Articles by Chip Schwartz

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    Helping cultivate the literacy skills of Philadelphia's youth

    May 24, 2012 by Chip Schwartz

    jonesAs soon as Solomon Jones reaches the podium, he begins reciting the lines of a poem he wrote back in 2005. He poses a question, both to the audience in attendance as well as anyone willing to confront the issue: “Why can’t Johnny read?” Is it the neighborhood he grew up in? The school he attends? Jones, bestselling author and founder of Words on the Street, thinks that despite what the media says, there are a lot of people in the education system doing a lot of good work. His program is definitely proof enough.

    On Tuesday, May 22, Marathon Grill in Center City hosted the awards ceremony for Words on the Street, an initiative that seeks to partner parents, schools and businesses to engage students in writing and literacy. The program is funded by the BME Challenge, created by  John S. and James L. Knight Foundation and the Open Society Foundations’ Campaign for Black Male Achievement to recognize, connect and invest in black men and boys who engage others in making their communities stronger.

    Literacy is the pinnacle of skills, because it allows us to learn most anything else we set out to study. That is why Solomon Jones is utilizing it as his focal point. The program has a few components that seek to encourage writing and literacy in the Philadelphia area. Words on the Street presents role models whose achievements are based in literacy, encourages parental involvement and makes literacy relevant through experiential learning and rewards creativity.

    The real stars of the evening, however, were the students who were honored for their writing. Overall, 28 young people completed the program and wrote a short story to culminate the process. Everyone has a story. The difficult part is learning how to tell it, make it relevant and make people want to hear it. These students are definitely up to the challenge.

    One student from each of the six schools that participated in Words on the Street received special recognition. As a reward, all six winners will have their stories published in the Philadelphia Inquirer through the Newspapers in Education program. The students are: Ahkeel Timothy – Mastery Charter /Shoemaker Campus; Anibal Velez – Samuel Fels High School; Chaya Cleveland – Randolph Technical High School; Destiny Martins – South Philadelphia High School; Jabril Sawyer – Camden High School; and Naila Khan – Bartram High School.

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    Missing women of Juarez, Mexico, remembered at arts center in Philadelphia

    September 22, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    At Fleisher Art Memorial, a community arts center in South Philadelphia, there is currently a staggering show presented by artist Diane Kahlo entitled “Las Desaparecidas de Ciudad Juárez: A Homage to the Missing and Murdered Girls of Juárez.” In the Works on Paper gallery at this Knight Arts Challenge winner, Kahlo explores the horrific topic of the women of Juárez, Mexico who have been disappearing at unthinkable rates: more than 700 have gone missing between 2010 and 2014, with some disappearances dating back as far as the 1990s. After being kidnapped, these girls are often forced into the sex trade, abused, raped and often killed. Kahlo’s project seeks to give a voice to the victims of these unimaginable crimes, as well as address the crisis of violence against women worldwide.

    In order to remember these women, Kahlo set out to paint some 150 portraits of the abducted and murdered–a small portion of the total, but a challenging and poignant undertaking in its own right. One wall of the space is entirely covered by dark frames containing the faces of the many missing and dead. They are often based on images shared online by the families in order to find their loved ones, and in the case that Kahlo could not find an image, she used a symbol instead: a heart, a hummingbird and a butterfly, for instance, represent some of the girls’ lives.

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    Eliza Myrie and the means of (artistic) production at Vox Populi

    March 9, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Above: Eliza Myrie, “Building a Wall Through My Father (dress rehearsal).” Photos by Chip Schwartz.

    Art and manual labor are very distinct from one another. Everybody knows that, right? One starts with a vision, requires specific sets of skills, involves working with one's hands, and the other... actually sounds all but indistinguishable from the former. Right now, Philadelphia's Vox Populi offers a sampling from four different artists, including Chad States, Joe Bartram, Suzanne Seesman, and Eliza Myrie. But traveling between the rooms at this Knight grantee's busy First Friday opening, it is Myrie's examination of the boundaries between labor and artistry that unearths some of the most fascinating connections.

    Myrie calls her project “Building a Wall Through My Father,” and her mix of raw materials, maquettes and documentary photographs builds a concrete conception of a sculpture that remains unrealized. The artist's first exposure to dimension and materiality was her training in masonry, and the works on display here serve as a stand-in for her apprenticeship with her father, a brick mason. In her small-scale examinations, Myrie always keeps the construction/destruction of a 65-foot cinder block wall on her family's property in Jamaica at the center of her mind. Instead of dividing like some walls, however, the idea of this construction only serves to connect.

