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Strawberry Mansion celebrates first Schuylkill River Arts Day

The Strawberry Mansion area (our recent On the Ground home) has plenty of artists, but there’s rarely an opportunity for them to come together on their home turf, says INVISIBLE RIVER spokesperson Sylvana Joseph. The Schuylkill River Arts Day (SRAD) on July 16 is going to change that.
 
Founded in 2009 by Artistic and Executive Director Alie Vidich, INVISIBLE RIVER has been "celebrating our local rivers through live public performances and river advocacy." A mix of art, programming and interactive outdoor offerings serve the mission of engaging the public with both the Schuylkill and the Delaware.
 
For the last few years, Vidich has created one of Philly’s most eye-popping interdisciplinary performance events: an aerial dance suspended from the Strawberry Mansion Bridge, with audience members watching on shore or from boats on the river below. Beck Epoch, this year’s incarnation of the show (an "aerial exploration of swinging, swimming, swiveling and suspension from above the Schuylkill River") is coming up on Friday, July 15 and Saturday, July 16. Audience members will be able to watch for free from the eastern shore near the bridge, or they can buy a ticket to watch by boat on the river itself (everyone should arrive by 6:15 p.m.).
 
SRAD will kick off at 10 a.m. at Mander Recreation Center with an interactive drum and dance procession led by the Strawberry Mansion-based group Positive Movement and the African Diaspora Artist Collective. The group will take Boxers’ Trail from the rec center to Kelly Drive, where the arts fest will take over until 2 p.m. Other performers include Kulu Mele, Anne-Marie Mulgrew & Dancers Co, Almanac Dance Circus Theatre and many more. (Here’s the full line-up of participating artists.) There will be visual arts, crafts, and even fishing and boating lessons. Families are encouraged to bring a picnic and stay for the day.   
 
"We’re really focused on getting the Strawberry Mansion area and the people in that area to come, to use the Schuylkill River [and] learn about the river," says Joseph. "All of us that live in the Philadelphia live right in proximity to all of these great things, but we never use them. There are many musicians and dancers and artists of all stripes that live in that area but leave the area to perform -- it’s great to have this opportunity to have people from the area perform in the area."
 
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Sylvana Joseph, INVISIBLE RIVER

 
Follow all our work #OnTheGroundPhilly via twitter (@flyingkitemedia) and Instagram (@flyingkite_ontheground).

On the Ground is made possible by the Knight Foundation, an organization that supports transformational ideas, promotes quality journalism, advances media innovation, engages communities and fosters the arts. The foundation believes that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit knightfoundation.org.

Philadelphia's first Spanish immersion preschool comes to Fairmount

Teacher and educational entrepreneur Melissa Page thinks Philly is "a little bit behind the curve," linguistically speaking. Until now, our city did not have any Spanish-language immersion preschools. Page is changing that with the launch of Mi Casita this month, a new 4,600-square foot preschool at 1415 Fairmount Avenue.

When it comes to language acquisition, "the earlier you can get it the better," she insists. "Early childhood education in a second language doesn’t exist in Philadelphia, and it’s so much harder to learn a second language the older you get." 

Page learned Spanish at age five and went on earn her Bachelor’s degree in Spanish as well as Master’s degrees in education and business; she has traveled widely in Mexico, Spain and Latin America. Page then worked for Telemundo before spending five years as a Spanish and French teacher at South Philadelphia’s Girard Academic Music Program High School.

Mi Casita's staff -- part of a 1:6 teacher/student ratio -- are mostly native Spanish speakers and will offer an intensive all-Spanish curriculum (serving ages 18 months to five years) including play-led literacy, arts and math skills. The teachers will have ongoing career development through a partnership with the Waldorf School of Philadelphia.

"It’s more than just speaking Spanish every day," explains Page. It’s about "developing students academically, emotionally [and] socially through a really rigorous curriculum."

Promoting the social, cognitive and career benefits of early bilingual education are a big part of Page’s life mission, and she says the school’s inaugural winter 2015 session is already booked with about 30 families from all over Greater Philadelphia.

Cultural appreciation is part of what the school will offer, but it’s bigger than simply teaching Spanish. It’s about the value of having a second language from an early age, especially the one that is the most commonly spoken in the U.S. after English. And the school welcomes kids of all backgrounds.

"We are an amazing melting pot," expains the founder, with everyone from Main Line families to students whose parents hail from countries in Asia and South America.  

The school is opening with two classrooms this month; five classrooms are planned for a fall 2015 session.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Melissa Page, Mi Casita

 

An authentic taste of Nigeria comes to the City of Brotherly Love

Don’t call Tunde Wey a chef.

“I’ve been cooking to survive all my life,” insists the Nigerian-born Detroit resident, who’s been taking his brash take on West African cuisine on a coast-to-coast tour this fall and winter.  

"I don’t know how I feel about the word 'chef,'" the former restaurant owner continues. "I don’t consider myself a chef. I consider myself a person who cooks food for people.”

Wey, who has been cooking professionally for only the last eight months, insists that all the best experiences he’s had at the table were from ordinary folks who loved sharing a good meal.

That’s the vibe he wants to bring to his LAGOS bus tour. Shortly after selling his share of a new Detroit restaurant (operating with a rotating roster of eclectic guest chefs) to his business partner, Wey had the idea for a Nigerian food tour -- it struck him on a road trip from New Orleans to Chicago.

