In 2022, artists and cultural institutions in Philadelphia embraced imagination, adaptation, and renewal as they offered resonant cultural experiences that reflected varied perspectives and stories.
The Center awarded $9.5 million in 2022 Project grants and Fellowships, supporting 30 Philadelphia organizations and 12 individual artists. Funded events reached more than 300,000 attendees this year, and grantees garnered numerous awards and over 4,000 pieces of media coverage in regional, national, and international outlets.
Additionally, we’re pleased to be partnering in a regional collaboration to support BIPOC artists and organizations through Philadelphia’s Cultural Treasures. Part of a national funding initiative created by the Ford Foundation, the program awarded more than $7 million in 2022 for 12 artist fellowships and 16 general operating grants for organizations.
The Center’s first collaborative Project grant supported Curtis Institute of Music and Drexel University Westphal College in presenting the citywide public art and music project Rehearsing Philadelphia by composer Ari Benjamin Meyers. “The project emphasizes how music is community-building—which Meyers and other participating artists said feels even more significant now, during a pandemic, during a war,” reported The Philadelphia Inquirer.
Meyers spoke to us about the nuances of connecting strangers through music.
Rehearsing Philadelphia is a music-based performative, public art project. It takes place throughout the city of Philadelphia, many different locations. It involves many performers, actually over 200-- I think actually 220 performers. And the central question of Rehearsing Philadelphia is, how can we be together, different ways of being together.
It's not necessarily a proposal to say, let's come together, hold hands, and walk into the sunset. It's not that. It's exploring how can we be together? And how? And what happens when we come together? And it's exploring all the sides of that. And it's using music and performance to frame that question and to work on that question.
The project has four large modules called solo, duet, ensemble, and orchestra. And these are basic, let's say, compositional structures. And each one is then looking at a different relationship. So for instance, in duet, the way these two strangers come together is not by the usual means, which would be, Hi, how are you? What's your name? My name is Bill. What's your name? It's by asking the question, would you like to sing with me?
And then-- and this is very important, and this also goes back to Rehearsing Philadelphia-- a rehearsal takes place. In other words, actual work is done. And that's really, really key because in working together and actually creating something together and working on it together, you're really doing something at that moment. It's the composition doing the work, in the case of Duet, a composition that I wrote and tried to take care to compose something that would do that work.
So that brings me to-- as an answer to the question-- to maybe the other major component of Rehearsing Philadelphia, which is the rehearsing side, which is the idea of rehearsal as a kind of mode-- a performative mode-- that feels, to me, in any case, to be the right mode for the moment. We're living in a time where things are changing, it seems, actually, daily. And by things changing, I mean, really reality changing.
Three or four weeks ago or five weeks ago, there was no war. Then there's suddenly a war. And I live in Berlin. It's a 30-minute drive to Poland. Poland is on the border with Ukraine. That's real. And suddenly, reality changed again after reality having changed through corona and COVID.
And so the idea of, at least to me, as someone who does come originally from the performing arts, this kind of idea of rehearsing and it gets better and better, and then you reach a kind of state of perfection, and once it's in that state, it's unchanging, that's how it is. It's always going to be perfect, it's not going to change. That is something that, for a while now, in my own work has been kind of breaking down. And I think Rehearsing Philadelphia is maybe the largest and most important expression of that for me, to date.
This idea of presenting rehearsal, or saying that we're in the rehearsal mode, the opposite of that is not chaos. In other words, it doesn't imply that anything goes or whatever you want. If that was the case, then you wouldn't need a score, and you wouldn't need to-- but we do work. And we work very hard.
