| Follow Us: Facebook Twitter RSS Feed

Innovation + Job News

687 Articles | Page: | Show All

The Center for Architecture unveils Kahn Coffee -- designed by you?

This year, the Philadelphia Center for Architecture's DesignPhiladelphia event (October 8 - 16) will feature a small but energizing twist: a contest to create branding for a new coffee blend open to designers of all stripes. The buzzy brew will be available exclusively through the Center and American Institute of Architects (AIA) Philadelphia, courtesy of a new partnership with Philly Fair Trade Roasters.

DesignPhiladelphia attracts over 150 partners each year for public programming on 21st-century design, technology and collaboration in the business world.  

AIA and Center for Architecture Executive Director Rebecca Johnson says the beverage brainstorm came about as the Center worked on some renovations in advance of the AIA Convention in May 2016, which will bring 25,000 architects to our city. The team started thinking of fun ways to improve the space -- a place to grab a local pick-me-up made a lot of sense.

"There’s always meetings here, so we want to have a sense of a hub of activity for the design community," explains Johnson. "Coffee just kept coming up. For the Convention, I thought that would be a really fun thing."

The name Kahn came up due to the Center’s annual Louis Kahn lecture.

"Do people know the significance of Louis Kahn to the entire world?" asks Johnson. "He’s a huge influencer. And he’s a Philadelphia architect."

And then the idea went a step further: Bring the local creative community in on the process. Running during DesignPhiladelphia, the contest is open to everybody: architects, artists, laypeople. The finished branding doesn’t necessarily have to feature Kahn -- if participating designers have another idea of someone to feature, they should go for it.

The deadline for entries is September 30, and the concepts will be on display at the Center during DesignPhiladelphia. The public can vote on their favorite. (For formatting guidelines and other instructions, click here.) Everyone who votes will get a free sample cup of the new coffee.

Beyond simply offering a new amenity for the many people who use the Center, the organizers hope to get the community even more engaged with the interdisciplinary space that also houses the Community Design Collaborative. Johnson hopes Kahn Coffee (or whatever the brand turns out to be) and the contest will be one more way to spark the kind of conversations AIA Philadelphia and the Center for Architecture aim to foster.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Rebecca Johnson, the Center for Architecture and AIA Philadelphia

Dear Startups, the Digital Health Accelerator wants you!

The University City Science Center  is now accepting applications for the sophomore class of its Digital Health Accelerator (DHA), a program that helps launch companies in the digital health or health IT sectors.

Need convincing? Consider UE Lifesciences, one of the startups in the inaugural DHA class that wrapped in July. UELS recently announced that it has raised $3 million in venture capital to commercialize its handheld breast health examination tool.

iBreastExam, a painless and radiation-free device, can be easily operated by nurses and social workers to provide standardized breast exams with instant results at the point of care. The product uses patented ceramic sensors invented at Drexel University to detect subtle variations in the stiffness of breast tissue that can point to tumors.

The implications for women in the developing world are enormous. Survival rates for women in the U.S. diagnosed with breast cancer are 80 to 90 percent compared to less than 50 percent for women in the developing world.

"iBreastExam may provide a fighting chance for them by enabling early detection on a large scale," explains Dr. Ari Brooks, director of the Integrated Breast Center at Pennsylvania Hospital.

According to the Science Center, UELS and the six other companies in the first DHA class went from prototype to commercialization, created 53 new jobs, generated $600,000 in sales and raised almost $4 million in follow-on investment.

For the next class, they're is looking for companies ready to establish operations in Greater Philadelphia with a product or concept ready to be sold -- or that will be ready with DHA support -- on the U.S. healthcare market. The six companies will each receive up to $50,000, office space at the Science Center, professional mentorship, access to investors and introductions to appropriate decision makers in their target markets.

The program will run for one year beginning in February 2016. Applications are due October 26.

Source: University City Science Center and UE Lifesciences
Writer: Elise Vider

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Choose your favorite Philly innovator at Octoberís Philly Stake dinner

Recently, we took a look at Germantown photographer Tieshka Smith’s project Racism is a Sickness, which will be on display at City Hall on November 2. In the meantime, Smith of is one of eight presenters at the fourteenth Philly Stake dinner, which draws creatively and civically minded folks together to enjoy a meal and hear from some of the city’s most ambitious grassroots innovators.

A member of the worldwide Sunday Soup Network (founded in Chicago), Philly Stake has been operating since 2010. Until 2014, the all-volunteer group did three events per year, but it now focuses on just one. Held picnic-style at beautiful Bartram’s Garden, the shindig will return on Sunday, October 4 from 3 - 6 p.m.

