It’s often difficult to see the intersection of art and public engagement in the country’s major art centers because in these places, art has an undeniable commercial link that disconnects it from the common man. But this fall, Philadelphia’s galleries and museums are looking in their own backyards to find artists who are working against this notion, producing work about their diverse communities and engage the people within them.
Dan Murphy is one of many artists this fall taking cues from the richness of Philadelphia. “Do what you should/to save your hood,” reads one of the tiny white buttons affixed to a Hindu god graphic tee in his exhibition, Certain Things, at Fleisher/Ollman Gallery. The shirt, from the piece “King’s Shirt,” features a number of sewn-on patches and hand-clipped buttons that represent Philly through the eyes of Murphy, a world traveler and life-long resident of the Philadelphia area. But it’s the “Do What You Should” pin—with its portly black man looking fly as ever in an ’80s-style sweatsuit drawn prominently on its right side—that sticks out the most in this show.
Many of the shows at Philly’s most diverse galleries and museums this fall are doing their best to focus on young artists who are doing exactly what that pins are encouraging: to work directly with the culturally diverse and socially complicated areas that the artists reside in. In many cases, this work occurs outside of posh Center City, and in places like the post-industrial Port Richmond, the ethic melting pot that is West Philadelphia and the constantly changing artist hub of Fishtown.
In October, the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts leads the march with a show called here. , which casts off the pejorative “provincial” nature often associated with regionalism. Consisting of six curators, each of whom selected works from their respective cities, the show looks at the way place and community affects the artists working in cities removed from the art centers of New York and Los Angeles. Megawords, the community–driven duo made up of Murphy and Anthony Smyrski, will be creating a hyper-distribution point in the entry of the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art’s North Broad Street building, creating another one of their alternative spaces to be enjoyed by members of the nonart community. And illustrator and video artist Jennifer Levonian will contribute new works that explore her place within the context of her mostly Mexican neighborhood.
Dear culture vultures: For months we scoured the city to bring you the best of what Philly has to offer this season, and we think we’ve done a damn good job of bringing something for everyone. Into art? You should know that curators and artists everywhere are doing their best to take art out of their galleries and into your community. Want theater? We found a scrappy, independent circus troupe whose stunts you should never try at home. There’s also a roundup of what’s on tap for our favorite stages. If comedy is your thing, we've got a list of the season's best events (like a tribute to the late Mitch Hedberg, he of the famous one-line zingers). Music? Check. Dance? The Russian ballet awaits you on. We even examine the state of storytelling, which, of course, is the world's oldest favorite pastime yet somehow a "novelty" in today's world. Enjoy all this and more!