Your guide to Philly's diverse creative scene, nightlife, music, food & more
Last year, Philly became home to another first, as Philly 360° Creative Ambassaor Maori Karmael Holmes successfully launched the inaugural BlackStar Film Festival. People from around the country gathered in Philly to experience the wonder of black cinema, and Ebony even hailed the event as Philly's own "Black Sundance". #bigwin
Next month, we're hype to announce that BlackStar is returning—bigger and better than before. Philly 360° caught up with Maori for an exclusive interview, just as she and her powerhouse team are putting the finishing touches on this year's festivities. Maori gives us the inside scoop on the festival venues, can't-miss films, and her three favorite black films of all time!
You can checkout our insider interview with Maori below. Also, be sure to visit blackstarfest.org to view the full festival line-up, and purchase tickets online today!
Philly 360°: BlackStar is back for its second year, and was recently hailed as "TheBlack Sundance" by Ebony Magazine. That's amazing! How rewarding is it to create this platform for black cinema here in Philly?
Maori: Creating BlackStar was by accident, but a wondrous accident. Producing it has been amazing for me personally and professionally. I continue to meet and connect with awesome folks in Philadelphia and beyond who care deeply about promoting the work of folks of color.
Philly 360°: Well, Philly is definitely buzzing about this year's festival, and most certainly showed up in mass for last year's festival. What do you love most about presenting BlackStar here in Philly?
Maori: That's exciting to hear that there's a buzz. It feels really good. Philadelphia is the home of so many "firsts" in American history and this idea of independence and a DIY/indie aesthetic is in our bones, so in many ways there is no other place that could house a festival like ours. The ourpouring of support from community partners, sponsors, and audience is tremendous and we feel so much love and gratitude.
I am also really excited about having a niche neighborhood festival primarily in University City. You will be able to walk from City Tap House to Drexel and International House and the Sheraton and back in under 5 minutes. It is really cool to be set up in that way.
Philly 360°: Can you give us the big picture view on this year's festival? How many films are you presenting? And, are there any exciting new programs or events this year?
Maori: We have basically doubled in size. We are presenting 75 films in three venues. We have a screenplay competition with a $2,500 cash prize and we have an awards ceremony and for the first time an awards competition including audience awards. As part of our awards we are honoring the Howard University film program.
Philly 360°: Tell us about the venues for this year's festival - any exciting new places or partnerships?
Maori: International House of Philadelphia is one of the best places to see film in the city. The screen, projection, and audio, as well as their staff are top-notch and amazing to work with. They will continue to be our festival hub. We have an additional site at Drexel University through our new partnership with the Africana Studies Program, as well we are presenting a program at The Barnes Foundation and hosting an opening night reception at City Tap House.
Philly 360°: Okay, I know you and the Blackstar team have curated an amazing line-up of black films this year. If you had to give us a few highlights, or not-to-be-missed movies—what would they be?
Maori: Did I say there were 75 films?!! Some of our highlights are our evening features of course--Tey, Nairobi Halflife, Mother of George, and Question Bridge: Black Males. I am also really excited about the Arts Shorts at The Barnes and our Youth Program.
Philly 360°: The Brother From Another Planet (Re-contextualized) w/ Live Score at Johnny Brenda's sounds like an amazing experience. How did this concept come about? Who are the masterminds behind this genius production? Tell us!
Maori: King and I are friends (and in the same class of Philly 360° Creative Ambassadors). At a dinner party last year we came up with this idea to collaborate for the festival around a loose idea based on Afrofuturism. We wanted to do something at Johnny Brendas, another fantastic venue, and King came up with the remix event and enlisted his collaborators, Marlo Reynolds, Anthony Tidd, Jason Senk, and Damon Bennett.
Philly 360°: Any other special appearances this year? Notable filmmakers? Actors? Actresses?
Maori: We are excited to have lots of filmmakers this year. Notably Omari Hardwick (Things Never Said), Haile Gerima, Bradford Young (Mother of George), Andrew Dosonmu (Mother of George), Dennis Dortch (Black & Sexy TV), Numa Perrier (The Couple), Yolonda Ross (Yelling to the Sky), Tanya Wright (True Blood), Lisa Cortés (Precious), Tariq Trotter, Dorian Missick (Big Words), and Muhammida El Muhajjir (Hip Hop: The New World Order).