Guests (which usually number about 250; get your $20 tickets in advance online here) come for the Philly Stake-provided dinner and dessert, featuring foods from local suppliers, and stay to hear presentations from artists, entrepreneurs and nonprofit leaders.

"It’s very simple," says founder Theresa Rose of their guidelines for presenters. "It’s just creative, relevant, community-engaged projects."

After hearing each presentation, diners vote by ballot on which concept they like the best. The first-place winner gets a cash prize of about $1,000 on the spot; the second-place winner nabs around $500 (sometimes when the vote is very close this prize is split between the second and third-place vote-getters).

According to Rose, Philly Stake isn’t a formal nonprofit or an LLC -- it’s a group of volunteers working together to boost Philly's best ideas for community improvement, and all the money gathered from ticket sales goes directly toward the next dinner and the prize money for the presenters.

This year’s dinner has an arts focus, and for the first time Philly Stake has the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance as a promotions partner. (Past Stake winners have run the gamut from urban farming projects to a poetry program for Vietnam veterans to a dance program for Philly seniors. Others victors have included Recycled Artist in Residency, now its own nonprofit, and the West Philly Tool Library.) The other partner is Drexel University’s Center for Hospitality and Sports Management -- it is donating its kitchen for food preparation, and also lending some students to help out at the event. With a core group of just eight volunteers besides Rose (Mira Adornetto, Annemarie Vaeni, Brett Map, Mallary Johnson, Jonathan Wallis, Ruth Scott Blackson, Albert Lee and Emma Jacobs), the events are getting a bit hard to handle without the help of sponsors.

Philly Stake typically narrows its presenters down from a pool of 20 to 30 applicants. Rose calls the event "fuel for the imagination," because in a world full of dire news and fear for the future, Philly Stake reminds its fans that "there’s so many awesome things going on" and also a tangible way to support them.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Theresa Rose, The Philly Stake

Mt. Airy's Make Art, Grow Food connects kids and elders thanks to a new grant program

This summer's news about the impending loss of their lease didn’t deter Mt. Airy Art Garage leaders and supporters from celebrating the September 9 dedication of their new Make Art, Grow Food mural and garden. The project has transformed MAAG's backyard from a blank wall and a tangle of weeds to a vibrant art piece and rows of fresh vegetables.
The project was made possible by a grant of about $5,000 from the East Mt. Airy Neighbors Association (EMAN) Community Fund, administered through the Philadelphia Foundation. It’s EMAN’s first year giving these grants, and Executive Director Elayne Bender says Make Art, Grow Food was a natural fit for their mission.
The mural was developed via a months-long collaboration between a specialized class of autistic sixth, seventh and eighth graders at the nearby Henry H. Houston School, the elderly day residents of Homelink, Inc. (an adult center and MAAG neighbor), and MAAG member artists and educators. According to Bender, this inter-generational aspect in particular appealed to EMAN.
Illinois native Daisy Juarez, a painter and MAAG member, spearheaded the mural portion of the project. The participating kids and elders drew their own designs for the wall, and Juarez worked them all into one piece. The design was projected and traced onto primed paper pieces. The students and adults then painted in segments on tables inside MAAG; these paper segments were then mounted and sealed on the wall.
"It’s the first time we did a project here with this many people," explained MAAG co-founder Arleen Olshan at the dedication, which was attended by the kids, the elders, Bender and representatives of other supporting groups such as Valley Green Bank, Primex and Mt. Airy Animal Hospital.
For the garden portion of the project, a local Home Depot donated plants and gear, including tables and hoses. MAAG volunteers are helping to maintain the space.
The proud kids (along with a few parents) and elders got their first look at the finished mural on the wall at the dedication. Wherever MAAG lands, Slodki promises that the mural will follow, with a large photograph of it converted into a giclée print.
Bender says the project was a particularly emotional one for her: She cried upon seeing the finished mural in August. 

"It’s joy on a wall," she enthuses.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Elayne Bender, East Mt. Airy Neighbors

From Fishtown to Society Hill: Local publisher Head and The Hand's big move

The Head & The Hand Press has been building its brand from its home in Frankford Avenue’s Stationery Engravers building for the last three years, but September brought a big change for the Philly publisher.
"What’s amazing about Fishtown is it doesn’t have a university anchor there," says founder Nic Esposito of how the neighborhood matches the company's "scrappy" ethos. "There’s really no big corporation or business district there; it’s just an avenue of artists and young entrepreneurs and older people from the neighborhood who are pretty forward-thinking...People are just remaking that neighborhood building by building. Having that kind of energy and being a part of that was great…That was really the hardest thing about the move: Not so much leaving our space, but leaving the neighborhood."