"Somewhere between New Orleans and Minneapolis, the idea occurred to keep going and keep cooking," he says. Now, his dinners are drawing 20 to 50 people in each city.

With six stops on the LAGOS tour under his belt as of December 7, Wey is loving bringing his distinctive West African flavor to Americans. He doesn’t want to say that American food doesn’t have flavor (even if the LAGOS website declares that it’s time to "unfetter diners from the tedium that is 'modern American cuisine'"), but honestly, he’s not impressed with our carefully cultivated and portioned subtleties.

With the bold approach of African food, he insists, "there’s no mistaking what just happened. I just had some food, and it’s like, wow, that was food. That was delicious. I’m pro-flavor."

Inspired by his love for his own mother’s rice or beans with tasty fried plantains, Wey says his dishes are tried and true, adding up to the kind of dinner that makes you "take off a couple of buttons on your pants because you have to catch your breath."

The LAGOS bus, where he cooks most of the food himself with the help of one or two others, is coming to Philly on Friday, December 12, at Sabrina’s Café (1804 Callowhill Street). The event is BYOB and the $45 ticket price includes authentic Jollof Rice, peppered goat meat, Egusi (a melon seed and spinach stew), Isi Ewu (stewed goat head) and, of course, fried plantains.

"Philly, get ready!" says Wey. "Cuz I’m coming!"

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tunde Wey, LAGOS

 

PowerCorpsPHL is improving parklands, enhancing watersheds and changing lives

Thanks in part to $200 million in funding from the Corporation for National and Community Service (CNCS), the agency that funds AmeriCorps, Philadelphia is home to an innovative new initiative. PowerCorpsPHL is helping to improve local parklands and watersheds while also acting as a violence prevention strategy for young adults aged 18 to 26.
 
The program got its start when Philadelphia was awarded a $636,000 grant -- one of just six nationwide -- from the CNCS program known as the Governor & Mayor Initiative. Matching funds brought the program's annual budget to $2.1 million.
 
PowerCorpsPHL's goal is multipronged, but at its core is an effort to engage young people. According to Julia Hillengas of the Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service, the program was developed as way to integrate low-income and underserved young people back into the community, while also providing them with the sort of technical training and job experiences that could lead to skilled employment at the end of each the program's six-month run.
 
Two city agencies are currently partnering with the program; one PowerCorps crew is managing stormwater with the Philadelphia Water Department (PWD), while the remaining four crews plant trees and revitalize public land with Philadelphia Parks & Recreation (PPR).

After serving for six months, the approximately 50 AmeriCorps crew members -- who are funneled into the program from agencies that assist youths who've had legal trouble, or who've recently come out of the city's foster system as adults -- receive three months of job placement support.
 
According to the PWD's Christine Knapp, the program could provide a recruiting funnel for the large number of skilled positions the city will soon need to fill as baby boomers retire en masse. 

Writer: Dan Eldridge
Source: Julia Hillengas, Mayor's Office of Civic Engagement and Volunteer Service 




Philly Geek Awards 2012: Girls, tears and robot-on-robot action

Philadelphia loves its geeky girls, as evidenced by the preponderance of female award winners at the 2012 Philadelphia Geek Awards. Geek of the Year went to Tristin Hightower, cofounder of Girl Geek Dinners, and Event of the Year went to Women in Tech Summit.

"Girls, if you are a little bit tech or geek curious, Philly is a good place to be," remarked Hightower. When CloudMine's Brendan McCorkle posted her quote on twitter, Nick Robalik quipped, "Maybe even binary-curious."
 
Geekadelphia's Eric Smith, co-organizer of the sold-out, black tie event with Tim Quirino, reports that an overflow audience of 500 attended at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "The museum was sold out last year, and was sold out again this year in record time," says Quirino. "It's incredible to see a packed house dressed to the nines just to support the local Geek community."

A sci-fi inspired, LED-enhanced podium glowed in an ever changing rainbow of color and video. The awards themselves, created by NextFab Studio, also glowed. The podium and visuals were created by Klip Collective. Quirino says of the awards, "NextFab took my robot illustration to a whole new level. Robotic lasers cut the form of the robot out of clear, thick, acrylic and etched the details in.  Imagine that. A robot creating a robot!  Then they built the base out of wood, which housed a simple electronic circuit that contained three LED lights that lit up the acrylic robot making it look like a hologram from afar."

"The passionate speeches by some of the winners were really quite moving. Scientist of the Year, Youngmoo Kim from Drexel University, and Geek of the Year, Tristin Hightower, gave particularly lovely speeches," says Smith. Adds Quirino, "Eric doesn't want to admit that he teared up a little bit. It's ok, Eric. I did too."
 
Kim says, "I was honored to be nominated alongside my Drexel colleague Andy Hicks, who does amazing things with light and mirrors using mathematics. And Paul Ehrlich is a giant in the field of population biology. Hopefully this award highlights the incredible work being done by scientists and researchers throughout the region.
 
"I met a bunch of people doing very cool things spanning all kinds of 'geek-doms.' I mentioned this during my acceptance speech, but I absolutely believe that within the auditorium, there's the collective intelligence, passion, and experience, in short the 'geekiness,' to address some really tough problems (education, unemployment, digital literacy) and transform Philadelphia. And I look forward to working together with everyone to make that happen. And whoever put together the podium (very cool trapezoidal obelisk with video projections on the surfaces) should receive a special award. That was awesome!"
 
