What’s new in Philadelphia’s art and culture scene ?

Museums, murals, walking tours and gardens. Philadelphia has added more to its list of touristy things to do in 2022

September 24, 2022 04:03 pm | Updated 04:03 pm IST

There’s a Philadelphia for everyone. So, say the tour guides. Every year, more than 50,000 visitors from India travel to the American city. Post-pandemic, , Tourism Economics is projecting 34,000 tourists in 2022 . Last year, as the pandemic waned, a few distinct experiences were added to attract more tourists. Robin Bloom, director of content, Philadelphia Convention & Visitors Bureau says, “The city’s food/drink scene is booming. Our tourism numbers are rising, and Philadelphia will host World Cup games in 2026.”

Here are four new attractions to experience when you visit Philadelphia next time:

The Neon Museum

A celebration of the glitzy glowing signs that once decorated the city, The Neon Museum is devoted to a culture that’s long gone. The museum, which opened in April 2021, was founded by Len Davidson who has been designing and manufacturing neon signages for the last 40 years. He began collecting them from fading businesses and even rescued a few from dump yards from different locations.

In the 1950s, animated neon signs announcing events and businesses spurted all over the U.S. with Las Vegas and Philadelphia leading the way. As technology changed, these signs faded away in the 1990s. But, says Mason Carter, Outreach Coordinator of the Museum, “Neon is still very much a part of our culture. People associate neon with Las Vegas but we see a lot of it in Philadelphia too.” He points out that the city’s culture of small mom-and-pop stores and corner shops also encouraged neon signages. Mason also explains that, earlier, trade schools commonly taught the skill of glass bending, which is required to shape the signs and, hence, skilled artists were available. Philadelphia once boasted of 80 neon benders, he says, adding that “it’s an art that is hard to find now.”

Artist Eve Hoyt, who volunteers at the museum every month, and shares information with visitors on glass tube bending techniques, explains, “By educating the public about the history of neon signs, it sparks an interest on how they are made. Seeing all the signs up close, you appreciate all the work that goes into making them. Visitors are naturally curious about the process. I encourage them to ask questions about it.”

Carter adds, “Neon has a big connect with music, which is a big part of Philadelphia’s culture. Local clubs sported neon signages. Dobbs, for instance, had a big neon D.” The museum, located on 1800, North American Street, Philadelphia, is open on weekends from 1pm to 6pm. On weekdays, it is open only for private viewing and tours. Recently a special exhibition, All Rock and Revelry, which deals with artefacts and the oral history of Philadelphia’s alternative music club scene from the late 1970s to the mid-1980s was held.

All special exhibits are included with the $10 admission.

The Faith and Liberty Discovery Center

The premise is to inspire visitors to explore the relationship between faith and liberty in the American story. This technologically immersive, state-of-the-art museum, which opened in June 2021, invites viewers to take a look at six core values — faith, liberty, justice, hope, unity and love — that are common to the Bible, the Declaration of Independence and the U.S. Constitution.

The Lamp Experience

An ’interactive lamp’ takes a visitor through exhibits showcasing seminal moments from American history. Each visitor is given a small baton, called a lamp. The lamp sets off sensors that bring exhibits to life as people walk past them. When visitors find an exhibit that intrigues them, they can touch an illuminated donut-shaped light beside the display with the lamp. Each lamp comes with a card that has a URL and code that can be used to access the information collected at the museum even after they leave the Museum.

Visitors are given a chance to express their opinion about the ideals expressed in the exhibits here. They can enter a booth where their thoughts are recorded for the museum archives through an interactive touchscreen. Video is used extensively and effectively, including a 360-degree theatre where visitors learn about William Penn’s commitment to freedom of religion in the city, and alsohave one-on-one interactions with life-size videos of people sharing their personal stories of faith and hope. There are also spaces for personal and communal reflection.