But despite that neighborhood connection, the many benefits of the press’s September migration to office and events space at Society Hill’s historic Physick House -- through a partnership with the Philadelphia Society for the Preservation of Landmarks -- were impossible to ignore.
The move to Physick House really got going when the late 18th-century site hosted a July fundraising dinner for the company. It went so well that Physick staffers suggested the house could be Head & The Hand’s headquarters. Timing was perfect since the press had just decided to seek a new home -- they received word on July 1 that their rent was about to go up. The lack of renovations to their space and the uncertain fate of the building led the group to give notice on the lease without knowing where they’d land.
The move is benefiting everyone.

"They know they need to get more people in there, a diverse group of people, not just people who usually go to historic houses, or tourists,” argues Esposito. Head & The Hand events and workshops will bring an influx of young, passionate visitors.
And it will be good for the press to be more centrally located, though Esposito still lives in (and loves) Fishtown.
"Fishtown will always be part of the Head & the Hand,” he insists, but “we really have an opportunity to reach so many more writers in Philadelphia…we are a Philadelphia publishing company. We’re here to serve all Philadelphians."
The company is just beginning their outreach to neighboring organizations and businesses in Society Hill, and hoping that new partnerships and programming will bloom.
Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Nic Esposito, The Head & The Hand Press

Keeping Up with the University City Science Center

It should come as no surprise to readers of Flying Kite that a lot of innovation – and news of innovation – comes from the University City Science Center
Now Flying Kite and the Science Center have embarked on a new partnership, a way to keep up with the amazing output generated by this dynamic hub for innovation, entrepreneurship and technology commercialization.
For the next year as "Writer in Residence," I’ll be filing regular dispatches, offering an in-depth look at the West Philly institution's scientists, entrepreneurs, startups, and established companies, along with the work it does to move technology out of the lab and into the marketplace.
Founded in 1963, the Science Center is the oldest and largest urban research park in the United States. In service of its goal -- "to inspire a community of knowledge, spark the spirit of enterprise, and help expand and strengthen the Philadelphia’s region’s technology sector" – the campus offers an array of services including lab and office space, business incubation, support services and programming for entrepreneurs.
A few numbers reflect the magnitude of the Science Center’s impact on the region:
  • The Science Center has 17 buildings – and is fast growing – at its 17-acre West Philadelphia campus.
  • 8,000 people come to work at the Science Center every day.
  • More than 350 companies have "graduated" since 1963.
  • 93 graduate companies located in Greater Philadelphia employ 15,000 people.
  • Graduate and current incubator companies generate $9.4 billion in annual regional economic impact.
  • The Science Center’s 31 nonprofit shareholders include many of the region’s leading colleges, universities, hospitals and research institutions.
Over the next year, Flying Kite will report on many aspects of the Science Center’s programs and resources. For now, a quick primer:
  • The Port Business Incubators flexibly accommodate the changing needs of emerging, fast-growth life sciences, physical sciences and digital technology companies. The Global Soft Landing Program fosters international business in the U.S. by helping global companies establish a foothold in local life sciences and IT markets. The Digital Health Accelerator (DHA) supports early-stage digital health companies with funding, office space, professional mentorship and introductions to key stakeholders in the region.
  • The QED Proof-of-Concept Program supports proof-of-concept work in early-stage life science and health technologies with commercial potential. 
  • Quorum unites the region’s entrepreneurial and innovation communities through a central gathering space on the Science Center campus.
  • FirstHand adds art to the STEM subjects (science, technology, engineering and math) to create project-based STEAM programs and workshops that empower individuals and convene communities around creative applications of technology.
  • The Innovation Center @3401 is a flexible workspace for startups.
  • Blackstone LaunchPad Philadelphia supports student entrepreneurship in the Greater Philadelphia region through a partnership between Philadelphia University, Temple University and the Science Center. 
So watch this space and stay abreast as the Science Center takes Philadelphia innovators "from idea to IPO."

WRITER IN RESIDENCE is a partnership between the University City Science Center and Flying Kite Media that embeds a reporter on-site at 3711 Market Street. The resulting coverage will provide an inside look at the most intriguing companies, discoveries and technological innovations coming out of this essential Philadelphia institution.

Making great food products while combating poverty in southeastern Pennsylvania

Lancaster entrepreneur Charlie Crystle, whose food products are finding an enthusiastic audience in Greater Philadelphia, has a specific philosophy on the trouble with America’s economy.

