4:45 AM / Sunday April 21, 2024

14 Mar 2013

Experience! Philadelphia

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March 14, 2013 Category: Travel Posted by:

ABOVE PHOTO: Philadelphia Art Museum.


By Renée S. Gordon


“Nothing ever becomes real till it is experienced.” 

–John Keats


Philadelphia was the first major colonial city to be established where there had not previously been a fort.  William Penn obtained his charter in 1681 and is believed to have immediately set out to legally purchase land from the indigenous tribes, the most famous of which was the Treaty of Amity with the Lenni Lenape’s Chief Tamanend and others of the Turtle Clan at Shackamaxon in 1682. The signing is commemorated with Penn Treaty Park and the naming of Shackamaxon Street.


Penn’s colony was founded on the principles of brotherly love and a basic belief in equality and the idea proved alluring to colonists in general and those seeking a new life and adventure in particular. During the Colonial Era, 1681-1776, the population of the colonies grew by more than 2-million and Philadelphia rapidly became an “international” city with a heady mix of ideas, architecture, cuisines and arts.


Modern Philadelphia continues to be home to the adventurous and is world-famous for its colleges and universities, museums, history, arts and the more than 3,000-murals that embellish walls throughout the city.  Overseeing it all since 1894 is William Penn’s statue standing on City Hall Clock Tower, the tallest statue in the world situated on top of a building that’s the largest municipal building in the country. The 250-ton bronze sculpture was created by Alexander Milne Calder and placed to face the site of the treaty signing while holding the Charter of Pennsylvania in his left hand. Visitors can tour the building and ascend the 44-floors that take you to the observation deck just below the statue. There is an admission fee but a virtual tour is free.


The Spring Equinox, March 20th, is upon us and, as always the first day of spring brings out the sense of adventure in us all. Philadelphia never disappoints you and this season is no exception. Many of our regular haunts are mounting new exhibits and there are a number of newly developed ways to experience Philadelphia that will enhance activities for both the lifelong resident and the casual visitor. 


Side Tour, an experiential tour marketplace, was established in 2011. Initially the local experiences were in New York City, Chicago, Illinois and Washington, DC but due to its popularity, innovation and uniqueness it is expanding to Philadelphia. The experiences last from 1-2-hours and are designed to allow individuals or groups to meet and engage on a personal level local chefs, artists, musicians, etc., as well as meet and interact with people with similar interests and tastes. I had the good fortune of participating in two of Philadelphia’s Side Tours and both times were outstanding. 


My first experience was a four-course Charcuterie Feast at Russet Restaurant in Center City. The multi-course meal was in keeping with an Italian Sunday dinner where the focus is on local meats and produce as well as warmth and hospitality.  Chef and owner Andrew Wood gave us a tour of the kitchen and explained the preparation and history of each course.


Side Tour number two was totally different but equally exciting. This time I found myself in the studio of Betsy Casañas, an internationally renowned muralist and art activist dedicated to initiating social change in underserved communities through the constructive use of art.  Betsy took us through her personal experiences as an artist with an emphasis on her work as a muralist, both past and present, and all the steps in creating a mural from concept to completion. 


Her two current projects include a 47-building mural at Front and Westmoreland and a large work on the new Police Athletic League Center (PAL) in conjunction with the Museum of Art. The tour ended with the participants actually painting small portions of the 5’x5’ panels of the PAL mural. 


There will be approximately 15 Side Tours from which to choose and prices will vary. You can learn more and book experiences at


Philadelphia’s Franklin Square, 6th & Race Streets, inaugurates its 7th season to coincide with the first day of spring and runs until New Years Eve. The public is invited to attend the opening, along with the square’s namesake, Benjamin Franklin, beginning at noon on March 20th. The first 25 children will receive free carousel rides.


William Penn stated that his “green countrie towne” should be laid out with five public squares. They were originally named simply for their direction but later renamed for historically prominent individuals. Northeast Square was changed to Franklin Square in 1825. The square, the nearest to the historic district, was refurbished in 2006 and today is a family friendly destination with Living Flame Memorial, the Franklin Square Marble Fountain Philly Mini Golf and Liberty Carousel. The first of a list of scheduled special events, the Great Egg Hunt, takes place on March 31st. It has been rated one of the “Five Coolest Playgrounds in the United States.”