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    Work by more than 80 artists on view at Philadelphia Photo Arts Center show

    July 31, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    Representing more than 80 different artists working in photographic media, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center provides a multitude of perspectives and methods in its sixth annual Contemporary Photography Competition & Exhibition.

    This juried show contains some heavily edited images, documentary photographs, architectural examinations, portraiture, street photography and just about any subject one can think of, in both desaturated palettes and bright, vivid colors. Understandably, this assortment provides more than enough fodder for discussion or merely observation, and there is no shortage of interesting imagery in which to become immersed.

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    Roberto Lugo at Wexler Gallery empowers us all with the art that saved him

    April 28, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Above: Roberto Lugo, “Defacing Adversity.” Photos by Chip Schwartz.

    What comes to mind when you think about ceramics? Throwing wheels, glazes and vases? Bowls, plates and similar beautiful, yet fragile, objects, perhaps? How about hip-hop and graffiti? Needless to say, the pairing of urban culture and traditional porcelain forms doesn’t really seem to fit. Philadelphia artist Roberto Lugo, however, has a body of work on display at Wexler Gallery that might very well change your mind.

    Roberto Lugo grew up in North Philadelphia as a child of Puerto Rican immigrants, and with that experience came all of the challenges that go along with inner city life. Growing up in a setting that seemed to place injustices and obstacles at all turns, Lugo could have easily succumbed to the pressure. Instead, his rich cultural heritage and nurturing family helped inspire him to become part of his own solution instead of the problem. His answer to life's hardships is art, and his medium of choice is porcelain.

    Roberto Lugo, “Frederick Douglass and Method Man.”

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    Five years of Play On, Philly! and a celebration of music education with virtuoso Ray Chen

    May 4, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Violinist Ray Chen. Photo by Sophie Zhai. Play On, Philly! is in the midst of a pretty exciting milestone this year: 2016 represents the five-year anniversary of the group. Play On, Philly!, or POP as it is known, implements educational programs that teach intensive music lessons to children in underserved Philadelphia schools. With support from Knight Foundation, they have been able to spread the power of learning and the joy of music far and wide amongst Philadelphia students and their families.

    To mark the organization's fifth anniversary, some Curtis Institute of Music graduates have come back to spread the word about music education in Philly. Most notably, award-winning violinist Ray Chen has launched a campaign called Musical Heroes in order to celebrate the people and programs who bring the gift of music education to youth, with specific attention paid to former Curtis alumnus and founder Stanford Thompson. Chen has released a video, along with a Generosity campaign, in order to raise funds for POP–and also just to spread the good word about POP students and the difference music is making in their lives.

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    LOTS turns unused land into public space in Philadelphia

    August 21, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    If you spend any time in Philadelphia on Frankford Avenue just north of Girard, you know how much this stretch of street has changed in recent years. Development seems to move faster than any one person can keep track of, with new condos, storefronts and bars spreading out from Frankford into Fishtown and beyond. What is visibly lacking, however, is a large amount of green.

    As a way to call attention to public outdoor space, a trio of artists, architects and designers known collectively as LOTS took an empty plot of land at Susquehanna Street and Frankford Avenue and created a pop-up garden. The project was part of LOTS' month-long participation in the Recycled Artist in Residency program, a finalist in the 2012 Knight Arts Challenge Philadelphia.

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    2015 Fringe Festival brings another season of cutting-edge performance to Philadelphia

    September 4, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    2015 Fringe Festival brings another season of cutting-edge performance to Philadelphia

    Through Sept. 19, FringeArts in Philadelphia is hosting the 2015 Fringe Festival, sponsored by Knight Foundation. Each September, venues around town play host to cutting-edge, contemporary performance in just about every corner of the city. With more than 1,000 curated and independently produced performances, the 17-day Fringe Festival puts Philly on the map as a go-to destination for innovative live acts.

    Having opened its permanent waterfront headquarters on Delaware Avenue in 2013, FringeArts has a dedicated space for presenting shows and events all year long. The massive former firetruck pumping station has been converted into a 232-seat theater space, along with the adjoining restaurant, La Peg, which includes indoor and outdoor seating and a beer hall. Music and drinks are always available at FringeArts during late night, even after all of the programming winds down.