According to the Lancaster Food Company CEO, what we need is "an effort to make jobs that meet people where they are, rather than where we want them to be." Politicians and civic leaders talk a lot about job training, but especially in a city like Lancaster -- which has a 30 percent poverty rate -- this falls short. Focusing on job training programs rather than immediately accessible jobs "continues to push the responsibility for unemployment onto the unemployed…if we don’t do something to meet them halfway, or all the way, [they] will never have decent employment," he argues.

Hiring people in poverty with a good living wage is a part of his company's mission. Crystle founded the company alongside his childhood friend Craig Lauer, who serves as chief product officer, in 2014. After launching and then exiting two software startups, living coast-to-coast and working in Central America with a program for street kids, Crystle felt a strong desire to create a company at home with a social as well as an economic impact.

Lancaster Food Company specializes in organic and sustainably sourced breads, spreads, salsas and jams, including sandwich rye and cinnamon raisin swirl bread, sunflower seed spreads, and limited-edition small-batch toppings from locally grown ingredients such as golden orange tomato salsa and organic strawberry jam. A Lancaster Heritage Grain bread is also on the way this fall.

While their products are handmade, Crystle insists Lancaster Food Company is already a scalable business -- their target market ranges from Washington, D.C., to the New York metro area, with a large presence in Philly. Currently, you can find their products at Mariposa and Weavers Way food co-ops, Reading Terminal Market, area Shop-Rites and the Lancaster Farm Fresh CSA. They just closed an exciting deal with five Wegman’s stores in Southeastern PA, and have their sights set on Whole Foods; look for their products on the shelves of a location in Wayne soon.

That increased reach means more room to advance the company’s social philosophy: hiring people in poverty struggling to find jobs. The company was launched with "a demand for jobs that require relatively low skills, and could meet people where they are in terms of their education, work history or legal background," explains Crystle, something that was difficult to achieve with his prior work in tech startups. "We’re trying to scale so that we can hire hundreds of people, not dozens."

He’s also adamant about the value of supporting local businesses and enjoys being able to tap into the vibrant agriculture of the Lancaster area.

"Every dollar that we spend locally has…three times the impact on our local economy" as money spent on goods from corporations in faraway states, he explains. That adds up to a business as committed to combating poverty as it is to pleasing customers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Charlie Crystle, Lancaster Food Company


A Flying Kite guide to the Fringe Festival

Feeling a little overwhelmed by the Fringe Festival website or catalog? When you count FringeArts’ "curated" collection of shows, the theatrical free-for-all by neighborhood and this year’s brand-new free online experience Digital Fringe, there are 140 shows in all.

The festival is underway September 3 - 19. Here are some experiences Flying Kite readers shouldn't miss.

Outside Sound Concert and Art Gallery promises to be an interesting and accessible evening. Happening September 16 at the Central Branch of the Free Library, this free "live music and art event" features pieces by artists with disabilities and live original music inspired by artwork.

Looking for more music? Hit up Philadelphia Opera Collective’s Jump the Moon ($20). It’s about a true-life late 19th-century "harem" of women at Harvard who "discovered and catalogued more stars than anyone before or since." The piece is an "experimental opera" mashup of science, music and the cosmos that invites you to "leave your orbit." It’s coming to the Skybox at the Adrienne in Center City September 16-19.

For another interdisciplinary experience, consider Soldier Bear ($5) from Leila and Pantea Productions. Funded by the Jim Henson Foundation, the show is based on the true story of a Polish WWII soldier who adopts an orphaned bear cub. It promises "puppetry, dance, shadow theater and animation combined," and is coming to the Mainstage at Center City’s Plays & Players Theatre September 9-19.

Willing to step outside for another animal-themed show? At The Renegade Company’s Damned Dirty Apes ($20), the audience will take a "theatrical expedition" of FDR Park incorporating three classic films: Planet of the Apes, Tarzan the Ape Man and King Kong. The description warns: "Wear comfortable shoes, prepare to get dirty, and don’t stray from the path." It’s running September 9-19.

If you like the interactive element but want to stay indoors, Linda Dubin Garfield’s FAMILY: Portraits and Stories offers an "interactive mixed media Fringe Installation." The show is free, and art materials for telling your own story are supplied to everyone who comes; donations go to Family Support Services. It’s happening September 13, noon - 2 p.m. at the Book Trader in Old City.

If you’re interested in technology, past and present, check out Brian Shapiro's A Few Thousand Upgrades Later ($15). This show originally premiered in 1995, predicting how "computers would impact human interaction." After twenty years, what did it get right? Shapiro revisits the work to take a look. It’s coming to Fairmount’s London Grill through September 18.