Philly 360°: Okay, let's end on a fun note As a filmmaker and Philly's reigning expert on black cinema name your top three black films of all time? The Wiz is a given right?Or, is that just me?
Maori: The Wiz is amazing and phenomenal in so many ways, but for me as a filmmaker, the top three black films that shaped me are--although that list could easily go on to 10 or 20. Eve's Bayou, Daughters of the Dust, and Sankofa.
Hey, all of you Philly do-gooders—here's your chance to pay it forward in honor of the life and legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. On January 21, well over 75,000 volunteers will take to the streets of Philadelphia and participate in the country's largest MLK service project—The 18th Annual Greater Philadelphia Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service.
So, if you're looking for a chance to give back in a meaningful way, then make your way to Philly to honor Dr. King's impact in the most fitting way—by making the world better for those around us. You can visit the MLK Day of Service website to register andbrowse the full list of projects of over 1,300 projects and events. And, as always, I've pulled together a list of MLK Picks to get you started and on your way to giving back in a big way.
But first, I'd thought I drop a bit of MLK inspiration by sharing a video produced by Art Sanctuary with over a dozen community leaders, artists and everyday heros reading Dr. King's iconic "Letter from a Birmingham Jail", as part of their Read With Me project.
So, be sure to check out this very special Art Sanctuary MLK tribute video and our list of Philly 360° MLK Day of Service Picks below.
Monday, January 21
2101 South College Avenue
Girard College will be the host site for the MLK Day of Service for the fourth year, as thousands of volunteers descend on the campus to take part in dozens of community projects on January 21st. You can kick your day off here, pick-up your official MLK Day of service tshirts and register for projects that will take place all across the city.
Monday, January 21
222 N. 20th Street
Celebrate Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service at The Franklin Institute. See the "I Have A Dream" speech broadcast on the walls of Franklin Hall at the top of every hour. Visit the activity table run by Franklin Institute volunteers in Key Hallway to participate in an "African American Scientists Scavenger Hunt" and take part in creating a wall of dreams in the hands-on arts and craft "I Have a Dream" activity.
Monday, January 21
6100 Stenton Avenue
Come and celebrate the life and work of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. as newly-inaugurated Music Director Yannick Nézet-Séguin leads The Philadelphia Orchestra in a free community concert.
This special MLK program will bring together community groups and notable guest artists including Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra founder Philly 360 Creative Ambassador Jeri Lynne Johnson, award-winning storyteller Charlotte Blake Alsto, violinist and Sphinx Competition winner Elena Urioste, and the Philadelphia All City Choir under the direction of Dorina Morrow.
Monday, January 21
5:30 - 8 p.m.
20 N. 2nd Street
Join the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance on MLK Day, as they partner with Arden Theatre, With Art Philadelphia, Art-Reach and First Person Arts to celebrate arts, culture and community, and launch their latest communty project GroundSwell.
Along with wine, beer and good eats, there will be a special story-sharing experience curated by First Person Arts, an open mic story cafe, interactive art-making activities presented by Mural Arts Program and other fun activities for the entire family.
Monday, January 21
10 a.m. to 5 p.m.
525 Arch Street
The National Constitution Center commemorates MLK Day and the 57th Presidential Inauguration with free admission and a day jam-packed with service projects, musical and theatric performances and special craft activities. You can checkout the full program schedule onine right here.
Monday, January 21
10 a.m. - 3 p.m.
2600 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Make art and give back to your community with the Philadelphia Museum of Art. On January 21, art that is made at the museum during this special MLK workshop will be distributed to people in need throughout Philadelphia. Enjoy a reading by illustrator E. B. Lewis, whose books share Dr King's message of love and service. Also, the museum will be offering pay-what-you-wish admission all day long in honor of Dr. King.
Saturday, January 19
10 a.m. - 12 p.m.