    One of the highlights of this year’s Fringe Festival will the U.S. premiere of “After the Rehearsal / Persona,” with nightly 8 p.m. performances Sept. 3-5.

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    From philanthropy to paint chips: Philadelphia-based Fresh Artists creates a new model for young artists

    October 19, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    Fresh Artists exhibits student artwork at the Philadelphia International Airport. Image via Fresh Artists’ Facebook page.

    What do you do when you have a problem funding the arts but a surplus of great student artwork? The team over at Philadelphia’s Fresh Artists recognized a solution and got down to business by turning potential calamity into opportunity. By reaching out to local businesses looking to decorate their spaces with colorful compositions, this Knight Arts grantee found a way to give young, local artists venues in which to display their creations, while paying for school programs at the same time. This paradigm shift in approaching arts funding is an example of the types of ideas that Philly and other communities desperately need.

    Since its inception in 2008, Fresh Artists has grown by leaps and bounds. Its mission: to better serve children at local schools by giving them access to the process of art-making. Not only do the students participating in this program get a chance to flex their creative muscles and the satisfaction of sharing their artwork, but Fresh Artists also makes the students aware of how their art gives back to others. After Fresh Artists digitally enlarges the students’ works, the amateur art is acquired by local businesses in exchange for a donation, and the proceeds go toward purchasing art supplies for other children, simultaneously serving as an example of philanthropy in action.


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    At Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, 'Do Not Pass Go' raises implications about the rise of infotainment

    October 28, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    At Philadelphia Sculpture Gym, a Knight Arts grantee, artist-in-residence Jim Dessicino faces off with some of the public figures we are likely only familiar with on account of the news media. This strange relationship with individuals we essentially do not know is solidified by Dessicino in his solo show, “Do Not Pass Go,” as he casts various representations of these faces in materials like metal, wax and plaster. The result is a rogues’ gallery of real life characters made famous (or infamous) by the seemingly constant chatter of news outlet headlines and analysis.

    A few of the more obvious examples of this are the politicos that find themselves under fire in this show–sometimes quite literally. New Jersey Governor Chris Christie and billionaire tycoon Donald Trump make an appearance as a pair of red wax candles that are in no way caricatures or political statements at face value. They are, however, fitted with wicks, making these presidential candidate facsimiles ready-made to burn in effigy if the ideological need arises.

    Jim Dessicino, “Chris Christie Candle.”

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    Play On, Philly! has a busy November full of public performances

    November 5, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    Simon Rattle conducts the Play On, Philly! symphony. Photo courtesy of the Philadelphia Orchestra.

    Ask any musician or music lover what music has done for them, and you’re bound to get a bountiful answer about the myriad ways it has enhanced his or her life for the better. It’s no surprise, then, that Play On, Philly! credits after-school music programs as some of the most important assets for a well-rounded education. Inspired by the El Sistema program started in Venezuela in the 1970s, this Knight Arts grantee strives to make significant, sustainable impacts on children through the power of music education.

    Established at the West Philadelphia St. Francis de Sales school in 2011, and expanding ever since, Play On, Philly’s POP Academy set out to bring the tools of music-making and music appreciation to underprivileged children who were at an acute loss for creative programs. With Pennsylvania–and especially Philadelphia–school districts quickly running out of funding, artistic and music-based programs are often the first to get cut from the curriculum. But where others saw trouble, Play On, Philly! founder Stanford Thompson saw opportunity.

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    Images from 1,412 people on display in Greater Philly Photo Day 2015 Exhibition

    November 23, 2015 by Chip Schwartz

    Photo: A view of the Greater Philly Photo Day 2015 Exhibition, currently on display at the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center gallery.

    If you live in Philadelphia, October presented an incredible opportunity for photographers. This year, on Oct. 9, the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center encouraged everyone around the city to take a picture for Philly Photo Day. This initiative by the Knight grantee was a tribute to the ubiquity of photography in our daily lives, and honored not only the professionals among us, but also anyone with a smartphone and a bit of inspiration.

    To extend the reach of this ambitious project, 2015 also found the project with a slightly different name: Greater Philly Photo Day, which now includes not only the City of Brotherly Love, but also 11 neighboring counties as well.

    With this project, everyone was given an equal opportunity to share their perspective on the Greater Philadelphia region by snapping a shot from their daily lives, composing an interesting photograph, or capturing a new angle on a familiar sight. Throughout the exhibit that is currently on display in the Philadelphia Photo Arts Center gallery in the Crane Arts Building, one can find images of skyscrapers, pets, street scenes, landscapes, interiors, quirky observations, artistic arrangements or portraits of friends and family–practically anything someone might take a picture of.

