New Orleans: Third Impressions

My third trip to New Orleans began with the free, homey French Quarter Festival and ended with a marathon walk through Bywater, ending fortuitously at Bacchanal, a bottle shop/beer garden/music venue/restaurant tucked into an unlikely corner of the Mississippi River and Industrial Canal, just across from the Lower Ninth Ward.

I never saw New Orleans before Hurricane Katrina. I've never been there for Mardi Gras. I've spent very little time on Bourbon Street. The city is so encrusted with history and culture that a stranger can wander anywhere and find himself lost in a labyrinth of music, food and sunbaked buildings.

Good morning, America

Michelle and I took the Crescent line from Philadelphia to New Orleans. The ride is kind of a forced retreat: 25 glorious hours where you can't do anything but read, write, play games on your phone and wonder who lives beyond the back yards and scrap yards clicking by outside.

But Amtrak has a kind of forced socialization policy, too. If you want to meet a few of the people from the other side of the glass, go to the dining car. Parties of one or two are seated at tables for four, facing strangers.

The only morning we were brave enough to dine, we ended up eating pancakes and sausage across from Tony, a volunteer guide with the National Park Service, and Judy, an Atlanta retiree training for his job. We learned that there's a Trails & Rails program that started in New Orleans in 2000 and grew into a year-round partnership with Amtrak. Today National Park Service guides hop aboard more than a dozen Amtrak routes to point out cultural and historic sites along the way. We picked up brochures on music history, civil rights and natural resources and followed the listings by mile markers and Google maps.

Tell me something good

Block leaders on Amber and Auburn Streets in Kensington have been improving their neighborhood for years. They have completed leadership courses through NeighborWorks America and Philadelphia LISC, and meet regularly with staff at New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) to hone their organizing skills, find city and business resources for the neighborhood, and learn "asset mapping”—a way to discover skills already in the neighborhood and find the best way for everyone to work together. 

For more than a year, Kensington neighbors also have been working with Maria Möller, a Philadelphia artist funded by the Philadelphia Association of Community Development Corporations (PACDC). Möller has been teaching creative placemaking techniques and building relationships with residents as part of an ongoing artwork called “Tell Me Something Good.” 

In June, three blocks of Amber Street were closed to traffic for a celebration that was part block party, part art opening, and part dedication of a new community garden space.
 

Frankford Gateway

With funding from Conrail, NKCDC installed LED lights along the Lehigh Viaduct underpass at Frankford Avenue in 2016 .

With funding from Conrail, NKCDC installed LED lights along the Lehigh Viaduct underpass at Frankford Avenue in 2016 .

Delaware Valley Green Building Council (DVGBC) and New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) have been working together to revitalize vacant lots at the "Frankford Gateway"—a stretch of Frankford Avenue near the underpass of the Lehigh Viaduct rail line in Kensington, Philadelphia. 

Improving the Lehigh Viaduct underpass has been a priority of the Somerset Neighbors for Better Living (SNBL) civic association since its founding in 2012. Working with Community Design Collaborative at SNBL meetings, residents envisioned Frankford Avenue as a clean and safe neighborhood entrance that included attractive lighting, landscaping and public art. In the following years, with financial support from Conrail, Domus and Wells Fargo Regional Foundation, NKCDC stabilized vacant lots along the viaduct, planted small gardens and installed LED lights under the tracks. 

This year, a full transformation of the vacant lots on Frankford was made possible by the inaugural Community Impact Project partnership with DVGBC. DVGBC and NKCDC raised over $13,000 and secured multiple in-kind gifts from the community, including a large capstone gift from Mr. Contractor Inc. Landscape architect Hans Hesselein of Apiary Studio drafted a series of designs to meet the needs of landowners, residents and local businesses. 

This past summer, more than 30 volunteers built trellises, installed a drip irrigation system, and planted fruit trees,  perennials, berry bushes and wildflowers. At the same time, the city's Community Life Improvement Programs (CLIP) cut weeds and removed trash on adjacent streets. And AKRF GreenUP offered to water the new plants for a year. We can't wait to see how it looks!
 

Farm to Families

Last year I began working for New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). Since 1985, NKCDC has worked alongside residents and businesses to spark sustainable development in the Kensington, Fishtown and Port Richmond neighborhoods of Philadelphia.

Farm to Families is one such initiative. In growing communities that until recently had very limited options for fresh produce, NKCDC partnered with St. Christopher's Foundation for Children to provide affordable weekly boxes of fruits and vegetables from Lancaster Farm Fresh Cooperative.

The program runs year round, and boxes can be ordered on a week-by-week basis. Everything is organic and is picked within 48 hours of delivery. Additional fresh items including local eggs, meats, yogurt and jam are offered at affordable rates. Cash, credit and EBT are accepted. And during the summer, boxes are picked up outside at NKCDC's Garden Center.