And again, if I think about working with my performers, let's say in Berlin, in fact, it's almost the opposite. We work so hard so that one, then, in performance can be loose, can be flexible, can be what I would consider actually live. Because to my way of thinking, if you have something that's perfect, unchanging then I do question a bit, even if it's physically live in the sense that we're seeing it, what is the liveness of it, really?Permalink
Jayson Musson: His History of Art, extended through the end of the year at The Fabric Workshop and Museum, offers a comedic interrogation of the entrenched Western, male-dominated artistic canon. The New York Times reviewed the exhibition, noting that it “draws on sitcoms, kids’ educational TV, performance art, and art history lectures to create something both wacky and profound.”
POOL: A Social History of Segregation explores the history and present-day implications of segregated swimming pools in a multidisciplinary exhibition at Fairmount Water Works. “The immersive presentation uses public swimming pools as a lens through which to ponder social justice and public health,” wrote The Guardian. The exhibition won a Making an Impact Award from the Mid-Atlantic Association of Museums. It will reopen in spring of 2023, and an online version of the exhibition is available on the POOL website.
Chronicling Resistance at the Free Library reveals what eight local activists, cultural organizers, and artists unearthed when they dug deeply into the archives of the Philadelphia Area Consortium of Special Collections Libraries. The exhibition seeks to counter the systemic erasure of Black, Brown, and LGBTQ+ people from the historical record. It is on view at the Parkway Central Librarythrough January 31, 2023.
Created by choreographer Bill T. Jones and presented in the round with artists and audiences together onstage, Deep Blue Seaat The Mann Center for the Performing Arts involved 60 Philadelphians in the performance. The Philadelphia Inquirerobserved, “Jones is the convener of at least a half dozen art forms and genres in Deep Blue Sea, all brought together in a venue of great intimacy that’s new to Fairmount Park.”
One of the greatest works that we were looking at as research for the project-- talked a lot about how there's tons of literature around the trauma of war and soldiers coming back from war and experiencing the trauma of seeing someone die next to you or in front of you and a friend dying. And then there's almost no literature about the trauma of pregnancy and birth and of early motherhood and how tenuous life is in that moment and how that is actually living inside of you or that death could be inside of you.
I didn't mean for it to be unsettling, but it definitely is a bit unsettling. And I think it is because we are not shying away from the most terrifying aspects of pregnancy. And I think it's also because they are present even in a perfect pregnancy. Your imagination is going to the scariest places the whole time.
So navigating all of the fears of pregnancies and how real does feel and the anxiety that it kind of grips you throughout-- can grip you throughout a pregnancy-- we really wanted that to be present because it is present, because it's not a romantic thing. I was like pregnancy, so romantic. And even when we were raising money for the show, I was like, this is going to be so nice and fun. And then, of course, we got into it and it's like, no, this is going to be-- I mean, it is.
I think the experience of the show I hope will be very fun and exuberant but also very haunting and, yes, unsettling. But I hope it also becomes deeply personal because you are making choices. I hope it becomes a very deeply personal journey. But we definitely didn't shy away from the darkness of fears basically, the pregnancy fears. And those fears sometimes turn into reality.
I, myself, have had very complex journey of now having two healthy living children and that it's tragic and devastating. And I feel like that's kind of normal. I actually think that, in a way, you could say you're bearing life, you're also bearing death, because every life has a death. Many lives don't ever begin. And so that is present in the piece as well.
I had been writing and trying to get at what I was aiming for. And I think kind of a revelation came when I realized that the ending was not going to be expressed through words and that words were kind of failing me. I was like, I'm just telling so much. It's trying to be resolved in dialogue and it needs to be resolved-- if there's any resolution, it needs to come from a physical place.
And so it's sort of-- I mean, I won't give anything away. But I think the end of the show is kind of the climax of the work of a mother, I think the work of mothers and how it crescendos and how a selflessness can become violence, I guess you could say.Permalink
When Pig Iron Theatre Company’s The Path of Pins or the Path of Needles premiered, director and filmmaker Josephine Decker spoke to us about the work’s unconventional structure and how she drew on her own experiences with pregnancy and motherhood to develop the piece.