    The photographers range from school students to professionals and everyone in between, and the scale of it all is as much a part of the fare as any individual photo. This year, 1,412 photographs from Oct. 9 adorn the walls of the gallery with just about every color, pattern or texture imaginable, creating a framework of square and rectangular slices of our world.

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    A two-way exchange of cultural resources at Southeast by Southeast in Philadelphia

    February 15, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Above: Prints by Shira Walinsky.

    Anyone who’s been to South Philadelphia knows that many of its denizens are immigrants, and that of the immigrants who live in small communities within the city, many hail from Southeast Asia. In the spirit of promoting relationships between neighbors, Asian Arts Initiative in Chinatown North has furthered an ongoing dialogue between longtime Philadelphians and some of the city’s newer faces. This Knight Arts grantee is in the midst of spotlighting Southeast by Southeast, an outreach program for recent immigrants, largely from Bhutan and Burma, who began arriving in Philadelphia in increasing numbers around 2008. Founded in 2011 by Shira Walinsky, Melissa Fogg and Miriam Singer as a partnership between Lutheran Children and Family Services and the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the six-month-long pop-up storefront created for the project is still going strong.

    Helping newly settled families adjust to life in the United States, Southeast by Southeast operates as a community space in which recent immigrants and refugees can share stories, gain access to social services, learn English as a second language, and collaborate on artist projects that, in turn, give back to the communities where they now reside. The new Philadelphians to which the program caters have faced a great deal of hardship in their countries of origin and on their journey toward a new home. Bhutanese communities were driven into camps in neighboring Nepal for 20 years, and Burmese minority groups were forced into jungles and eventually refugee camps in Thailand and Malaysia. Although Philadelphia is a “better” place to be, it is not without its own share of difficulties, and the aim of Southeast by Southeast is to help ease the transition into life in the urban United States.

    Shira Walinsky, “Members of the Karen, Chin, and Nepali Bhutanese community.”

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    Fringe Arts celebrates contemporary performance in Philadelphia with festival and more

    February 25, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Fringe Arts celebrates contemporary performance in Philadelphia with festival and more

    Above: Aleksandr Frolov and Gabrielle Revlock in “Show No Show.” Photo courtesy of FringeArts.

    When you think of FringeArts, the Philadelphia-based destination for contemporary performance, the first thing that comes to mind might be the annual Fringe Festival. Every September, the Fringe Festival turns every corner of the city into a stage with some 1,000 independently curated performances. The people over at FringeArts, a Knight Arts grantee, are always busy putting on a good show, however, and this March is no exception.

    Coming up on March 24-26 is “Show No Show,” a two person-performance by Gabrielle Revlock and Aleksandr Frolov. Billed as a ‘dance of a relationship in front of an audience,’ this intimate display finds the two dancers getting to know one another as a room full of people look on. The pair run the gamut of interpersonal responses from play to power struggles, and from tenderness to conflict. In the meantime, as the two open up to one another fully, not even they know what exactly will happen, pulling the audience along as witnesses. There are few boundaries here, and the power of watching such a sincere show promises to be riveting.

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    At The Center for Art in Wood in Philadelphia, Wendy Maruyama gives voices to earth's silent giants

    March 28, 2016 by Chip Schwartz

    Above: Wendy Maruyama, “Sarcophagus.” All photos by Chip Schwartz.

    Although best known for her work in designing furniture pieces that verge on the conceptual, Wendy Maruyama has worked for decades utilizing countless mediums. Frequently she has explored themes that stem from her Japanese heritage, as well as feminism and social practice. The latter has led Maruyama to her current project “wildLIFE,” which is on display at Philadelphia’s Center for Art in Wood located in Old City. In it lies the hope that raising awareness concerning the plight of elephant populations can help pull these remarkable, gigantic creatures away from the brink of extinction.

    Following a visit to Kenya where she met with wildlife advocates to investigate the dangers of poaching elephants and rhinos, Maruyama became active in bringing attention to conservation efforts that protect these giant mammals from their primate contemporaries. Through her artwork, Maruyama examines the ivory trade–both past and present–as one of the primary factors for the decline of elephant populations, while placing a special emphasis on their unique social nature and their many similarities to human beings.