Join African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP) artist-in-residence Richard J. Watson for a tour of select murals from the Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection, in celebration of Martin Luther King, Jr. Day. Once you're done the tour stop by AAMP to enjoy free museum admission all day long.
Friday, January 18
11 a.m. - 12:30 p.m.
Broad and Spruce Streets
The Kimmel Center is hosting their annual tribute to Dr. King in the Perelman Theater. The performance brings together more than 100 participants hailing from more than 500 area high schools and middle schools. The afternoon performance will include a show from D/3, PHILADANCO’s youth ensemble, a performance from Girard Academic Music Program and many other live performances. The performance is free and open to the public.
November 14 - 17
60 N. 2nd Street
Hey Philly, it's time to celebrate one of our own! Five years ago, Philly 360° Creative Ambassador Florcy Morisset opened the doors to what has now become one of Philadelphia's epicenters of art, culture, community and sophisticated lifestyle - Vivant Art Collection. So, to celebrate the success of the gallery and to thank Philly for all of its support, Florcy is throwing the party of the year - Vivant 5.
Starting September 14, Vivant Art Collection will host 5 free signature events over the course of 4 days that will invite the public in to take in some of the best visual art, music and wine that Philly has to offer. You won't want to miss these fantastic experiences curated by Florcy, like Vivant Salutes Women in Politics, the Champagne Art Auction, the Food, Wine & Art Tasting and a Night of Jazz.
This is the perfect opportunity to grab a friend or three, and come out to party with one of our own in this sophisticated celebration of life, arts, community and culture. I'll see you there!
You can check out this video for a personal invitation message from Philly 360° Creative Ambassador Florcy Morisset!
Ok, let's face it - summer has gone away and the fall is officially here. (I know - le sigh.) We've all begun trading in outdoor-seating at our favorite brunch spots (BTW - some of mine are Green Eggs, Mixto and Rex 1516), rooftop dance parties and midday strolls through Rittenhouse, for more "season and weather-appropriate" entertainment options.
But don't fret - just as the weather cools down, Philly's Fall performing arts season begins to kick into overtime and heats things up in a major way. And, from what I've seen we have a pretty fantastic season in store!
For my Philly 360° Fall Arts Preview, I've gathered the fall happenings from a few of my favorite places, including The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, The Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, First Person Arts, and The Painted Bride Art Center. So, whether you are a regular on the cultural beat, or haven't yet experienced the magic that happens on each of their stages - now is the time to spread your cultural wings and fly!
Remember,you can always checkout Philly 360° event section for the latest and greatest happenings, but I've pulled together my Top Picks for each of these institutions. So, don't let the fall blues get you down. Get out there and experience the arts in Philly. Ok? Let's go!
As one of the brightest lights on Philly's Avenue of the Arts, The Kimmel Center's 11th season is exploding with the sights and sounds of Broadway, performances by some of the world's top jazz talents and of course signature performances by their resident companies.
DrumLine Live - October 17 & 18
Free at the Kimmel: Sittin' In - October 17 & November 21
Philadelphia Orchestra: The Verdi Requiem - October 19 - 21
Chick Corea and Gary Burton's Hot House Tour - November 9
War Horse - November 20 - December 2
Shaquille O'Neal All Star Comedy Jam - November 18
PHILADANCO - December 7 - 9
Anchoring the arts in West Philadelphia, the Annenberg Center provides the perfect intimate venue to experience the best of world art right here in Philly. Whether African dance, salsa music, or a blend of spoken word and hip-hop, The Annenberg is your passport to the top creative experiences from around the globe.
Kenny Baron - October 20
Rama Vaidyanathan - November 3
Acoustic Africa - November 10
Dianne Reeves: Christmas Time is Here - December 1
For over four decades, The Painted Bride has brought together communities by presenting a fantastic array of performances that push the envelope of the arts in Philly. Whether you're a theater buff, jazz lover or salsa dancer, the Bride's season has the perfect experience in store.
Philly Jazz: Fresh Cut From The Vine - October 20
Spirits Break To Freedom - October 21 & November 4
Open Notebook: Crazy Beautiful - November 1 - December 22
Yemen Blues - November 11
Salsa Caliente - November 2
A uniquely Philadelphia cultural experience, First Person Arts presents life and all of its up and downs through the lens of first-person storytelling. From their monthly slams at World Cafe Live and L'Etage to their signature festival, First Person is the best way to learn about Philly from the folks who live, work and play here everyday.