Tangle Movement Arts is a company doing some really interesting work around town: This all-female circus/acrobat troupe devises performances built around the feminine and queer experience. They’re premiering The Girl’s Guide to Neighborly Conduct ($20) which uses a "kinetic cityscape" of ropes and silks to fathom "life’s unspoken rules and expectations." The show is part of the Fishtown/Kensington Fringe at Philadelphia Soundstages, September 10-12.

Finally, for a one-night fest-within-a-fest check out Alternative Theatre Festival 2015 ($5), an annual event hosted by University of Pennsylvania's iNtuitions Experimental Theatre. Each student-written, acted and directed piece "features some sort of experiment or new and different idea." It’s coming to West Philly’s Platt Performing Arts House on September 12.

For the full Fringe line-up, plus dates and times, visit FringeArts online.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: FringeArts


New dollars for WINS send Philly's science-loving girls across the world

Since 1982, The Academy of Natural Science's Women in Natural Sciences (WINS) program has been making science exciting and accessible to Philly’s high-school girls. Now, Academy Vice President of Education Jacquie Genovesi is excited to announce that the program has finally been recognized with a national award.

Flying Kite recently took a look at WINS' exchange program, which welcomed youth from Mongolia to Philadelphia, and then organized a reciprocal trip for Philly WINS girls to Asia to study ecology and the impact of climate change on different sides of the world.

In August, the WINS E-STEM program (science, technology, engineering and math through "projects involving real environmental problems") received a $50,000 Innovative Education Award, given through a partnership with Underwriters Laboratories, Inc. (UL) and the North American Association for Environmental Education (NAAEE).

Genovesi, who traveled to the UL headquarters in Chicago in early August to receive the Academy’s second-place award and network with other honorees, says the contest drew almost 150 applications from 40 states and three Canadian provinces.

The new dollars will boost the WINS program by opening up paid internships and field experience for WINS girls.

"We actually just put out a call to all of our scientists, saying, 'Ok, what kind of fun projects do you have coming up in the next  year?'" says Genovesi. Internships could last a summer or -- depending on where they’re located and cooperation from the student’s school -- up to eight months, in the lab and in the field.

"They could be almost anywhere," she adds. The Academy has scientists working in the Greater Philadelphia area, but there are also researchers stationed in Brazil, Vietnam, Jamaica and Mongolia.

"Not only is it about STEM and about young women, but it’s about supporting the entire person," muses Genovesi. The WINS program stands out among other STEM programs, which often recruit kids who are acing their classes, love science and are already college-bound. WINS instead focuses on "in-between" students who may be interested in science, but don’t know what they’re going to do with their lives and aren’t at the top of the class. Many come from low-income households. "We give them that extra boost to say, you know what, anybody can do science…And not only can you do science, but you can stay in school, you can go to college, and you can really succeed in life."

“We can’t afford to throw away any creative youth," she adds, especially the girls, who are "so underrepresented" in these fields.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jacquie Genovesi, The Academy of Natural Sciences

Community funding propels G-Town Radio from the internet to the airwaves

G-Town Radio station manager Jim Bear says that though it might not yet be visible to the public, big changes are underway for Germantown’s Internet radio station, which at its highest listenership has over 15,000 people tuning in worldwide.

The major news broke in January, when the station got its permit from the FCC to become a Low Power FM radio station -- new federal legislation gave non-commercial neighborhood groups access to low-power airwaves previously denied them in favor of major broadcasting frequencies.

"To serve the community as best we can, being on the radio allows us to do that much better than we can online,” explains Bear who is still "a big believer" in Internet radio. "I love the medium. I love what you can do with it, but at the same time, there are real limitations to who you can expect to reach. I think that would be true anywhere, but I think it’s even more evident in a community like Germantown."

In many neighborhoods, the digital divide is still very real. Unlike Internet access, which can be costly and require certain skills to tune in, radio is still a ubiquitous and easily accessible medium, free for everyone with a car or a radio in the home. (The station will continue to broadcast online as well.)

With an existing studio and programming, G-town Radio (which will share airtime with Germantown United CDC and Germantown Life Enrichment Center) is ahead of some nascent LPFM stations who must build their presence from the ground up.

Right now, Bear is looking into locations and lease agreements with local property owners who might be able to host a radio antenna on the roof. The studio space itself won’t require much additional equipment: the primary expense of shifting to LPFM will be that new transmission equipment, including the gear that beams the audio from the studio to the tower.

