City snow

It was a weird winter, but weird seems to be typical these days. Mind-numbing cold at the beginning of January, then balmy spring showers in February. Here and there, a few bits of "normal" winter. These images from a sudden snow squall in Germantown, Philadelphia.

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Other Music

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Other Music was a record shop specializing in underground, rare and experimental music at 15 East 4th St, New York City, from 1995 to 2016. When it closed in June 2016, Yoko Ono, Sharon Van Etten, Bill Callahan, Frankie Cosmos and Yo La Tengo were among the artists who played a farewell tribute show at the Bowery Ballroom.

Other Music still sends a weekly email and maintains a web presence at Former staffer Rob Hatch-Miller and his partner Puloma Basu are also working on a documentary about the shop's history and legacy.

In March 2017, Other Music and MoMA PS1 presented Come Together: Music Festival and Label Market with live performances, films, workshops and panels celebrating the interactive ecosystem of local and international music communities, along with a label fair featuring over 60 participants. Come Together aimed to reassert "the central and essential role that communities play in both the creation and consumption of new sounds," recasting the "fading" record store experience for the current moment. The market was a success, and Other Music will return to MoMA PS1 on Saturday, March 24, 2018 for "more labels, more performances, more fun."

 The Other Music storefront in July 2016

The Other Music storefront in July 2016


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graphic designer in me can't help taking pictures of signs. I love well-made typefaces, logos, ads—and old hand-lettered billboards make my heart melt. I also love the uneven and unconventional letters of DIY signmakers, and how letters change when exposed to the elements.


Then there's the actual meaning of the words—the intentional and unintentional jokes. These images are just from Massachusetts, Michigan, New York and Pennsylvania.

Cleaning and greening

Existing land use in the River Wards, from a 2014 Philadelphia City Planning Commission survey. Vacant land (brown) is more than double the 5% city average.

The River Wards section of Philadelphia—a growing district northeast of Center City along the Delaware River—is a former industrial area with more than double the percent of vacant land as the city average.

In 1996, a community engagement process led the local community development corporation (New Kensington CDC) to begin cleaning vacant lots in the Fishtown and East Kensington neighborhoods.

Over the next two decades, with strong community support and a partnership with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, NKCDC stabilized and reclaimed more than 1,000 vacant parcels. In the process, it set a national best practice for using vacant land management as a tool for economic development. The improved appearance attracted investment, and today those neighborhoods are among the fastest-growing in Philadelphia. 

NKCDC's Vacant Land Management crew continues to clean, stabilize and maintain hundreds of lots each year. On average, it cleans about 900 parcels and removes 30 tons of trash each year. NKCDC also organizes two community cleanup days and facilitates projects with volunteer groups to "clean and green" the neighborhood. 

Here I am

Families and newlyweds used to cull through proofs, wait weeks and pay photographers thousands of dollars to get a collection of mementos from their treasured event. Today, online printing services like Mixbook make it much easier to arrange photos in beautiful bound albums. 

When I take pictures, I usually send my clients a flash drive of digital images within a few days. Sometimes they order their own prints. For those who are short on time or want a designer's eye, I love designing collections.

Below is the cover and first page of a farewell gift for a longtime New York City pastor from her congregation. The cover image is mine.

50 cent Bin

If you want to know whether a recording artist is a musician, listen to them live. In small shows without lights or special effects, real musicians shine. What's compelling is fundamental: their presence, their voice, the conversation between instruments.

I'm lucky to know many musicians. 50 cent Bin is a family with roots in Greece, Iceland and Germantown, Philadelphia, where they share a rambling, quirky home with several other households. Their winter house concert celebrated the release of their first, self-titled album

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Tuesday Tea and Textiles

On January 23, Philadelphia government officials signaled they would be open to establishing the nation's first supervised drug-consumption site to combat the city's surging opioid epidemic. The announcement provoked immediate reaction from residents of Kensington, a large district northeast of downtown Philly that has shouldered the brunt of the drug epidemic for decades. 

“We’re one of the poorest neighborhoods in the nation, and we have white addicts from Oregon panhandling,” Juan Marrero, pastor of Christ Centered Church, told the Philadelphia Inquirer. “It’s a dynamic I’ve never seen before. Still, that people here give money shows the hospitality they have.”

Two people not stunned by the need or the city's response were Kathryn Pannepacker and Lisa Kelley, artists who have been hosting a weekly weaving workshop on Kensington Avenue for the past year. They welcome neighborhood residents and visitors to sit down together and, with instruction, create a simple piece of weaving to keep and a larger piece that will become part of a community project. 

"Where there is life there is hope," Pannepacker wrote on Instagram. "We know first-hand at Tuesday Tea and Textiles that Narcan saves lives. And we are so encouraged by Philadelphia's announcement this week RE: creating CUES (comprehensive user engagement sites), as this will save lives."

Long live the big bottle!

Neighborhood identity is more testy in Philadelphia than anywhere else I've lived, and yet the boundaries are just as fickle.

By one map, I live in Fishtown; by another, East Kensington. My teenager has taught me to say we're in Fishtown—a neighborhood now associated with tony restaurants and plush condos—because his friends aren't allowed to visit him if he lives in Kensington. Type "Kensington, Philadelphia" into a search engine, and you wouldn't send your kids there, either. And yet, technically, Kensington envelops a huge section of North Philly, including Fishtown. 

Even as I selectively disown East Kensington, I chafe at how boundaries are bent to fit a neat, popular narrative. A cool new mural in Kensington? That must be Fishtown. A drug bust on Frankford Avenue? Let's call it Kensington.

So I was thrilled this month when the Philadelphia Historical Commission voted unanimously to give historical status to the old Harbison’s Dairy and its iconic milk-bottle-shaped water tower. That tower is squarely in East Kensington, and it's visible from the El train and roof decks for a mile around. 

I regularly snap pictures of the bottle as it appears through (quickly disappearing) gaps between rowhomes. I ran this New Year's Eve photo (top) through Twitter's "Fame" filter for social media posts.

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Happy New Year, Philly style

After Philadelphia's famous Mummer's Parade made its way down Broad Street, a couple progressive troupes (the Rabble Rousers and the Lobsters) took their party back to the neighborhood. A march through Kensington and down Frankford Avenue culminated in a party outside Philadelphia Brewing Company and the Lost Bar, Billy Penn reported. Here, the group dances down Dauphin at Amber Street.

Christmas is for the birds

On a bright and cold December morning, students from St Laurentius Catholic School decorated a tree in Palmer Park, Fishtown, with handmade ornaments—many of them edible to birds.

Lafayette Cemetery No. 1

Wandering the cemeteries is a New Orleans tourist pastime. The light and shadow of crumbling upright tombs are so beautiful. In a corner of the Lafayette Cemetery No. 1 in the Garden District, someone had left a script of King Lear open to the page where Cordelia, rejected by her father, bids farewell to her selfish sisters:

Time shall unfold what plighted cunning hides,
Who covers faults, at last with shame derides.

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.

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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.”


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."