It's time to celebrate Philly's one-of-a-kind Latin flavor with Hispanic Heritage Month! Starting September 15, the city kicks off a month-long celebration of Hispanic heritage with an abundance of art, music, festivals and of course some very delicious Latin cuisine.
There will be tons of events happening all across town, like Mexican Independence Day Festival on the waterfront, a day of Latin-influenced cultural programs at The Barnes Foundation, the 50th Annual Puerto Rican Day Parade, and the Philadelphia Phillies' Latino Family Celebration - just to name a few!
This city-wide festival runs through October 15, so be sure to get out there and experience Philly's Latino flavor, culture and style! Here are a few of my top picks to get you started!
Sunday, September 30
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
Back for it's 50th year, The Puerto Rican Day Parade is a staple of the Philadelphia cultural landscape. The largest and oldest celebration in Philadelphia celebrating Latin heritage, this vibrant and music-filled parade begins at noon at 16th and JFK Boulevard and marches along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, ending with a party at Eakins Oval by the Philadelphia Museum of Art.
September 20 - October 14
Benjamin Franklin Parkway
It's very fitting that Mexican-Canadian artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer's Open Air Exhibition makes its world premiere in Philadelphia right in the middle of our Hispanic Heritage Celebration. Famous for creating interactive installations on intimate and city-wide scales, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer brings his distinctly personal aesthetic to Philly and empowers you to animate your skyline. Using the custom-made mobile app “Philly Open Air” your voice brings 24 high-power spotlight's three-dimensional formations to life - for the entire city to see!
October 12 - 8 p.m.
Taller Puertorriqueno - 2600 N. 5th Street
During Taller's final Cafe Under The Stars series, award winning dancer, Merián Soto presents her new multi-dimensional and interactive work, “We Are”. Audience members will get a chance to completely engage with Soto's production and will become core elements of the evening's performance. This is definitely a not-to-be-missed performance!
September 15 - 10:30 a.m. - 2 p.m.
The Barnes Foundation - 2025 Benjamin Franklin Parkway
The Barnes Foundation is partnering with PECO to kick off the celebration of Hispanic Hertiage Month. Together, they are hosting a day filled with programming and events for vistors of all ages that recognize the contributions of Hispanic and Latino Americans and honor the group's rich heritage and culture.
Friday, September 7 through Saturday, September 22
Starting September 7, Philly will explode with 16 days of creative genius, as we kickoff the 16th annual Live Arts Festival & Philly Fringe! This world renown arts festival is a true arts revival, presenting over 150 shows that bring together thousands of artists and eager art appreciators from around the globe.
This year, the Live Arts Festival will present 17 innovative theater, dance and film productions, including 6 world premieres and 2 U.S. premieres. The Philly Fringe returns this year with almost 150 shows, that continue to build on their reputation for bold, daring work presented by local artists and professional companies.
With so many performances packed into this 16-day festival, deciding what show to see can be a little daunting. But don't worry, I've pulled together a list of my top Live Arts / Fringe Picks. You'll definitely want to catch each and every one of these breathtakingly brilliant performances.
You can click here to checkout the full festival schedule.
September 18 - 23
Merriam Theater, 250 S. Broad Street
Fresh from their 2011 Live Arts Festival hit Traces, 7 Fingers returns with the U.S. premiere of Sequence 8. This one of a kind circus production features aerial hoops, rings, Korean board, cigar box juggling, Chinese acrobatics and incredible feats of balance and beauty – all by performers whose basic human desires and qualities audiences can all relate to.
September 21 & 22
Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts, 3680 Walnut St.
This interactive installation and per formance blends spoken word, music, film and contemporary and hip-hop dance to re-imagine a green movement that is inclusive of black and brown voices. Immersing audiences in a new mode of kinetic performance, red, black & GREEN: a blues strives to unite communities around a broader definition of “sustainable living” and to be a catalyst for a cultural and creative renewal.