To that end, G-Town Radio has launched a "Drive for the Sky" crowdfunding campaign through Indiegogo, hoping to raise $5,000 by October 3. That will cover the initial costs of equipment and installation, and possibly the first few months of rent for the antenna location.

"We want to make sure we get to the air… [and] demonstrate our worth, and hopefully when we’re doing that, people will recognize the value of community radio, and give us access to a larger pool of donors and supporters and listeners," enthuses Bear.

He hopes the new G-town Radio signal -- available at 92.9 FM -- will hit the airwaves as soon as possible: They’re on an FCC-administered deadline requiring completion of LPFM construction within 18 months of receiving the permit, which means launching by next summer at the latest. The signal is expected to reach what Bear calls "greater Northwest Philadelphia," including Germantown, East Falls, Nicetown, Mt. Airy and West Oak Lane. (Depending on location and the density of area buildings, LPFM signals typically have a three to five mile radius.)

"A lot of it’s behind the scenes so there’s not much to see," says Bear of the LPFM progress so far, "but we’re actively working on it and we’re still moving forward."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Jim Bear, G-Town Radio

Scientist of the Year nominee grapples with rehab robots at GRASP

Dr. Michelle Johnson isn’t a Philadelphia native – she’s been heading up the new Rehabilitation Robotics Lab out of University of Pennsylvania’s GRASP (general robotics, automation, sensing & perception) laboratory for only about two years – so when she heard she’d been nominated for Scientist of the Year in the Philadelphia Geek Awards, she didn’t know what to think.

"Since I’m new to Philadelphia, I didn’t know what it meant," she explains. "I’m like, 'What? Is that a good thing?'"

In Philadelphia, also known as the "eds and meds" capital of the U.S., it definitely is. But in the truest geek fashion, Johnson wasn’t even able to make it to the August 15 ceremony at the Academy of Natural Sciences. She spoke to Flying Kite about her recent work from Singapore, where she and her Penn team were presenting at the International Conference on Rehabilitation Robotics, before jaunting to Botswana for some more research.

The Jamaican-born Johnson grew up in New York and received her Ph.D. in mechanical engineering from Stanford with an emphasis in robotics, design and mechatronics. (Don’t know what mechatronics is? It’s a combination of mechanical engineering, computing and electronics to help us discover and develop new manufacturing techniques.)

In 2013, Johnson moved her lab from its original location in the medical college of Wisconsin’s Marquette University to the University of Pennsylvania School of Medicine, taking up a faculty position at Penn.

Johnson acknowledges that her focus -- robots that assist in rehabilitation and treatment for people dealing with things such as spinal cord injuries, multiple sclerosis, cerebral palsy and other problems -- is a very narrow slice of a rapidly expanding field, one that has been around only for the last 25 years or so.

Engineers like Johnson and her team at Penn work closely with neuroscientists. Neuroplasticity is the name of the game: the brain’s ability to re-wire and reroute itself after an injury. It's crucial in fields such as prosthetics -- where patients’ brains learn to interact with robotic devices that restore the body’s function -- or to bolster limbs weakened from conditions like MS.

With cutting-edge technologies like EEGs and functional MRIs revealing our neurons’ "structural connectivity," they're working not just to understand the normal brain, but also to piece together what happens when the brain becomes damaged, and develop technology to pair with our bodies in ways that were unimaginable a few decades ago.

Things like Ekso Bionics, which help people with spinal cord injuries to walk again, get a lot of press, but Johnson also points to work like functional electrical stimulation and implanted electrodes as recent major advances in rehab, along with rehabilitative robotic devices that enable injured patients to continue crucial exercise regimens at home for a much longer time than is feasible in hospital settings. Wearable sensors, especially those invisibly embedded in textiles (with myriad applications for remote monitoring of patients), are also part of the next big wave of medical robotics, even if it’s not widely commercialized yet.

Though proud of her recent nomination, Johnson stresses that science is a team sport.

"Oftentimes when you get the accolade, you forget all the students and the support staff that really are critical to this process," she insists. "I want to really make clear that nothing can happen without that team…I want to congratulate my team for working hard and doing good research."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Michelle Johnson, Ph.D., Rehabilitation Robotics Lab at Penn

Meet A Poet Art Gallery, On the Groundís host in Parkside

On August 11, Flying Kite announced the official relaunch of On the Ground, and we’re already enjoying the hospitality of our home for the next three months, Girard Avenue's A Poet Art Gallery.

The gallery, founded in late 2010, was originally located at 4510 Walnut Street before moving to 40th and Girard in Parkside. The three founders, Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles and New York-based Tina Albright recently chatted with Flying Kite about their history and mission.

"We just wanted to create a space for artists to basically have a home," explains Pierre-Louis.