Accepting the award for Startup of the Year, Curalate's Apu Gupta said, "We have to thank all the 13-year-old girls out there. Because they use Pinterest. Also, Brendan likes them." 
 
Other winners included Zoe Strauss, for her Foursquare campaign associated with the citywide photography exhibit earlier this year; BlueCadet Interactive won for Web Development Team of the Year; the Viral Project of the Year went to the Opera Company of Philadelphia's Random Acts of Culture, and Hacker of the Year was Georgia Guthrie. A complete list of winners can be found here, and you can see pics of attendees taken by Photobot 3000 here.

How drunk did Smith get at the afterparty that went for hours at National Mechanics? "No comment. Though if anyone found a size 10 shoe (right) at National Mechanics, please email me at [email protected]" We heard you had a big shoe, Eric.

Source: Eric Smith, Tim Quirino, Youngmoo Kim, Apu Gupta, Tristin Hightower, Phillly Geek Awards
Writer: Sue Spolan

Next month's Geek Awards will be ladies night

After the Philadelphia Geek Awards organizers finalized the nominees for next month's big bash at the Academy of Natural Sciences, something else had changed besides the categories for the second installment of what organizers have lovingly described as the Daytime Emmys version of the Webbys.
 
"It wasn't until after we finished going through nominations that we realized there were more women this year," says Tim Quirino, cofounder of Geekadelphia, the all-things-geeky blog and community that continues to grow. 
 
Make no mistake, this year's Geek Awards -- already sold out for Aug. 17 (but overflow tickets have just been released) - are indicative of Philadelphia's feminine firepower. No fewer than nine lady nominees dominate the event's 14 categories, which moved away from the "new" theme to include more static categories (like Indie Game Developer of the Year) that will have more staying power. 
 
Most notably, three women are up for Geek of the Year, including Tristin Hightower (Girl Geek Dinners), Gerri Trooskin (Franklin Institute) and Roz Duffy (TEDxPhilly).
 
Last year, only five women were represented individually among all the nominees. While the influx of women in the program might not have been entirely deliberate, it is clearly a product of Geekadelphia opening up the nomination process, receiving upward of 100 pages of nominations from across the region.
 
"Thanks to cool events like the Women in Tech conference and cool organizations like TechGirlz and Girl Develop It, I'm constantly hearing about the interesting things (local women in tech) are up to," says Geekadelphia cofounder Eric Smith. "The increase in nominations reflect them being passionate about making themselves heard."
 
Says Quirino: "There are more women doing things in the Philadelphia tech scene than before."

And next month, one of them will be called Geek of the Year.

Source: Eric Smith, Tim Quirino, Geekadelphia
Writer: Joe Petrucci

Nearly $3M in Knight Arts Challenge Awards awarded at Philadelphia Museum of Art

"You have to look at his lines," said Janet Echelman of the collection of rare Van Gogh paintings on display at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the venue for the Knight Arts Challenge Awards ceremony on Monday night. "Look at his drawing skill." Echelman, an internationally known sculptor known for her public art, was on hand to share in the honor of a $400,000 grant to the Center City District to transform the Dilworth Plaza, and be completed in March 2014, according to Paul Levy, who accepted the Knight Award on behalf of the CCD.

Winners and ceremony attendees were treated to a private viewing of the blockbuster exhibit of impressionist paintings, and Lorene Cary, who received a $100,000 award for her Hip H'Opera project, toured the exhibit with Jeri Lynne Johnson, winner of $50,000 for the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra.

The 35 winners, who have known for a month but were sworn to secrecy, uniformly reported great surprise upon receiving the news, hauling in a combined $2.76 million. "They don't just call you. They say, 'We want you to come into the office,'" said Lori Dillard Rech, who accepted $25,000 on behalf of the Center for Emerging Visual Artists' Made in Philly project. "You think you have to defend yourself, not knowing that you've already gotten the award."

Erica Hawthorne, who applied as an individual on behalf of other individuals, could not believe she was granted $60,000 for her Small-but-Mighty Arts Grant, which will award local artists anywhere from $50 to $1,000 each.

Speakers at the event included Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy's Gary Steuer, who said that the Knight Arts Challenge, now in its second of three years, is making its imprimatur on the city. Mayor Nutter remarked upon the larger effect of $9 million in Knight grants, which translates to $18 million, since each grantee must come up with matching funds, touching the lives of all Philadelphians and bringing in tourism dollars.

On a related note, the Greater Philadelphia Tourism and Marketing Corporation received $350,000 for Midnight Madness, an effort to engage younger audiences with a series of late night summer happenings to include music, food and rare midnight tours of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Barnes Foundation and the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts. Campus Philly, helmed by Deborah Diamond, received $100,000 to offer free or discounted admission to college students visiting the city's cultural venues.

It's not all about Center City. Neighborhoods likw Nicetown-Tioga, West Philadelphia, and East Kensington will also be getting a little Knight magic. You can see the full list of winners below, and a video here.