September 15 - 20
Live Arts Studio, 919 North 5th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19123
Philly-based choreographer Jumatatu Poe debuts this exciting, visceral work that mixes explosiveness and confinement, the effect of exterior on the interior, service and performance, materials and identity. Private Places plays with the stylized movement and high-powered approach of J-Sette, a dance culture developed in black gay clubs with roots in drill team and majorette events of Southern historically black universities.
September 7 - 22
South Philadelphia, Mt. Airy,Tacony and Wissinoming. Special venue information to follow ticket purchase
Who lives in Philadelphia? This Town Is a Mystery combines local performance and dinner in four Philadelphia homes, chosen from more than forty applications. Created by Headlong and each home’s inhabitants over the course of several months, the shows are performed by members of the households in their own homes - sharing their own unique experiences and stories.
September 14 - 15
FortMom, 4613 Newhall Street, Philadelphia, PA 19144
September 20 - October 14
Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia, PA 19104
Imagine walking along on a balmy evening in late September, and you’re looking up the Ben Franklin Parkway. You speak into your phone and twenty-four robotic searchlights—placed along a half-mile stretch of the Parkway—move to the sound of your voice, interpreting your inflections into motion and transforming the city’s skyline. You stop speaking (or singing or humming or rapping) and the lights continue to move, controlled now by other speakers collaborating with you from up and down the Parkway.
Famous for creating interactive installations on intimate and city-wide scales, artist Rafael Lozano-Hemmer brings his distinctly personal aesthetic to Philly and empowers you to animate your skyline. Using the custom-made mobile app “Philly Open Air” your voice brings these enormous three-dimensional formations to life.
Hey all of you Philly-music lovers, I'm back with another exclusive Philly 360° Insider interview showcasing a Philadelphia artist who works hard day-in-and-out to keep our creative scene on the map! This time I caught up with one of Philly's rising stars, jazz vocalists and singer/songwriter Laurin Talese.
Laurin is a Philly transplant by way of Cleveland, OH, and is making her mark on Philadelphia and the world with her classy timeless style and impeccable voice. I first ran into Laurin a few years ago singing at one of Philly's many open mics. Since then, I have watched her go on to travel the world, singing jazz and lending her talents to some of Philly's top talents, like Bilal, Vivian Green and Jaguar Wright. Now signed to Adam Blackstone's independent label BASSic Black Entertainment, Laurin is working hard to release her first solo project this fall.
You can visit the Laurin Talese Facebook Page to get the latest information on Laurin's performances and album. You can also follow @laurindarling on Twitter. Either way, make sure you keep your eye on Laurin Talese, so you can watch as this Philly-star rises straight to the top!
Insider Tip: Click here to download a FREE copy of Laurin's new single Dead Precedence. Also, from August 2 to the 5, you can catch Laurin performing at Relish for a special four night engagement with Philly-based jazz pianist Eric Wortham.
James: Hey Laurin! So you are a Philly transplant, originally hailing from Cleveland, OH, right? What keeps you in Philly? What do you dig about living in this city?
Laurin: I love the pedestrian culture of Philly. I love that I can walk around and get everywhere I want to go! There are often so many dope places, like stores and restaurants in one spot. I really love that I can walk or ride my bike all over town and run into friends, artists and plenty of cool venues.
James: What are some of your favorite restaurants, galleries, coffee shops?
Laurin: My favorite restaurant these days is definitely Talulah Garden and my favorite meal of the day is brunch. (laughs) I love that place. I just ate in their garden last Sunday and was like, “This is amazing!” It’s definitely one of Philly’s hidden gems. And, I also I love Sabrina's Cafe, which just opened up a new location right around the corner from me - so exciting!
James: Yes! Talulah Garden definitely has that Parisian thing that we both love, right?
Laurin: Yes! As far as art and galleries, I just love hanging around in Old City, because you always run into tons of independent, young artists down in that area, and you can always just walk into any of the galleries to see some amazing art.
James: You are definitely one of Philly's more fashion forward jazz artists! From what I’ve seen you have some jewelry, clothing and style. So, tell us where you shop!