Events at the Girard Avenue space include weekly (every Tuesday night) and monthly ("Sounds in the Gallery" every first Saturday) open mic events for poetry and music, plus art exhibitions, African dance classes and, coming soon, painting classes. The gallery is also available to rent for a variety of events, including weddings.

The three women's artistic backgrounds are about as diverse as they come. The Haitian-born Pierre-Louis came to the U.S. when she was 11, first settling with family in Los Angeles for a year, then relocating to Philly where she completed the rest of her education, including a graphic design degree.

"I’ve been drawing since I was six years old," she says; Pierre-Louis now works in acrylics and oils, as well as tattoo art.

Coles, an alum of University City High School, is a Philadelphia native who grew up in South and West Philly. She loves all kinds of art and describes herself as "an inside poet" because she enjoys putting words together, but doesn’t always share them in public.

Albright is an interior designer and art-decal maker, but she also shares carpentry skills with Coles. Her artistic expertise extends into the culinary realm: She creates custom cakes in a variety of shapes including handbags and shoes.

"We pretty much all had a hand in building the gallery," recalls Albright.

The three put even more work into their Girard Avenue space than the Walnut Street one -- they raised the ceiling, laid down new floors, and designed and created the bathrooms. The location even boasts a backyard.

The women admire the better-known gallery corridors of Old City, but saw no reason not to bring the same caliber of art and community-building to West Philly. According to Pierre-Louis, they have a broad client base across the city, but want to connect more closely with their nearest neighbors. When she got wind of On the Ground, it sounded like the perfect "missing piece" of their mission for the gallery.

"We’ve been trying to get in touch and pool a little bit more of the community and we haven’t had that chance," she continues; the Flying Kite connection was the right thing at the right time. "We want people to come out and appreciate art and see something different…and decide to pick up some paint and write some poetry, and we want to inspire people and be in our home base, which is West Philly."

The address is 4032 Girard Avenue, and Flying Kite will be in residence there every Monday and Tuesday, 11 a.m. - 6 p.m. through October.

"We’re always looking for artists," adds Pierre-Louis. "The door is always open."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Sources: Rachelle Pierre-Louis, Shar Coles, and Tina Albright, APoetArtGallery 


Germantown's 'Racism is a Sickness' project seeks subjects and supporters

On August 2, Germantown photographer, blogger and activist Tieshka Smith formally launched a project she calls "the most important work that I have done to date.”

The kick-off discussion for that effort, "Racism is a Sickness," took place at Maplewood Mall’s G-Town Radio space. It drew so many interested locals over the course of an hour that the place was packed.

A combination of portraits and interviews conducted by the artist on how racism has affected her subjects, "Racism is a Sickness" is an extension of work Smith did over the last year through a residency at the Painted Bride Art Center. There, her portrait series titled "Private Pain, Silent Struggle," documented people of color with the objects and activities that help to insulate them against the pain of prejudice in everyday life. Smith wanted her subjects to have a say in how they were portrayed because "people of color are not given the agency to find their own imaging."

The current photo project has similar themes, but the portrait style will be more uniform: They’ll all be taken in the lobby at G-Town Radio in front of an upside-down American flag. That flag represents "a country in distress," she explains -- it’s like "shooting up a flare" for racial injustice in modern America.

Each subject (five of whom had already been photographed as of early August) will wear a medical mask with a word written on it representing something they hope to protect themselves against such as "shame," "fear," "stereotyping" and "suspicion." Ultimately, Smith hopes to include 25 subjects in the project. She aims to raise $5,000 to support the work through an Indiegogo campaign.

Beyond finding and photographing her subjects, the artist’s next step will be broad community engagement, an exhibition of the portraits and lots of associated programming developed out of the themes of the interviews. Smith is on the lookout for a final exhibition space and plenty of "co-investors" -- she is hoping to connect with a wide range of community groups who want to combat the social, economic and sometimes life-threatening dangers of racism.

For more information or to find out how you can participate in this project (open to people of all colors), e-mail racismisasickness@gmail.com or follow along on Twitter @RMUS2015.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Tieshka Smith, “Racism is a Sickness” 

A cafe start-up helps foster-care youth get on their feet

Lisa Miccolis worked for a long time in coffee shops. She found a lot of pride and enjoyment in the communities she found there, both among her co-workers and the customers. But she didn’t feel that she was really fulfilling her life’s goal until she had a “lightbulb moment" -- the idea for a nonprofit café specifically designed to employ and mentor young people aging out of the foster-care system.