The Workshop School

The mission of The Workshop School is to unleash the creative and intellectual potential
of young people to solve the world’s toughest problems. For 30 ninth grade students in 2017, the tough problem was how to build a human-powered vehicle that could complete a two-mile course and survive a series of obstacles, including a mud pit. The Workshop School won $4,000 grant from Philadelphia Federal Credit Union (PFCU)  as part of PFCU's sponsorship of the annual Kensington Kinetic Sculpture Derby & Arts Festival this past summer.

Dr. Chris Feudtner

From "Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity," a blog for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society by Leah Hood.

PA Philadelphia Mural Arts—2016 September 26 15;12;47.jpg

As a palliative care researcher and physician very much in his mid-career, Dr. Chris Fuedtner is an interesting choice of subjects for a series on Late Style. But his research, and the patient population Dr. Fuedtner serves, reveals insights into what inspires people to create, explore, and live life to the fullest — even when the end of that life is within view. ...

Like many of the great composers, Fuedtner is adamant that his palliative work is not about death, but rather how to “live well” within all the constraints and challenges of life. ... “[Composers] have lost a child, a spouse, a sibling, and their work is dominated by grief. … Think of Britten’s ‘War Requiem’ … The question of mortality isn’t simply that I’m going to die. It’s also: I have lived and what does that mean? Does death negate the value of everything I’ve done up to this point?”

Robin Black

This past year I had the chance to work with writer Leah Hood on an unusual project for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. "Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity" explores the idea of "late style"—that is, what do artists create when their work is mature and they're established in their careers? Hood interviewed a score of prominent creators—writers, dancers, designers, producers, scientists, actors, and yes, musicians—for a blog that accompanied a trio of curated concerts, all supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Before she began writing, author and writing teacher Robin Black struggled with agoraphobia and anxiety. “When I started writing, I felt like my life depended on it. And my sanity,” she told Hood. “It was kind of leaving the domestic sphere in this extreme version because I had actually been hiding. I wasn’t just home with my kids, I was home with my kids and scared. When I went off to graduate school at age 41 it was a big, big deal.” 

“As a woman, when you hit 40 and then 50, I think it’s pretty universal in this culture anyway, to feel emboldened and to care a lot less what people think of you and just go for it. But in literature it’s difficult … Particularly after you’ve had a couple books out and you’re used to getting reviewed. I hope that my most masterful books are ahead of me but I do worry about the self-consciousness of the career.”

Streb

From "Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity," a blog for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society by Leah Hood.

With a decorated career in both dance and choreography, Elizabeth Streb has spent the last 20 years inventing an entirely new discipline of movement and machinery. She calls it “extreme action” — a fusion of dance and athleticism, combined with a precisely timed set of movements that pushes dancers’ bodies to new realms of discovery.

A visit to SLAM, the Streb Laboratory for Action Mechanics, is disconcerting and energizing, confusing and awe-inspiring. It is rare to witness something for which your brain has no paradigm, but that is exactly what happens in the presence of Streb’s dance company. 

Streb explains some of her philosophy that is built around rhythm and timing and risk: "My intention has always been: What story can action tell that no other discipline can tell? What is the iambic pentameter of action?… Our job is to confuse people and take them to new zones. New zones can be temporal and spatial and physical. … It does have to be extreme; it has to be dangerous."

Larry Gold

From "Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity," a blog for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society by Leah Hood .

Larry Gold, self-described “orchestrator,” is best known for arranging and producing pop music hits. His client list is a who’s-who of the pop music world: the Roots, Michael Jackson, Mary J. Blige, Justin Timberlake, Jennifer Lopez, Jay-Z and Kanye West. ...

At this point in his career, Gold has plenty of experience to draw from and the mastery of his craft has made a few things easier. “I’m more mature. I know music a lot better now. I spent my whole life listening, writing and learning. Technically it’s easier, that’s for sure. But it’s also that I hear more… Right now in my life, a song tells me what it needs."

Judith Schaechter

Although she lives in Philadelphia, Judith Schaechter is not to be confused with the author of the Skippyjon Jones children's books about a whimsical kitten who imagines he is a chihuahua. Schaechter works in stained glass, and her pieces are considerably darker.  

"I think that my work, subject matter wise, it is really in keeping with the tradition of images of martyrs…the everyday martyrs," Schaechter told writer Leah Hood on a tour of her studio last fall. "I want to speak in that language [of suffering] about what is beautiful in life." 

Hood was interviewing artists as part of a blog series on "late style" for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. We wanted to learn how creative people think when their careers are established and their work is mature.  

