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!

Can art aid mental health?

Porch Light is an unusual partnership between Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS) and Mural Arts Philadelphia, a nationally recognized arts organization. This spring, Porch Light opened a new community space in Kensington, Philadelphia—a neighborhood that was once the "workshop of the world" but is now the largest street market for illegal drugs on the East Coast. 

“We’re trying everything,” DBHIDS Deputy Commissioner Roland Lamb told the Philadelphia Inquirer in March. “Treatment programs are not going to be enough. Police are not going to be enough. But if we invest in the community, that will be a real opportunity to make a change.”

The community has been working hard to make change happen. Local nonprofits, including NKCDC and Impact Services Corporation (two active community development corporations) and Prevention Point (a full-service needle exchange and harm reduction center) are helping to coordinate programming for the space, and a neighborhood advisory committee has selected teaching artists to lead workshops there. In addition, a team of muralists is working with community members to create a piece of public art that will be installed in the neighborhood.

"When violence and crime happens, when people are dying from an overdose in large numbers, I think it diminishes our humanity. We lose part of our heart and soul as a city," Mural Arts Executive Director Jane Golden told Plan Philly. "Art can be part of building people's strength."

To learn more, visit facebook.com/kensingtonstorefront.

From blighted to blooming

Soon after I returned from Indonesia last year, I took a job with New Kensington Community Development Corporation (NKCDC). One of NKCDC's biggest projects this year is Orinoka Civic House, a $17.8 million overhaul of the abandoned Orinoka Mills factory in Kensington.

“The Orinoka Mills building was the biggest, baddest, ugliest thing going," NKCDC's former executive director, Sandy Salzman, told  Generocity in 2016. "We worked really, really hard with lots and lots of people from the Redevelopment Authority and the Office of Housing and Community Development and Councilman [Mark] Squilla and Councilwoman [Maria Quiñones] Sánchez, the Commerce Department—all these city agencies, to try to get this building. … And then of course, we had to raise the money to renovate it.”

Residents are currently moving into 51 affordable one and two bedroom apartments. The building will also contain community space, a small storefront, and NKCDC's new offices. PlanPhilly organized this tour of the space in April 2017.

Taipei rain

Through a tiny window travelers get a tiny glimpse of a place halfway between here and there. I was in Taiwan nine months ago, and this is what I know.

‘Road trip to Indonesia’ is not a thing

Torajan farm

A morning walk to our host’s family home was the perfect way to end our time in Toraja, Sulawesi. Aside from serving the best sambal (chili paste) of the trip, his mother loaded us up with pounds of fresh coffee beans for us to roast at home. We drank lots of delicious roasted coffee there, too, in the Torajan style where you put the fine grounds straight in the hot water—with plenty of sugar, of course—and then wait for everything to settle before you drink.

Makale market, Toraja

The Toraja Region of Sulawesi may be known for its customs around death, but its towns are brimming with life. These photos were taken at the traditional market in Makale during a three-week tour of Indonesia last summer.

Torajan burials

As part of Paulus Paramma’s three-day orientation to traditional Torajan life and customs, we visited two ancient burial sites, Ke'te' Kesu and the Londa Graveyard. Each included tongkonan—the Torajan ceremonial houses—and sheer cliffs peppered with caves that contained coffins and effigies of the deceased, in various states of decay. Where there were no caves to hold bodies, coffins were cantilevered over the cliff face on wooden frames. Where the frames gave way, bones and broken coffins were recovered and stacked along the base of the cliff.

Ke'te' Kesu has been in use by the same family for 10 generations. It contained a variety of cliffside graves as well as contemporary mausolea.

Torajan houses

In addition to elaborate funeral customs, Torajans are known for maintaining a caste-based society, where “blue-blood” members of the community demonstrate their status (and support the local economy) by building distinctive horn-shaped ceremonial houses called tongkonan. Traditional tongkonan are constructed without metal hardware, and are used to display the horns and jawbones of animals slaughtered in family ceremonies—also a sign of status. At least two water buffalo must be killed to consecrate a tongkonan itself.