Performing Arts Will Diversify Old City's First Fridays
Project: Arden Festival Fridays
Recipient: Arden Theatre Company
Award: $50,000
To diversify artistic offerings by presenting multidisciplinary performances alongside gallery events during Old City's monthly First Fridays

"Pop-Up" Performances Bring Latin Jazz to Philly Neighborhoods
Project: AMLA Flash Jazz Mobile
Recipient: Artists and Musicians of Latin America
Award: $35,000
To cultivate new audiences for Latin jazz by presenting "pop-up" performances by local artists using a portable stage

Stories of Urban Youth Come to Life in "Hip H'Opera"
Project: Hip H'Opera
Recipient: Art Sanctuary
Award: $100,000
To celebrate two art forms that use the human voice to tell profound stories by creating a "Hip H'Opera" using the stories of urban life

Communities Experience Art in Unexpected Places
Project: Neighborhood Spotlight Series 
Recipient: Asian Arts Initiative
Award: $45,000
To provide everyday artistic experiences by creating site-specific works for nontraditional places like restaurants, storefronts and public plazas

Late-Night Cabarets Explore Social Issues with Sparkle on the Avenue of the Arts
Project: Bearded Ladies Cabaret Revolution
Recipient: Bearded Ladies Cabaret
Award: $30,000
To attract new audiences to theater – using the medium to explore social issues with sparkle – through a series of original, late-night cabarets

New Form of Symphonic Pops Concert Celebrates World Music
Project: Black Pearl Pops!
Recipient: Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra
Award: $50,000
To showcase diverse cultures by transforming a symphonic "pops" concert into a celebration of world music

College Students Gain New Access to the City's Arts Scene
Project: Campus Philly's Passport to the Arts
Recipient: Campus Philly
Award: $100,000
To foster a lifelong appreciation of the arts by offering free or discounted admission to venues and performances for college students

Workshop Gives Voice to Unheard Stories of the Lao-American Community
Project: Laos in the House: Voices from Four Decades of the Lao Diaspora
Recipient: Catzie Vilayphonh
Award: $25,000
To promote storytelling within the Lao-American community through a writing, performance and filmmaking workshop

Public Art Transforms Dilworth Plaza and Thriving Center City
Project: New Public Art at Dilworth Plaza
Recipient: Center City District
Award: $400,000
To help transform historic Dilworth Plaza by commissioning internationally recognized sculptor Janet Echelman to create an artwork inspired by the site's historic association with water and steam

Art Installation Open to All Inspires Dialogue on Art and Spirituality
Project: In the Light: A Skyspace by James Turrell
Recipient: Chestnut Hill Friends Meetinghouse Project
Award: $80,000
To offer visitors a contemplative art space by incorporating the work of internationally acclaimed light artist James Turrell into a new facility


Residents Transform Vacant Lots Into Visual and Sound Gardens
Project: Site and Sound Gardens
Recipient: COSACOSA art at large
Award: $75,000
To transform abandoned spaces into "sacred" art parks for the community by engaging residents to create visual and sound gardens in the Nicetown-Tioga neighborhood

Local Artists Get Support From Mini Grant Program
Project: Small-But-Mighty Arts Grant
Recipient: Erica Hawthorne
Award: $60,000
To give a boost to local artists by creating a mini grant program to help finance their art making with awards ranging from $50 to $1,000

Mobile Studio Brings Community Art to New Neighborhoods
Project: ColorWheels: Delivering Creativity to Your Community
Recipient: Fleisher Art Memorial
Award: $50,000
To engage the community in hands-on art making by expanding the reach of a mobile studio where participants create projects inspired by their neighborhoods

West Philadelphia Lots Become Artistic Skate Parks
Project: Skateable City
Recipient: Franklin's Paine Skatepark Fund
Award: $100,000
To help transform West Philadelphia neighborhoods by turning blacktop lots into art-laden skate parks

Free Theater Festival Showcases Diversity On Stage
Project: Philly Urban Theatre Festival
Recipient: GoKash Productions
Award: $20,000
To promote original plays through a free theater festival dedicated to multicultural themes 

Late-Night Museum Happenings Encourage New Audiences
Project: Midnight Madness 
Recipient: Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation
Award: $350,000
To engage younger audiences in the visual arts through a series of simultaneous late-night happenings at three of Philadelphia's premier  art museums

Cutting-Edge Performing Arts Gain New Visibility Through Residency Program
Project: Underground Residencies at the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Recipient: Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts
Award: $150,000
To engage new audiences in the performing arts by creating a residency program in the Kimmel Center's black-box theater for innovative and emerging art groups

Visual and Performing Arts Fill an East Kensington Lot
Project: Little Berlin Fairgrounds
Recipient: Little Berlin
Award: $10,000
To help transform the East Kensington neighborhood by turning an empty lot into an event space for musicians, art fairs and children's workshops

Outdoor Summer Film Series Showcases Local Artists and Filmmakers
Project: Urban Drive-In with DIY Food Culture
Recipient: The Galleries at Moore College of Art & Design
Award: $20,000
To introduce the work of local visual artists and filmmakers to a wider audience by establishing an outdoor independent film series on the Parkway

Weekly Drumming Lessons Inspire Local Youth
Project: Drum Line 
Recipient: Musicopia
Award: $90,000
To empower and inspire Philadelphia's youth through their participation in an indoor percussion ensemble by providing weekly drumming lessons and performing opportunities

