1-6 - go to the project website to get more information and see the schedule of events.