Laurin: I love online shopping and I so love ebay! Barbara Blau has a great vintage shop in Old City. She has all of my favorite vintage tribute gems and some gorgeous rhinestone accessories. But you know, there are some great finds everywhere! I just love walking around the city and shopping with my friends.
James: Awesome. So let’s talk about music. When did you start singing? and how did you fall in love with jazz?
Laurin: So my dad, my Uncle Fletcher, and my Uncle Reginald and a neighbor named Duane, would all come into the dining room and sing all of these songs, like After 7, Baby Face, The Whispers and The OJays. And, I would always listen to them harmonize. Finally when I was around 5 years old I started harmonizing and singing along, and my dad was like, “You can sing!” Then I joined the choir and a small childrens group called the Singing Angels and later I attended a performing arts high school called The Cleveland School of the Arts.
There I found my love for jazz and all of the old classic movies. A teacher named Mr. Woods really shaped my interest, and he really helped shape my voice, and introduced me to my favorite jazz vocalists.
James: You bring such a classic and timeless sound to whatever music you are singing, whether it’s jazz or even more contemporary R&B. I definitely wanted to know who are some of the artists that have influenced your sound and musical approach?
Laurin: Why thank you! The first jazz album, I ever owned was a compilation CD with Nina Simone singing Love Me Or Leave Me - and you know how we love Nina! Astrud Gilberto and Sarah Vaughan were on the project as well - and I fell in love with both of them simultaneously.
Sarah had that beautiful rich alto - and I thought I was an alto for a long time. (laughs) I’m more of a mezzo actually, but I like singing in that range. Sarah, of course, also had that amazing rich tone and vibrato, and then Astrud had this straight tone and could really illustrate a melody. She made the melody come alive because she was true to it. She just sang without a lot of coloring, riffs, or improvising. It was the straight melody and I was so moved by that. I love to scat and riff, and love improv. But, I definitely love to stay true to the melody of a song. I got that from Astrud.
James: In addition to studying at University of the Arts in Philly and singing jazz all around the world, in places like Japan and Brazil , you’ve shared the stage with some of Philadelphia’s most amazing soul artists. Tell us about that! Who have you worked with?
Laurin: Bilal, Vivian Green, Musiq Soulchild, Jaguar Wright - all of those sort of Philly soul artists.
James: What was it like working with these artists and getting a inside look the Philadelphia soul scene when it was at its peak?
Laurin: It was really great to be a part of, because there was a special sisterhood and bond between all of us musicians - especially to our audiences. It was like everyone was a big harmonious family that supported and brought the best out of each other. That’s where I first saw artists having young, youthful and hip fun on stage. It didn’t seem premeditated and staged, it was just very organic and spontaneous.
James: Definitely! So, one of my most memorable Laurin Talese and Philly Soul Music moments was when you and Erica Hicks were singing background for Jaguar Wright. The three of you were singing Leaving On A Jetplane in that crazy "round robin" style. Each one of you only sang one word or phrase, and the song just kept building and building. Remember? That was bananas!
Laurin: Yes! Jaguar was great at that! She was always coming up with arrangements that she knew would make the crowd go crazy! She really loved doing that. That was definitely one of my favorite moments too - it was so much fun!
James: What are you working on as a solo artists?
Laurin: I'm working on my debut album, and we're hoping it will be out early winter or late fall. It sounds like a cozy night in the house when you can't go outside because it's a blizzard, and you're watching your favorite 1950's classic movie. It just sounds like a cup of hot cocoa. (laughs) I'm really excited about it. I'm working on it with two wonderful and talented musicians Eric Wortham and Adam Blackstone.
James: What style or genre of music is it?
Laurin: It's jazz! You know, It's been a long time since I've been able to do what I've wanted to do as an artist. When you look back at the early 2000's, a lot of people weren't open to jazz as a genre - especially on the radio. But thanks to Youtube and artists like Esperanza Spalding and Robert Glasper, people are finally seeing how youthful and inventive jazz can really be. It's my time and I'm so grateful to people who have made jazz more accessible again.