The Philadelphia Museum of Art is the grand lady of the Parkway. The museum’s current site is its second and was chosen for its location. The chief designer was Julian Abele, an African American architect whose achievement is noted on a plaque on 26th & the Parkway. The 10-acre Minnesota dolomite building is reminiscent of a Greek temple and contains more than 200-galleries.  


New exhibitions are offered on a regular basis. The newest, “Great and Mighty Things”: Outsider Art from the Jill and Sheldon Bonovitz Collection, is showcased March 3- June 9th.


Jean Dubuffet was the first to give a name to this form of art. He called it ‘Art Bruf” and defined it as, “works of extreme individuality and inventiveness by creators who were not only untrained artists but often had little concept of an art gallery or even any other forms of art other than their own. None were professional artists or had contact with the art world.” In 1972 Robert Cardinal coined the term Outsider Art.


The Bonovitz Collection includes 190 artworks and is one of the finest private collections. On display are works by American artists who were creative during the 50-year period beginning in 1930. I found all of the works interesting but the works of George Widener and Simon Sparrow are particularly compelling. Widener, a numerical savant, is the only living artist in the exhibit. Sparrow’s spiritual, image filled works, are informed by the fact that he was born in West Africa and spent ten of his formative years living on a Cherokee reservation. This exhibit is fully interpreted and an audio tour is available making it a great introduction to this genre of art.


Jada Pinkett-Smith, Jay-Z and Will Smith are bringing the world tour of “FELA” to Philadelphia through March 17th. . International audiences have thrilled to the rousing Afrobeat music of Fela Kuti as they experienced the multi-layered life of the Nigerian artist, music trailblazer and civil rights activist. The musical won three Tony Awards in 2010 and time has not diminished its power. Merriam Theater.


Philadelphia’s Hard Rock Café is one of 138 worldwide and the world’s premier dining establishment that artfully blends rock and roll and rock and roll comfort food. Each venue’s décor incorporates authentic memorabilia from renowned musicians and includes a shop with logo merchandise to the delight of collectors.


Founded in England in 1971 currently Hard Rock International is owned by Seminole Hard Rock Entertainment, Inc. In addition to the cafés there are two flagship Seminole Hard Rock Hotels and Casinos and there are a number of additional hotel and casino projects projected to open in the near future.


Philly’s recently renovated Hard Rock is a great place to continue your experiential tour. Check out the walls adorned with items that belonged to Jimi Hendrix, Joan Jett, the Beatles and Jim Morrison. A menu and a full schedule of events is available online.


When in the city you need never be at a loss for things to do but spring excursions have a special allure so, get ready, get set, EXPERIENCE Philadelphia!


I wish you smooth travels!




The first African American museum in the US was established at Hampton University in 1868. It remains one of the finest museums in the nation with a collection exceeding 9,000 objects and artwork. From April 26-August 24th “ The Journey of Hope in America: Quilts Inspired by President Barack Obama” will be on exhibition. More than 95 fiber artists will interpret the historic 2008 election of the first African American president. This groundbreaking exhibit is free.


Hampton’s free, 30 page, “Family Tree: A Guide to African American Heritage Sites in Hampton, Virginia”, is available on request by calling 800-800-2202 or online at


New York is playing host to three plays that explore the music and social climate of the sixties. Each of the three views the era through a different lens and when combined present a more complete picture than you might otherwise obtain.


“Motown” is the long awaited musical that charts the rise of the legendary company. The open-ended run is currently in preview at the Lunt-Fontanne Theatre. 


“Forever Dusty” relates the story of Dusty Springfield, a white girl in Ireland, who is profoundly moved by the American music from Motown. Her story paints a picture of the unexpected social impact and the power of the music. New World Stages Theater.


“Detroit 67” takes place in Detroit and is set in a highly political climate with music as an important element in the story. National Black Theater.


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