Tuesday, August 23, 2011

A-Plus Art - Student Art Celebrated at City Hall

Antonio Williams, Carver High School, 10th Grade
The newest show at the Art Gallery at City Hall is "A-Plus Art." This exhibition continues a tradition we began last year, where we partner with the School District of Philadelphia to cull the best art from their annual summer art exhibition at the School District headquarters (2,000 pieces!) and select about 50 pieces to be exhibited at City Hall.

This show once again highlights the extraordinary artwork being done by our young Philadelphia students: their dedication, talent, and discipline. Their work is made possible by the dedication and skill of their art teachers, and by the support of their parents. Without all these elements success is nearly impossible. The work covers a a wide array of ages/grades, and also many different neighborhoods of the City. (See the map and list of schools below)

The exhibit will culminate in a panel discussion on arts education on arts education issues, as well as a closing reception where every young artist will be presented with a certificate from the Mayor, recognizing the honor of being exhibited in City Hall.
Ricky Lee, Hancock Elementary, 2nd Grade

I blogged a few weeks ago about why arts education is important, a piece that was later adapted for Lorene Cary's blog. I encourage those who have not seen it to take a look (here is the link), if you need to strengthen the case that arts education is crucial not just for artistic and social reasons, but for economic development reasons as well. Recent unfortunate incidences of anti-social behavior by young people have obscured the fact that we have vast numbers of talented, dedicated, engaged young citizens in this City. The arts can play an important role in the lives of young people, and frankly resources invested in arts education in the long run save money that would otherwise have to be invested in law enforcement and prisons. Given the current challenges at the School District, we need informed and passionate advocates for the importance of arts education now, more than ever.

If you want to be inspired about the future of our City, represented by the young people who ARE the future, come to this show! [Exhibition closes September 30th]


Art Gallery at City Hall is open Monday-Friday (except holidays) 10-4. It is in Room 116 of City Hall, which can be accessed without going through security. Enter the East portal and turn right into City Hall inside the portal. Gallery will be on your right. The closing reception is September 30th, 4:30-7 PM. And the panel discussion will be in City Hall (room TBD) at 3:30 PM (Check here for more details, call 215-686-9912, or e-mail artincityhall@phila.gov).

Tuesday, August 9, 2011

Some thoughts on Environmental Art

Jeanne Jaffe - Little Red Riding Hood as a Crime Scene (Schuylkill Center)

I was able to spend the day earlier this week at the Schuylkill Center for Environmental Education and spend some time taking in Facts and Fables: Stories of the Natural World, their new art installation. The installation explores how stories - narrative - affect our understanding of nature. The artists are Jeremy Beaudrey, David Dempewolf, Brian Collier, Chad Curtis, Susan Hagen, Blane De St-Croix, and Jeanne Jaffe.

The environmental art department at the Schuylkill Center is a truly important and unique component of Philadelphia's cultural scene - bringing together artists with the resources of naturalists and environmental educators to use art to raise awareness of the environment. Kudo's to Mary Salvante for founding this program, to Jenny Laden for leading it now, and to the Center itself for sustaining this commitment to the role the art can play in fulfilling its mission.

The art is definitely worth a visit, and if you have not yet been to the Center, make the trip. Yet another hidden Philadelphia gem and evidence that this City is filled with more green space and "wilderness' than any other major American City. While there we had an interesting dialogue about the different variations of "art and the environment" - from art that may comment on or illuminate an environmental issue, to art that may actually use the environment in the execution of the piece, or art that is designed to actually impact the environment in a positive way.

A great example of the last category is Mel Chin's "Revival Field" piece, that involved constructing an installation of plants in a contaminated field, plants that were specifically chosen due to their scientifically researched capacity to leach certain contaminants from the soil,  naturally, over time.His more recent Fundred Dollar Bill Project, to address soil contamination in New Orleans, while more conceptual and playful, still has as its ultimate goals CHANGING for the better our environment.

Mel Chin - Revival Field

Another example of art that does more than comment on the environment but actually interacts with it would be Soil Kitchen, the temporary installation by the artist collaborative FutureFarmers that the Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy brought to Philadelphia earlier this year.

FutureFarmers - Soil Kitchem study

It is important to distinguish this work from the land art movement, like Robert Smithson's Spiral Jetty (Smithson in fact coined the term "land art"). Not to do diminish the value of this work. Works like Spiral Jetty and Roden Crater by James Turrell, can have an extraordinary majesty and mystery, and an intimate relationship with nature and light. They are designed to change based on environmental changes and time. But they are not designed to specifically change the environment in a positive way, or even make an environmental statement. My conversation with Jenny Laden and Theresa Rose from my staff got me thinking about this important distinction.

Smithson - Spiral Jetty (from Wikipedia)

The role that artists can play in helping to address environmental and sustainability issues is something of great interest to me and my Office. We have been in discussions with the Mayor's Office of Sustainability about a deeper partnership, and have also been in discussions with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation about how temporary public art can help raise awareness of, and interest in, the Delaware waterfront, which could also involve exploring wetlands and water quality issues. It is great to have so many great partners and organizations of like mind in Philadelphia (like the Schuylkill Center) - look for lots more great project to come in the coming years!