Smartest spring ever: Brainy celebrations top Philly's spring festival lineup

By Kennedy Allen
Add Comment Add Comment | Comments: 0 | Posted Mar. 19, 2014

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Ethan Nguyen at the 2011 TEDxPhiladelphia. (Photo by Kevin Monko)

Fine: You wisely hunkered down for the past few months, winter’s blues kept at bay by anticipating the warm months on the horizon. Well, they’re finally here—and with ‘em arrive some definite reasons to get out and commune with your fellow snow haters. Time for some experiences aimed at expanding you mind, lifting your spirit and calling you to action.

Back in 1984, TED Talks, an event series where technology, entertainment and design converged via lectures from an array of masters of their respective crafts, set out to reimagine how we make the world work. Twenty years later, it’s expanded far beyond its origins, inviting and inspiring satellite events organized in over 150 countries—and, of course, right here, with this month’s sold-out TedXPhiladelphia (Fri., March 28). Whether the cast includes the founding fathers or the hard-working laborers that made the Industrial Revolution possible, this city is known for shaking and rattling the status quo, making it the perfect host for the theme: “The New Workshop of the World.” Philly’s day-long multidisciplinary confab features a mix of captivating speakers. Among them: scholar/activist/treasure Sonia Sanchez; William Way LGBT Community Center executive director Chris Bartlett; Simran Sidhu, executive director of YouthBuild Philadelphia Charter School; Schuylkill River Development Corporation operations manager Josh Nims; Brian McTear, co-founder and executive director of the non-profit Weathervane Music; Project Runway winner Dom Streater and Geoff DiMasi, founder of the web and software design company P’unk Ave. All of them hope to help reshape and inspire the notion of Philadelphia as a stage for both forward thinking and progressive action.tedxphiladelphia.org

Each spring, during National Library Week, the Free Library hosts its annual Philadelphia Book Festival (Sun., April 13-Sat., April 19), and this year—which extends the fun to more communities than ever before—marks its eighth iteration. A celebration of literature and the arts, this week-long wordfest shines the spotlight on different authors each night, ensuring the most access to the diverse slate of writers, poets and illustrators scheduled at events targeting all ages throughout the city. Amid its highlights: Born blind, critically acclaimed identical twins Dan and Dave Simpson will recite selections of their poetry at the Library for the Blind and Physically Handicapped; Philly native and Glyph Award-winning artist/cartoonist Jamar Nicholas will be featured at the Oak Lane branch, continuing his mission to empowering young people through helping them realize how powerful a visual narrative can be; and Philadelphia’s new poet laureate, Frank Sherlock, will present his inaugural reading. Popular authors including Debbie Macomber, Pat and Gina Neely, Barbara Ehrenreich will be on hand, and on each night of the festival, Spaces Between Your Fingers, a non-profit organization dedicated to providing free biographers for people with Alzheimer’s, will be at the Central Library conducting interviews of interested parties. Plus, to cap it all off, area librarians will present Tales from the Turtle, a series of storytelling and activities for families in West Philly’s beautiful Clark Park, hoping to help instill a passion for reading in youngsters. freelibrary.org

Since 2011, the Philadelphia Science Festival (Fri., Apr 25-Sat., May 3) has been exposing its attendees to mind-blowing innovations in technology, engineering and mathematics in an invitingly interactive, curiosity-sparking fashion. The nine-day extraganza’s official kickoff party, Science Carnival After Hours, is tailored specifically for the 21-and-over crowd, with cool demonstrations, kick-ass music, engaging speakers, plus some fantastic, nerdy alcohol-based experiments. Last year’s family-friendly Science Carnival brought the festivities to the jam-packed Ben Franklin Parkway, featuring over 100 exhibitors, experiments and live performances for curious kids of all ages. Neighborhood Science After School offers a hands-on mini-carnival experience for students at 17 different libraries all over the city, specially designed to capture the imagination and encourage further interest in STEM, while Discovery Day brings science to Hunting Park, with a focus on everything from car hydraulics to healthy eating. There are even lectures set for the more tenured scientist, as well as the armchair physicist. From biology to chemistry, ecology to robotics, this year’s fest promises to blind the city with science—and leave it begging for more. philasciencefestival.org

The 21st annual Equality Forum (Fri., May 2-Sun., May 4) takes center stage as the leading and largest yearly national and global lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgendered civil rights summit. From its top-tier panel discussions to the International Equality Dinner to SundayOUT, the Philadelphia-based Forum acts as a nurturing nest of encouragement and empowerment while aspiring to educate the world community about the struggle for LGBT equality. Previous high-impact initiatives include the placement of the gay rights demonstrations’ historical marker at Independence Mall, as well as Project 1138, intended to raise public awareness of the 1,138 federal marital protections and benefits denied to same-sex couples. As this year’s EF featured nation, the current challenges, opportunities and breakthroughs within Canada’s LGBT population will be discussed in-depth by an assortment of our northern neighbor’s brightest minds. Stateside, the U.S.’ political scene will be the subject of scrutiny in the national politics panel, moderated by the Washington Blade’s Kevin Naff and manned with experts including LGBT History Month founder Malcolm Lazin, EF’s executive director; the Log Cabin Republicans’ Gregory Angelo and Maya Rupert, policy director of the National Center for Lesbian Rights. equalityforum.com