"I think my whole process has been one of surrendering my ego time and time again," Schaechter said. As a young artist, “I was like a child. I believed that my work was really good and that people would want to look at it. ... I was in my 30s when I started being able to see that my work was somehow flawed. This was devastating to me.”

"I’m not making my work for myself," Schaechter says now. "I‘m not pandering to an audience, but if my work isn’t resonating with other people I feel like I’ve failed."

Singular things

A decade ago I began documenting lonely objects in empty landscapes that I called "singular things." I still find myself drawn to odd relics of abandoned activity, but the series never went very far. Maybe these photos are their own singular thing.

Lens flare

Every autumn there is a series of days that seem too perfect to absorb. 

Young entrepreneur, Philadelphia

Greene Street Friends School

Since 1855, Greene Street Friends School has educated children according to the Quaker principles of honesty, respect for the individual, peace and simplicity. That tradition continues today with an emphasis on hands-on learning, peaceful methods of conflict resolution, cultural understanding, community service, environmental education and the thoughtful incorporation of technology into the curriculum. Greenestreetfriends.org.

 

Terell Stafford

The shift from classical to jazz was a turbulent one, Terell Stafford told writer Leah Hood. “The jazz musicians told me don’t do it because it is too late to have a career in jazz. The classical musicians told me don’t do it — it’s going to ruin your classical career. So I got this negative vibe from both sides."

Today Stafford is the Director of Jazz Studies and Chair of Instrumental Studies at Temple University, founder and band leader of the Terell Stafford Quintet, and Managing and Artistic Director of the Jazz Orchestra of Philadelphia (JOP). He has been hailed as “one of the great players of our time, a fabulous trumpet player” by piano legend McCoy Tyner.

I met Stafford through a Philadelphia Chamber Music Society project exploring the concept of “late style”—that is, what do artists create when they have nothing left to prove?

“At this point in my life I am not so concerned about letting people know who I am,” Stafford said. “What I am concerned about is feeding my palate, my passion for the music, so that I can constantly grow. … That is my creative process now.”

Jane Golden

Jane Golden is the founder and executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia. Under her direction, Mural Arts has created more than 3,800 works of public art through innovative collaborations with community-based organizations, city agencies, nonprofit organizations, schools, philanthropies and the private sector.

This past fall I had the chance to meet Golden—and a bevy of other directors, writers, artists and scientists—through an unusual project for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society. "Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity" explored the idea of "late style"—that is, what do artists create when they have nothing left to prove?

“Everyone one here feels like a public servant working on behalf of the citizens, Golden told writer Leah Hood. "I feel this unstoppable, tireless passion around the process of how we do work: we try and fail, we try and learn...we are like a sponge soaking up best practices from around the world." 

Read Hood's essay here.

Milton Glaser

This past fall I had the chance to work with writer Leah Hood on an unusual project for the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society.

"Departure and Discovery: New Directions at the Apex of Creativity" explores the concept of "late style"—that is, what do artists create when they have nothing left to prove? 

Hood interviewed a score of prominent creators—writers, dancers, designers, producers, scientists, actors, and yes, musicians—for a blog that accompanied a trio of curated concerts, all supported by the Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

Milton Glaser has the rare distinction of being a famous graphic designer. I ❤ NY is his. The iconic 60s poster of Bob Dylan with a Medusa-like fury of colored hair is his. So is the Brooklyn Brewery identity. And the ill-fated Trump Vodka. He cofounded New York Magazine. 

If you use Canva, a Glaser quote pops up occasionally as the app is loading: “There are three responses to a piece of design—yes, no, and WOW! Wow is the one to aim for.”

Leah and I were wowed by Milton Glaser. Not just his insight and body of work, but his humble and considerate attitude as we plied him with both camera and questions. Read the essay here.

Sandy Salzman, urban pioneer

Sandy became administrative assistant at New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC) in 1995 and was promoted to director in 1998.

As director of the Fishtown Civic Association from 1980 to 1988, Sandy had presided over the country's first smoke detector give-away program.

Under her leadership, NKCDC set a national best practice for neighborhood revitalization through vacant land management. Over two decades, through community participation and a partnership with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, the NKCDC reclaimed more than 90% of the 1,100 vacant parcels in Fishtown and East Kensington. 

Today, those neighborhoods are among the fastest-growing in Philadelphia. "The community would never have been able to have economic development had we not first done land use management, because it stabilized the neighborhood," Sandy says.

During her 22 years at NKCDC, Sandy accepted the Best Practices award from the U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development and the Organization of Excellence award from NeighborWorks America.

In October 2016 she retired, changed her cell phone number and attended a big party at Philadelphia Brewing Company. Thank you, Sandy, for your decades of hard work!