Gospel Choirs, Composers and Jazz Ensembles Celebrate Dr. King
Project: New Music Celebrations of the Life of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. 
Recipient: Orchestra 2001
Award: $40,000
To celebrate Dr. Martin Luther King Jr., Orchestra 2001 will present a concert featuring a new concerto based on the civil rights leader's life

Design Center Provides New Resources to Theater and Visual Artists
Project: Philadelphia Theatrical Design Center
Recipient: Partners for Sacred Places
Award: $180,000
To expand the capacity of the city's theater community by providing a new space for theater designers and visual artists at a repurposed local church

Free Digital Cameras Give Access to Communities for Photography Exhibition
Project: Bring to Light: Philadelphia
Recipient: Philadelphia Photo Arts Center
Award: $35,000
To encourage broader audience participation in the city's visual arts by expanding Philly Photo Day, where everyone is invited to take a picture on the same day for an exhibition

Architecture Seen in a New Light with 3D Video Art Events
Project: Animated Architecture: 3D Video Mapping Projections on Historic Sites
Recipient: Sean Stoops
Award: $20,000
To support an innovative form of 3D digital animation by creating site-specific video art events screened on local buildings

Plays in Nontraditional Spaces Bring Adventure to Audiences
Project: Outside The (Black) Box
Recipient: Swim Pony Performing Arts
Award: $50,000
To weave the arts into the community by presenting original, contemporary plays in nontraditional spaces, including Eastern State Penitentiary and the Academy of Natural Sciences

Multidisciplinary Festival Features Black Male Artists
Project: Henry "Box" Brown - The Escape Artist 
Recipient: The Brothers Network
Award: $25,000
To introduce diverse audiences to the performing arts by creating a multidisciplinary festival that features black men as thinkers, artists, choreographers, dancers, composers and more

Locally Produced Art Populates Neighborhood Public Spaces
Project: Made in Philly
Recipient: The Center for Emerging Visual Artists
Award: $25,000
To bring visual art to a wider audience by placing locally produced art in public advertising spaces in the same neighborhood where the piece was produced

Ceramic Mug "Assault" Explores Relevance of Handmade Things
Project: Guerilla Mug Assault
Recipient: The Clay Studio
Award: $15,000
To explore the relevance of handmade ceramic objects in the 21st century by providing a handmade mug to people leaving coffee shops and encouraging them to post about their experiences on the Web

Choral Works for Nontraditional Spaces to Be Commissioned
Project: Performances at the Icebox
Recipient: The Crossing
Award: $50,000
To introduce a wider audience to contemporary choral music by establishing a series of new works designed specifically for a nontraditional venue – the recently restored Crane Arts' Icebox

Sculptural Installation Explores Visual Art and Theater
Project: Daniel Arsham: Performative Architecture
Recipient: The Fabric Workshop and Museum
Award: $80,000
To create a sculptural intervention by artist Daniel Arsham within The Fabric Workshop and Museum that will include a live performance to explore the boundaries between museum and theatrical spaces

Teaching Program Fosters New Knowledge for Use of Technology in the Arts
Project: Corps of Interactive Artist Teachers
Recipient: The Hacktory
Award: $40,000
To promote the use of technology in the arts by developing an intensive tech/art curriculum for local artists who will share their knowledge with Philadelphia students

Creative Incubator Supports Emerging Creative Businesses
Project: Creative Incubator
Recipient: The University of the Arts
Award: $120,000
To promote economic stability for the city's cultural community by offering support to emerging creative businesses with pre-seed funding, mentorship programs and workshops

Citywide Scavenger Hunts Introduce Teens to Art and Adventure
Project: ARTward Bound: a creative orienteering adventure
Recipient: The Village of Arts and Humanities
Award: $60,000
To develop young people's awareness of the city's vibrant cultural scene through interactive scavenger hunts led by local artists

Master Class Series Provides Advanced Training for Local Actors
Project: Creating a Common Artistic Voice
Recipient: The Wilma Theater
Award: $60,000
To enhance training for local actors by creating a series of master classes

Public Art Enlivens The Porch at 30th Street Station
Project: A Permanent Place for Temporary Art in University City
Recipient: University City District
Award: $120,000
To establish a new outlet for public art that showcases temporary installations at The Porch at 30th Street Station

Source: Mayor Michael Nutter, Gary Steuer, Lori Dillard Rech, Erica Hawthorne, Lorene Cary, Janet Echelman, Paul Levy
Writer: Sue Spolan

A 41-hour digital fast to raise digital divide awareness

Could you step away from the keyboard? This weekend, Philly Tech Week (PTW) curator Tayyib Smith, in conjunction with KEYSPOTS, asked the tech community and everyone else in the city to participate in a 41 hour digital fast beginning Saturday April 21 at 3 p.m. No computer. No email. No social media. No mobile apps (those participating in Philly Startup Weekend get a fast pass). The fast ended when PTW began, with breakfast on Monday (April 23) at 8 a.m.

Brandon Shockley, a content associate at Mighty Engine, did his best to participate in the fast, but couldn't make it even a quarter of the way. "I can't say I was successful, despite my best efforts. I cracked," reports Shockley. "The internet is habit forming. I made it about 7 hours, and then had to go back to the safety of my inbox."
 