James: So, during my interviews I always ask artists about their BHAG. Have you ever heard of a BHAG? A Big-Hairy-Audacious-Goal? You know, the sky's the limit kind of dream!
Laurin: Two words - Barbara Streisand! My voice is definitely different from hers, but that lady can sing the ABC's at any venue across the world and it will be packed out for three nights straight. She just stands on stage, sings and brings everyone in with her talents, voice and experience. She's been around for a long time- she's an icon! Barbara always tells a story and makes you feel as if you are just sitting on her sofa - like family.
So, I would love to accomplish just half of what she's done. When it's all said and done, I want to be able to say not only am I a singer, but I'm a performer, actress and an artists. And, that people can not only relate to me, but they want to hear what I have to say. I want to be here and making music and enteraining the world for a long time.
On May 19, when The Barnes Foundation opens its new campus, galleries and garden on the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, Philadelphia will witness the world's biggest art story unfold right in our own backyard.
The new 93,000-square-foot facility which will house this world famous collection of art has been designed as a "gallery within a garden and a garden within a gallery," and sits on a beautifully landscaped four and a half acre site along the Parkway. The new Philadelphia campus will not only house the remarkable Barnes collection, which includes 181 works by Renoir, a sizable collection of African art and more Cezanne's than in all of France, but also includes classrooms, a 150-seat auditorium, a café and courtyard for outdoor dining and a gift shop.
With a facility and collection of this magnitude being added to the Parkway's already impressive collection of cultural institutions like The Franklin Institute, The Academy of Natural Sciences and of course the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Philly really has reason to celebrate.
And, a celebration is exactly what the Barnes and Philadelphia have in mind!
The Barnes will kick off its inaugural week with ten days of free admission beginning May 19. The celebration will culminate with a free Memorial Day Weekend Festival featuring 52 consecutive hours of round-the-clock admission to the collection and an amazing entertainment lineup in honor of the historic institution and collection.
The festival is jam-packed with amazing performances, film screenings, lectures and activities - I can't even begin to list them all here. I've noticed lots of my Philly favorites on the program schedule, including Philly 360° Creative Ambassador Jeri Lynne Johnson and The Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, The Tindley Temple Choir, Relâche, Olive Dance Theatre, AfroTaino Productions, Spoken Hand Percussion Orchestra and Transcontinental Verses Poetry Event with Qualified Qool.
And, this is just the short list. There are tons of other performances mixed in with wine tastings, film screenings, artist talks, art lectures, family activities and so much more! I definitely will be stocking up on the Red Bull, coffee, espesso and whatever else it takes not to miss one minute of this 52-hour art explosion. You know I'm always down for a good old-fashioned arts revival, right?
Insider Fact: A number of city organizations and cultural partners have joined forces to celebrate Philly's eclectic and world famous art offerings with the innovative new campaign, With Art Philadelphia. Find out more about The Barnes and Philly's art scene here.
Now through April 29
230 S Broad Street
When rising opera star Michelle Johnson sings, the world stops and listens.
A stunningly gifted and classically trained soprano, Johnson was the 2011 Grand Prize Winner of the prestigious Metropolitan Opera National Council Auditions, and is currently in her fourth year at the world-renown Philadelphia institution, The Academy of Vocal Arts.
Last weekend, Johnson made her Opera Company of Philadelphia debut, starring in the title role of Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut,” playing at the Academy of Music right on Philly's famous Avenue of the Arts. When the original lead was forced to withdraw from the production due to illness, The Opera Company knew exactly who to call to take on this tremendous leading role - and Michelle was definitely up for the job!
In a recent article in the Philadelphia Tribune, Michelle was quoted saying, “I hear stories about how people get their big chance by someone else’s illness or their cancellation, and I really never thought it could happen to me, but it happens."
Puccini’s “Manon Lescaut opens this weekend with Michelle starring opposite tenor Thiago Arancam’s Des Grieux and an all-star cast that includes one of our newest Philly 360° Creative Ambassadors, Veronica Chapman-Smith.
So, whether an classical music novice, or a true opera-buff, the voice and presence of Michelle and the entire cast is sure to delight audiences and make the entire room beam with Philly pride. I have tickets for tonight's show and hope to see you there.