Miccolis first became aware of this problem on a trip to South Africa several years ago. She met residents of an orphanage who were facing the sudden loss of their support system when they were no longer legally children -- they didn’t have the network or skills to forge an independent life. She realized that the same problem exists in Philadelphia as youngsters lose access to a host of resources at age 18 (or, if they meet some criteria in Pennsylvania, age 21). Without family support or education and job prospects, they don’t know what to do.

"Generally, as soon as one thing goes, everything goes with it," she explains. "If your housing is unstable, chances are you’re not going to be able to hold a job. And if you don’t have a job, good luck getting a job."

Her answer is The Monkey & the Elephant, a non-profit café/mentoring program that hires youth who have aged out of foster care. It launched in late 2012, with pop-up locations in three spots over subsequent years: the Italian Market, Manayunk’s Transfer Station and Impact Hub (from March to December of last year).

In February 2015, The Monkey & the Elephant opened its first permanent location at 2831 W. Girard Avenue in Brewerytown. It’s open seven days a week, 7 a.m. - 7 p.m.

Eight youngsters have been employed in the program so far, ranging in age from 19 to 25. And it’s not just about food service -- the M&E team helps employees think through career and educational decisions, offers support in the housing process, and even helps out with schoolwork.

"What I’ve noticed is changes in how they think about things," explains Miccolis. "When they’re talking about what they want to do, we’ve been able to reframe the direction they’re taking to get there." It’s not about a rush to the "perfect job," but a practical, encouraging and achievable long-term path. Typically, the program takes on its participants for eight months, but the mentorship is ongoing. "When they finish with us and they are ready to work towards that job or get back into school or whatever it is, they have more of a foundation for it and they’re better able to support themselves.”

Monkey & the Elephant recently received an unexpected honor: a Startup of the Year nomination from the annual Philadelphia Geek Awards. "Geek" has a broad definition these days, and in Philly it’s a coveted label.

"I was pretty shocked and honored to have that nomination," says Miccolis; the ceremony that will take place on August 15 at the Academy of Natural Sciences. "I wouldn’t have thought of a coffee shop or a non-profit as a geek-centered organization... It’s pretty cool that it’s not just for the sciences or technology."

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Lisa Miccolis, The Monkey & the Elephant

An urban farm sprouts in Chinatown thanks to Grow Where You Live

Meei Ling Ng, a Singapore-born, Philly-based artist, designer and urban farmer, has taken on a multifaceted project in Chinatown North. The initiative features a vertical urban farm, a job-skills program for people in recovery from addiction or homelessness, and a new fount of fresh food for the partnering Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission.

The impetus for Ng's new project grew out of Grow Where You Live, her year-long Social Practice Lab residency at the Asian Arts Initiative. It was supposed to wrap up in June, but the current urban garden project has proven so successful that Ng's Asian Arts residency has been extended at least until the end of this year.

"Ideally I was looking for a vacant lot around the neighborhood," says Ng of a long search for an appropriate urban farm space and partner organization. Such a space -- open to the work of an artist and farmer -- was hard to find, partly because of recent gentrification in the area.

A tour of the Sunday Breakfast Rescue Mission late last year proved extremely propitious: Ng learned that the organization, which provides a range of vital services to the city’s homeless, was in the process of a parking lot space swap with their neighbors to the west, Roman Catholic High School.

The switch would leave a large space along Sunday Breakfast’s kitchen wall -- about 20 feet wide and 100 feet long -- empty of cars by law.

"This is amazing. This is exactly what we want," Ng recalls thinking on seeing the space; she envisioned a specially designed and built vertical urban farm. "We can use a whole big empty wall with asphalt under…this could be an awesome, awesome project."

The artist spent a month on a meticulous rendering of her idea, then pitched it to Sunday Breakfast. The project became reality through support and donations from Asian Arts, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the Philadelphia Orchard Project, City Harvest and South Philly’s Urban Jungle, a landscape design firm.

Since then, the little farm has provided pounds of produce that go directly into meals served at Sunday Breakfast.

The partnership also has a human component: The farm runs with help from workers at Overcomers, an intensive 16-month program for men in recovery from addiction and homelessness. They reap a wealth of skills -- not only the ability to grow their own healthy food in an urban setting, but practical job training in a rapidly growing industry. The formal part of the Overcomers project is finished, but a few participants have stayed on as official apprentices and volunteers.

"This is very exciting that we have a team now to work on the farm," says Ng, adding that she has high hopes the project will continue in future summers.

Writer: Alaina Mabaso
Source: Meei Ling Ng, Asian Arts Initiative
687 Articles | Page: | Show All
Signup for Email Alerts