Located at 101 N Independence Mall E., the museum is open Monday to Saturday from 10 am to 5pm Tickets cost: Adults- $10, Youth- $8

The Mural Arts Tour

The Talented Mr. Trotter: You Can Be Anything © 2022 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Roberto Lugo, The Clay Studio, 1425 North American Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The Talented Mr. Trotter: You Can Be Anything © 2022 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Roberto Lugo, The Clay Studio, 1425 North American Street. Photo by Steve Weinik. | Photo Credit: Steve Weinik

Find out Why Philadelphia is called the “Mural Capital of the World” with this tour. With over 4,000 works of community-based public art, the Mural Arts Philadelphia was started as an anti-graffiti programme in 1984. The latest to join the collection is ‘The Talented Mr. Trotter: You Can Be Anything’, by artist Roberto Lugo, which was unveiled in June 2022. The mural at Clay Studio is inspired by Tariq ‘Black Thought’ Trotter, the rapper and Roots frontman. Robert, who is working with the Mural Arts’ Education Programme, hopes that this piece will show students in the neighbourhood that, like Trotter, they can do and be anything.

Begun in 1984, by former mayor Wilson Goode, the programme aims to rid the city of grafitti in public spaces and redirect artists into producing attractive and communicative works. Wilson appointed Tim Spencer as executive director of the Anti-Graffiti Network and later hired artist Jane Golden to work with the city’s youth. Jane directs the mural-making process to generate dialogue, build relationships, empower communities, and spark economic revitalisation of the localities.

The first mural was created in 1989 by well-known portrait muralist Kent Twitchell. Titled Dr. J (Julius Erving), a football legend, at 1234 Ridge Avenue, the mural was made on panels of parachute cloth to enable community participation. Residents were roped in to develop murals and some of the humbler locations acquired beautiful walls. A tour of the Mural Arts’ outdoor gallery has become America’s largest public art programme and offers visitors the opportunity to see some of these murals on guided and self-guided tours, by foot, trolley, train or segway.

A new mobile app is also available from Mural Arts Philadelphia to access 40 Center City murals. Text MURAL to 215-608-1866 to receive a link to the Mobile Smartphone Tour. This Fall, A Leon Higginbotham’s design, by artist Shawn Theodore, will be unveiled. A tribute to the life and legacy of Philadelphia civil rights pioneer, Judge A. Leon Higginbotham Jr. (1928-1998), it will serve as a visible reminder of Judge Higginbotham’s many achievements, and also introduce his singular voice of moral leadership to a new generation of citizens.

Longwood Gardens: Bruce Munro’s Light Installations

Ramandus Table Longwood Gardens

Ramandus Table Longwood Gardens

 The celebrated botanical garden located in Chester County, PA, about an hour outside of Philadelphia, is showing a dramatic light installation that runs through October. British artist Bruce Munro returns to Longwood Gardens after his debut 10 years ago with ‘Infinite Imagination Awaits with Light’.

A field of 18,000 bulbs lights up, stretching across the large and small lake landscape. “Returning to Longwood felt like coming home,” says Bruce, adding, “Longwood offers a whole raft of spaces (inside and outside rooms) for an artist to get lost in and express their imagination. It is a privilege to create in such wonderful places.”

On view from Thursday through Sunday evenings till October 30, Light features eight installations spanning indoor spaces and outdoor vistas.

Multi-sensory exhibits

‘C-Scales’, at the Water Lily Garden, is inspired by the iconic giant waterlily and audio-visual glimpses are created by a sweep of colour-changing lights projected across a vast shimmering lake of 14,800 CDs. “My intention is to create an abstraction of a garden that sheds its history in scales of light. In titling this work, I used “C”, the universal symbol for the speed of light, as a pun for the sea itself,” says Bruce.

In Ramandus Table, which lights up a flock of flamingos, Bruce is inspired in part by The Voyage of The Dawn Treader by C.S. Lewis. “It is an adult realisation of a childhood dream, but is also an homage piece that celebrates the work of the American graphic artist, Don Featherstone. Don created the iconic plastic pink flamingo that has populated thousands of suburban gardens since the 50s…” he says.

The concept of Ramandu’s Table is simply to illuminate a flock of white flamingos with an array of continually changing dawn hues, complete with an audio chorus of a flock of flamingos in full song.

The Du Pont Estate

Originally founded by Pierre du Pont in 1906, Longwood Gardens showcases more than 9,000 species and varieties of plants spread out across more than 1,000 acres of gardens and elaborate horticultural displays. Its outdoor and indoor gardens, fountain shows, and picturesque meadows and woodlands attracts visitors from around the globe.

The garden hosts hundreds of events each year, including gardening demonstrations, educational programs, children’s activities, concerts and musical theater.

For tickets, log on to longwoodgardens.org

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