Nearly half of Philadelphia lacks basic computer skills and internet access, according to Smith, who did make it through an internet free weekend in which he says he stopped himself 15 or 20 times from reaching for his phone and computer.

In the lead-up to Philly Tech Week, Smith, founder of 215mag and Little Giant Creative, called attention "to the 41% of Philadelphians who still don’t have basic computer skills and Internet access, which essentially means a  lack of basic opportunity." Smith curates this year’s Access and Policy track for Philly Tech Week.
 
"One of the biggest dangers to the people in our city who can’t communicate digitally is the risk of being underrepresented in media, government, and culture," says Smith, who notes that a new discourse is being developed, the language of programming, and it seems to him as if a monolithic group of people are explaining that language, disproportionately affecting minorities. "That’s why the first step is closing our city’s digital divide is raising awareness of this issue."
 
Smith hopes the fast will help publicize KEYSPOTS, an initiative of the Freedom Rings Partnership, that offers over 80 public computing sites where residents can get free internet access and training. "Do nothing and support our efforts," reads a banner on the website. Well, not totally nothing. In the next few days, Smith encourages connected people to spread the word about the fast via Facebook, Twitter and email. And then shut it all down. 

Source: Tayyib Smith, Digital FAST, Brandon Shockley, Mighty Engine
Writer: Sue Spolan

Local tech VP appointed to FCC's advisory committee on diversity

Brigitte Daniel is on her way up, literally. By the time you read this, Daniel will be on a seven-week fact-finding mission through Southeast Asia funded by an Eisenhower Fellowship. But wait,  that's not all. Daniel was just appointed to the Federal Communications Commission’s Federal Advisory Committee on Diversity in the Digital Age. We'll get back to that tour of India, Sri Lanka, Malaysia and Singapore in a minute.

How about that FCC appointment? Daniel, an attorney and Executive Vice President of Wilco Electronic Systems, is one of the youngest appointees to the committee and the only representative from Philadelphia. The committee will meet in Washington, DC to ensure that minorities and low income communities get broadband access. "It's being reframed as a civil rights issue of the 21st century," says Daniel, who adds that increasingly, institutional interactions require internet access. If you want to apply for a job, apply to college, and get social services, you need the web.

Wilco is a family business founded by Will Daniel, Brigitte's father. One of Wilco’s primary missions is to provide low cost, high speed advanced telecommunication services to minorities and underserved communities in the Greater Philadelphia area.  “One of the reasons I was appointed to the diversity committee for the FCC was because Wilco served as a catalyst to bring together the various partners and community groups that formed the Philadelphia Freedom Rings Partnership. Freedom Rings is a citywide consortium of educational institutions, municipalities, The City of Philadelphia, and Wilco, which had the goal of providing high speed access to underserved and economically stressed areas."

While Freedom Rings provides free access to participants, Daniel stresses that ultimately, the goal is affordable service. "When you start talking about free, it's hard to be sustainable. Someone will always have to pay for it." Daniel adds that if the service is free it will perceived to have less value. "Our whole point is to make it affordable." To prove that point, Wilco customers can get digital cable, high speed internet and a laptop for under $50 a month. "It's our version of the triple play," says Daniel.

Back to that whirlwind trip to the other side of the globe: Daniel is a 2011 Eisenhower Fellow. The India and Sri Lanka segments of her seven week trip are funded by the fellowship; she added the other destinations in order to gather even more knowledge of emerging technologies and policies for connecting impoverished populations.

Daniel returns in December and begins a two-year term at the FCC while remaining at Wilco. "Whatever we recommend, I hope it's taken to heart. At Wilco, we are on the ground, in the trenches. If the FCC takes our policy recommendations seriously, that's exciting."

Source: Brigitte Daniel, Wilco Electronic Systems
Writer: Sue Spolan

State of Young Philly has never looked better

If you want to know how young Philly's doing, let me sum it up for you: smart and good looking. From the highest reaches of government right down to our youngest up and comers, there's never been a more attractive bunch of people in charge.

The second annual State of Young Philly, convened by the all-volunteer Young Involved Philadelphia for a two-week run, was a series of six events designed to engage, connect and represent citizens. Targeting community engagement, education, sustainability and the creative economy, State of Young Philly drew close to 1,000 young professionals and representatives from over 50 organizations in the city, according to organizers. From the first packed event at World Cafe Live on Oct. 4 to the standing-room only crowd at the finale at The Gershman Y, the crowd was diverse in age and background and alike in its forward-thinking approach.

Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philadelphia Board Chair, says, "When I first moved to Philadelphia just over a decade ago, I was initially struck by the negativity of the city. But the spirit in the discussions over the course of the past few weeks has been very different than that initial perception I got when I first moved here. Rather than focusing solely on what was in need of improvement, each of the discussions was as much about how to build on already existing innovation and assets the city has to offer."

Alain Joinville, Public Affairs Coordinator for the city's Department of Parks and Recreation and a Young Involved Philly board member, adds, "It was easier to get partnering organizations involved. The State of Young Philly series is the biggest and most audacious project our organization has undertaken in its 11-year history, and we did it pretty well last year, so we are seen as a credible organization in the eyes of the City's leaders and leading organizations."

Robertson-Kraft points to several initiatives that launched in the lead-up to this year's State of Young Philly: a local version of the online web portal Change By Us,a partnership with United Way to improve Philadelphia public education, entry into the Open Data Philly challenge, and social media hashtags #WhyILovePhilly and #PhillyArts.