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Dollar Day on the Avenue What’s the best part of spring?  Being able to eat outside again, of course. Ring in the new season with the chance to sample the foodstuffs of local eateries for $1, $3 or $5. Thurs., March 20, 5:30pm. $1-$5. West Girard Avenue from 26th to 31st streets. fairmountcdc.org 

Fishtown Chili Cookoff Prizes will be awarded for Best Restaurant Chili and Best Amateur Chili, as well as a People’s Choice prize. Last year’s champion, Sketch Burger, will be vying for a repeat. Sun., March 30, 1pm. $10-18. The Skybox at 2424 Studios, 2424 East York St. 215.925.7676. fishtown.org 

Philly Spring Cleanup Do your part to make the streets of Philadelphia safer by partaking in its annual clean-up. Last year’s turnout saw more than 13,000 volunteers collecting over 1 million pounds of trash and 23,000 pounds of recycled items. Sat., April 5. 9am. philadelphiastreets.com 

Manayunk StrEAT Festival A bevy of food trucks will line up along Main Street and distribute their yummy specialties to passersby. The event kicks off Manayunk Restaurant Week, during which 21 local restaurants offer three-course menus at discount prices. Sat., April 12. 11am. Various prices. Main Street. manayunk.com 

Manayunk 16th Annual Brew Fest Manayunk Brewing Company brings out a whole new batch of top-notch beers for its seasonal fest. Indulge with Saison and Farmhouse-style beers from the likes of California’s The Lost Abbey and Belgium’s Brasserie Dupont. Sat., April 26, 1pm. $45. Manayunk Brewery, 4120 Main St. 215.482.8220. manayunkbrewery.com 

Flavors of the Avenue The cool restaurants of East Passyunk will dish out samples of their signature platters. A little extra money will get you first dibs, as well as specialty beverage concoctions. Rain or shine, it’s going down on the Ave. Sat., April 26, noon. $30-50. 215.336.1455. visiteastpassyunk.com

Sister Cities Park International Festival Florence, Tel Aviv and Torun—that’s in Poland—are just a few of the cities that Philly calls its “sisters,” and to celebrate their cultures, Sisters Cities Park hosts its second fun-filled International Festival.  Sat., May 3, 12pm. Free. Sister Cities Park, 210 N. 18th St. 215.440.5500. centercityphila.org 

GO WEST! Craft Fest The acrobatic performance group tinycircus, jugglers, acoustic bands and, of course, handmade crafts for your viewing—and buying—pleasure are all in store at this annual favorite. Sat., May 3. 11am. Free. The Woodlands Historic Mansion & Cemetery, 40th and Woodland Ave. 215.386.2181. gowestcraftfest.com 

SundayOUT! The open space of the Piazza at Schmidt’s is the perfect spot for Equality Forum’s SundayOUT party, welcoming performances by singer Neon Hitch, Israeli pop star Shory and drag superstar Osher Sabag. Sun., May 6. 12pm. $5-10. The Piazza, North 2nd St. and Germantown Ave. 215.732.3378. equalityforum.com 

Pennsylvania Guild Fine Craft Fair Making its return to Rittenhouse Square for the third year in a row, the Pennsylvania Guild of Craftsmen will cover the sidewalks with tent canopies brimming with gorgeous trinkets. ArtFair Sourcebook named it among the nation’s 100 best. Fri., May 9-Sun., May 11. 11am. Free. Rittenhouse Square. 717.431.8706. pacrafts.org

Art Star Craft Bazaar Juried by Art Star Gallery & Boutique, this bazaar features over 100 local and national artists setting up shop along the waterfront. Take advantage of the overlapping Mother’s Day holiday, and pick up a little somethin’-somethin’. Sat., May 10-Sun., May 11. 11am. Free. The Great Plaza at Penn’s Landing, Columbus Blvd. between Chestnut and Walnut Sts. artstarcraftbazaar.com

Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby Human-powered vehicles with an artistic theme will rule the road at this event, created to encourage sustainable development and community building. Just call it a parade of pure awesome. Sat., May 17. 12pm. Free. Trenton Ave. and Norris St. 215.427.0350. kinetickensington.com 

Yoga on the Steps The fitness fest at the Philadelphia Museum of Art is Living Beyond Breast Cancer’s most popular fundraising event, bringing together over 2,000 participants.  Enjoy outdoor yoga classes suitable for all ages and all skill levels. Sun., May 18. 8am. Free-$20. Philadelphia Museum of Art, 2600 Benjamin Franklin Pkwy. 215.763.8100. yogaonthesteps.org

Walk Against Hate Take a stand against bigotry and hatred with this kid-friendly 5K walk, where people from various backgrounds will come to prove that diversity is more than just a possibility.  Sun., May 18. 1pm. $5-10. Martin Luther King Drive. 215.568.2223. walkagainsthate.org

The 7th Annual Roots Picnic This concert’s a yearly homecoming of sorts for Philly’s favorite sons, always with a stunning line-up. This year’s no different: Performances by Snoop Dogg and Janelle Monae could make it the biggest one yet. Sat., May 31. 1pm. $45. Festival Pier at Penn’s Landing, 601 N. Columbus Blvd. 215.629.3200. rootspicnic.com   // JAKE ABBATE

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