See more from Josephine Decker.>>
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Written by Eisa Davis, the locally inspired, bilingual play Mushroom premiered at People’s Light, exploring the intersecting lives of immigrant families in Kennett Square, PA, the mushroom capital of the world.
Philadelphia Theatre Company premiered the rock musical The Tattooed Lady, with music and lyrics by Max Vernon, and book by Vernon and Erin Courtney. The show told a story of the hidden past of a former sideshow performer, social taboos, and women’s bodily autonomy.
Norristown was the star of Theatre Horizon’s community-centric play TOWN, written by Michael John Garcés with original music by ILL DOOTS. Inspired by stories from more than 130 local residents and featuring a cast of roughly 60 community members and professional actors, the play celebrated and interrogated small-town American life.
Exhibitions that premiered in Philadelphia with support from the Center reached national and international audiences as they traveled to new venues.
The Barnes Foundation’s Suzanne Valadon: Model, Painter, Rebel, a monographic exhibition on the French impressionist, traveled to Ny Carlsberg Glyptotek in Copenhagen. In the exhibition, “you encounter one of the most exciting transformations in art history,” The Washington Post reported.
Following installations at the Mütter Museum and the Center for Architecture and Design, presented by the Maternity Care Coalition, Designing Motherhood: Things that Make and Break Our Births toured to Boston’s MassArt Art Museum. The companion book that surveys the history of designs that have shaped the many elements of birth and maternity over the past 100 years is available from MIT Press.
The Institute of Contemporary Art’s Ulysses Jenkins: Without Your Interpretation, a retrospective on the pioneering video artist that restaged two of his major performance works, toured to the Hammer Museum in Los Angeles. The New York Times said Jenkins’ work “acidly critiques the cloying simplifications of mass media, yet beams with the excitement of holding the means of production.”
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Pew Fellows’ work was seen at this year’s Whitney Biennial (visual artists Alex da Corte and Denyse Thomasos, composer Raven Chacon), Venice Biennale and Walker Art Center (interdisciplinary artist Carolyn Lazard), Documenta 15 (interdisciplinary artists Camae Ayewa and Rasheedah Phillips), MoMA (visual artist Adebunmi Gbadebo), and The Public Theater (playwright James Ijames).
Exhibitions and performances don’t always end at the gallery, museum, or theater exit. Center-supported projects have produced a variety of new publications, short films, and a radio documentary.
As part of her term as the Center’s Visiting Scholar, Linda Earle spoke with filmmaker and visual artist Cauleen Smith about the dangers and potentials of working with Black archives.
Curator and writer Laura Raicovich shared her insights on how the cultural sector is not returning to a “New Normal” but rather finding itself situated in a shifting, sometimes bewildering “Not Normal.”
Pew Fellows pulled back the curtain on their practices as well. Our Pew Fellows Chat series brought some of Philadelphia’s most accomplished artists together in conversation. On social media, our Pew Fellows in Process series features videos from Fellows including ceramist Roberto Lugo, filmmaker Tayarisha Poe, and movement artist angel shanel edwards.
Awards for Pew Fellows included a Guggenheim Fellowship for visual artist Mark Thomas Gibson, Pulitzer Prizes for playwright and director James Ijames and composer and sound designer Raven Chacon, a National Book Award for writer Imani Perry, a Peabody Award for filmmaker Ted Passon, a Philadelphia Poet Laureate appointment for Airea D. Matthews, Ruth Lilly Poetry Prizes for poets CAConrad and Sonia Sanchez (who also earned an Edward MacDowell Medal), and induction into the American Academy of Arts and Letters for composer Jennifer Higdon.
Supported by Center project grants, WXPN’s Kanaval was named Best Radio Documentary of 2022 by the Radio Television Digital News Association, and The Trust for Public Land’s Heat Response: Creative Action for Philly’s Rising Temperatures was named one of ten winners in a national competition co-sponsored by the US Environmental Protection Agency.
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