But ultimately, the draw of State of Young Philly is the promise of doing good combined with a commitment to fun. Reports Robertson-Kraft, "Let’s just say that the after-party went into the late hours of the night. At all of our events, we strive to achieve that perfect balance of meaningful conversation and a good time."

It's a whole new take on a thousand points of light.

Source: Claire Robertson-Kraft, Young Involved Philly
Writer: Sue Spolan

Open Data Race lets you vote for data sets that are most fit for public consumption

Data collection and dissemination: how much fun is that? If you are participating in Philadelphia's Open Data Race, you might actually squeeze a good time out of otherwise flat statistics. Voting in the Open Data Race is open to the public until Oct. 27, and currently, you can make your opinion known on which of 24 data sets you would like to see made public.

"We hope to generate excitement around open data," says Deborah Boyer, project manager at Philadelphia-based Azavea. Nominations contributed by non-profit organizations were reviewed by OpenDataPhilly partners, namely Azavea, NPower Pennsylvania, The William Penn Foundation, and Technically Philly.

It's probably too early to judge, but right now the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia's request for stats on reported bike thefts is atop the rankings with 55 votes, followed by Demographic Info for Individuals Accessing Shelter Services submitted by Back on My Feet with 50 votes. Other organizations represented in the voting ranks include the Committee of 70, The Urban Tree Connection and The Sustainable Business Network.

Boyer says, "Public participation has been a key feature of OpenDataPhilly and is also crucial to the Open Data Race. We encourage people to submit data sets for inclusion in OpenDataPhilly or nominate data they would like to see made available."

Boyer points to difficulties municipalities might have in identifying which data is most needed. "Through Open Data Race, non-profit organizations have the opportunity to let the city and OpenDataPhilly partners know what information they need to fulfill their missions."

Winners, to be announced on Friday, Oct. 28, will receive cash prizes. First place gets $2,000, second place gets $1,000, and third receives $500. At that point, the fun really begins, when OpenDataPhilly works with the city to unlock the requested sets and then hosts hack-a-thons to create applications that use the data.

Source: Deborah Boyer, Azavea/OpenDataPhilly
Writer: Sue Spolan

What's all this about LevelUp? Help your mom figure it out

My mom called. "What's this LevelUp? I got an email on my BlackBerry that I have two dollars off at Miel." When a brand new tech company already has the attention of the 70-somethings, it's got to be good.

LevelUp, which has a rapidly growing presence in the Philadelphia area, is a new kind of customer loyalty program for local business. Rather than carry around a walletful of punch cards, says launcher John Valentine, who has just been promoted to VP of LevelUp for the east coast. The company is hiring here in Philly, with two positions open in implementation and sales. Each city is slated to have a total of six employees.

Currently, says Valentine, there are 129 businesses in the LevelUp community, with 10 new merchants signing up each week. Here's how it works: Customers sign up online with a credit card. Participating businesses have a device, which is really a smartphone on a lucite platform, which reads a QR code on your phone screen (Valentine says the next generation of readers will be smaller and more streamlined). LevelUp then charges your card, bypassing the shop's cash register, and every 24 to 48 hours, says Valentine, LevelUp sends payment to merchants. As the customer, you receive several dollars off each purchase, and LevelUp tracks your activity, rewarding you for repeat business.

LevelUp evolved out of SCVNGR, a DreamIt Ventures funded startup. The location based scavenger hunt game led to a desire to solve the loyalty piece of the puzzle. "How do we get someone to frequent a place?" asks Valentine.

LevelUp is growing concurrently in Philadelphia and Boston, with plans to take over the world. New York is next, then Atlanta, Washington DC and Miami. "There's been enough validation for what we're doing in Boston and Philadelphia that we need to scale up fast." Valentine, who calls it sticky, says those who start using the program come back for more. "Within the next two weeks, 49% use LevelUp again."

Aside from the novelty factor, says Valentine, LevelUp gives businesses several advantages: the loyalty program brings people back more, brings in new customers, and has the added effect of incentivizing people to spend more money. Because shoppers are getting 5 to 15% back, they're actually spending more, according to Valentine. If you'd like to try LevelUp, Valentine is offering $10 in global credit to Flying Kite readers. Just use the code TECH when you sign up.

Source: John Valentine, LevelUp
Writer: Sue Spolan

Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts kicks off this week with giant squid

Dan Schimmel's head might be in augmented reality, but the picture is pretty clear to him.

"Right now there's a giant, 100 foot squid hovering over the falls at Boat House Row," says the director of Breadboard, the art and technology program at Science Center that oversees the Esther Klein Gallery. Breadboard is participating in the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) with the free citywide [email protected], the Virtual Public Art Project. Granted, explains Schimmel, you need a smartphone or other mobile device to see the Augmented Reality squid. "That's somewhat foreign to people, but this is where society's headed."

PIFA is about to overtake the city like a giant encornet (that's French for squid) with over 135 events, running from April 7 to May 1. If bright lights in the big city get you going, check out the 81 foot Eiffel Tower replica at the Kimmel Center, which serves as festival headquarters, with a light show daily at 7 and 10 p.m. The theme of PIFA is Paris 1911, tying in with the recent French-flavored Philadelphia International Flower Show. All over the city, you can catch performances, lectures, dance parties, installations, readings, a fashion show and eleven French chefs in residence at area restaurants.