You can purchase tickets online here.
This week, I caught up with a familiar face from the Philadelphia dance community, Shawn-Lamere Williams, the Artistic Director of Eleone Dance Company. These days, Shawn and the amazing dancers of Eleone are hard at work preparing for what has become a pillar of the Philly holiday season - Carols In Color.
For twenty years, Eleone Dance Company has brought Philly together to celebrate the joy and wonder of the holiday with this original, soul-stirring, music-filled dance masterpiece. From the joyous hymns and anthems, to the electrifying dancers and vibrant costumes, Carols In Color celebrates Christmas in a way only Philly can.
So, grab your family, friends and loved-ones and come out to celebrate the 20th anniversary of this fantastic Philadelphia holiday tradition! You can get your tickets here.
December 17 & 18
3 p.m. & 7 p.m. shows
The Kurtz Center of The Performing Arts
3000 West School House Lane
James: So, are you a Philly native? Tell us a few of your favorite things to do around town.
Shawn-Lamere: Yes I am. I was born and raised in South Philly. One of my favorite things to do in Philly is going to support other dance companies, like Philadanco, Koresh and Rennie Harris Puremovement. Also, I truly love spending an evening out enjoying the talented students of Freedom Theatre or CAPA, and then going to my favorite restaurant - Ms. Tootsie's.
I love shopping and Walnut Street has some fabulous stores, so you can always find me in H&M or Zara!
James: So how long have you been dancing? How did you decide to pursue this as your career/profession?
Shawn-Lamere: I've been dancing since the age of nine! (do I have to tell my age? lol) My elementary school had a fabulous arts program as part of their curriculum in the late 70's. (I think I just told my age. lol.) I couldn't sing, so I never wanted to go to music. Art was fun, but then I got paint on one of my favorite outfits and I was done with that! I love the drama classes, because I've always been very dramatic. lol
But, when they tossed me into the dance classes, I told Leroy from the movie Fame there was a new Divo in town. Just kidding! Actually, Leroy from Fame was one of my greatest inspirations. I was hooked after seeing that movies in the 80's.
Shawn-Lamere: Well, it's a show about the birth of Jesus Christ and many people who believe that Jesus is the reason for the season come and celebrate with us. It's a show about having faith and standing tall even when there's a struggle. I remember when my audience was 300 people, but now it's over 3,000.
Also, I've always had the best support from the cast of Carols In Color. The show used to be 40 cast members, but now it's a cast of 70! And, even though the show is about the story of Christ's birth, we have all kinds of people come see the show. They tell us that it really puts them in the holiday spirit. I'm proud to say Carols In Color has become a Philadelphia tradition, and it's because of the fans of the show. A lot of them have been there since 1992.
James: Has the concept of Carols in Color evolved in any way during the 20 year long run?
Shawn-Lamere: Oh yes, I'm constantly tweaking and enhancing. This year will be the first time we perform the show away from Freedom Theatre, which has been our home for about the last 7 years. We will be performing at the Kurtz Center for the Performing Arts at The William Penn Charter School. This year we added some new arrangements and choreography. But, I must say Leon did an amazing job with this show. He conceived it, choreographed it, arranged and played on all of the music. He will always be a huge part of Philadelphia's dance and artistic legacy.
James: Along with having the tremendous talent of Eleone dancers, this is an incredibly musical show as well. Who are some of the vocalist that will be featured in this year's show?
Shawn-Lamere: Well I'll tell you this, we have a musical director nameed Patrick Crawford, and he is amazingly talented. This show has had some very talented singers in the past and present, including vocalists like Carol Riddick, Veronica Underwood, Jeremy Holder, Renee Robinson, and groups like Imani and 2Fold. A few of them are still with the show this year!
James: Finally, what can audiences expect when coming out to see this special 20th Anniversary performance of Carols In Color?
Shawn-Lamere: They can expect dynamic vocals, soul-stirring dancing and a real Baby Jesus - who steals the show every time! Also, folks can come out for my own return to the stage. I haven't performed with the show in five years. Do I still have it? Well, folks would have to come to the performance and see!