The $10 million extravaganza showcases local and international talent. Visit a day-long free Parisian street fair April 30 on Broad Street where you can ride a giant Ferris Wheel and enjoy a multitude of acts including Sharon Jones and the Dap Kings. PIFA is also sponsoring daily wine tastings, crepe samples, free concerts, and French lessons.

Philly-Paris Lockdown, on April 17 at 8 PM at the Kimmel, features Philly's own ?uestlove of The Roots along with singer-songwriter Keren Ann, followed by an underground afterparty. Fourth Wall Arts hosts a special Salon on April 23 at the newly opened National Museum of American Jewish History on Independence Mall, featuring Ursula Rucker, Mimi Stillman and muralist David Guinn.

JJ Tiziou's How Philly Moves, which just raised $26,000 in a Kickstarter Campaign, will be projecting massive images of Philadelphia's dancers on the side of the Kimmel throughout the festival. Hope: An Oratorio, is a work PIFA commissioned by composer Jonathan Leshnoff, to be performed April 24, performed by The Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, along with four soloists, the Pennsylvania Girlchoir and the Mendelssohn Club of Philadelphia.

The Painted Bride, The Philadelphia Orchestra, The Slought Foundation, the African-American Museum in Philadelphia, The Philadelphia Museum of Art, WXPN, Philadelphia's Magic Garden, and the Independence Seaport Museum are just a few of the many PIFA sponsors and event hosts. Get detailed program information, tickets, and download a festival brochure at the PIFA website. PIFA, along with the GPTMC, is also offering hotel and ticket packages for the festival.

Source: Dan Schimmel, Breadboard; PIFA; GPTMC
Writer: Sue Spolan


Philly solar conversion company among highlights of Cleantech Investment Forum

Clean technology is a big draw for potential investors. Several hundred people gathered at the Academy of Natural Sciences on March 31 for the 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum. Sponsored by Blank Rome Counselors at Law, the Academy and Cleantech Alliance Mid-Atlantic, investor panels discussing the future of renewable energy, clean water, recycling and waste disposal were followed by presentations from area entrepreneurs.

On hand were members of the Greater Philadelphia Innovation Cluster for Energy Efficient Buildings. Williams J. Agate leads the Philadelphia Industrial Development Corporation, developing and managing the Philadelphia Navy Yard, which is now in the process of creating a smart grid energy master plan.

The Fostering Cleantech Investment Panel included Kevin Brophy, of Meidlinger Partners, who talked about the future of clean water investment, and said that while innovation in the field came from the middle cap, the greatest opportunity for future investments is in the huge lower cap market. Also on the panel were Gary Golding, from Edison Ventures, who addressed rapidly improving awareness of water issues, Arun Kapoor of SJF Ventures, who mentioned 100 percent Pennsylvania wind provider Community Energy, and Josh Wolfe, the founding partner of Lux Capital. Wolfe described Lux as an early stage high risk venture fund valued at $100 million, and had a different take on the market than his fellow panelists, explaining that Lux focuses on companies that are long on human ingenuity and short on government rationality. Passing on biofuel, nuclear and natural gas investments, Lux is instead investing in nuclear waste management, calling it the energy industry's biggest unsolved problem.

The only presenting entrepreneur based in the immediate Philadelphia area is solar power conversion company Alencon Systems, Inc. Now in the research and development stage, Alencon addresses the problem of energy efficiency with large scale photovoltaic systems, which are currently created by aggregating multiple small systems. Alencon, which was borne of research at Rowan University, aims to simplify solar and wind power systems from distributed harvesting to centralized conversion. With a prototype already built and tested, Alencon slates projected sales of its streamlined systems at $45 million by 2014.

Source: 3rd Annual Mid-Atlantic Cleantech Investment Forum
Writer: Sue Spolan

The Social Knitwork: Philly's yarn bomber in talks with Mural Arts

Jessie Hemmons embraces the city, literally. You've probably walked past this new form of public art and wondered who's behind the colorful knit webs that wrap trees, bike racks, and recently, subway seats on the Market-Frankford Line.

Hemmons is a yarn bomber, a growing network that subverts the old fashioned craft of knitting to put a feminist stamp on underground street art. When she's not riding her bike, Hemmons goes by the handle "ishknits" and spends hours working big needles and skeins of acrylic yarn on public transit. Hemmons, who's also a therapist for families facing drug and alcohol addiction, is not the first person to engage in yarn bombing nationally. The practice originated in Austin, when a failing yarn shop's overstock became fodder for public art. Hemmons says she is the only yarn bomber in Philadelphia, with 30 installations to date, including one commissioned by Urban Outfitters for the company's Navy Yard headquarters. She's also selling knits on etsy.

Consider the masculine spray of graffiti, as opposed to the warm womanly embrace of knitwork. "I am feminizing street art," says Hemmons, who is now entering talks with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. "My whole goal is to empower communities. The ideal yarn bomb would be to wrap an abandoned house." Public knitting is passive intervention, and a way for Hemmons to communicate that someone is paying attention to blighted neighborhoods.

Source: Jessie Hemmons, ishknits
Writer: Sue Spolan
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