Grid Magazine November 2018 [#114]

Page 1




An essay from PA’s Green Party gubernatorial candidate


THE PEOPLE PLUS: Philly’s amazing off-road biking / A North Philly oasis reopens

Artists and museums reflect on the crime of mass incarceration


Local music content from




Alex Eckman-Lawn

10. 26. 18 – 12. 06. 18

The Art of Precision, the Precision of Art Mark Brandon's Ceramic Studio Mark Brandon was in Mexico to be married, when something beautiful caught his eye. Don’t worry, it wasn’t a lovely local, but a ceramic alcohol decanter that captured his imagination. He needed to learn more. After exploring several manufacturing options, Mark landed on slipcasting, a process that allows for mass production and precise pottery making. Slipcasting is a process using a liquid clay or “slip” that is poured into a plaster mold. As it dries, the moisture is drawn from the clay into the plaster and the slip shrinks toward the sides of the mold. As a result, one is able to cast empty volumes such as cups, bowls, vases and decanters. Mark signed up for a class at The Clay Studio, and that set him on the right path, but he didn’t have the means to produce on the level that he needed to. “I didn’t know where I was going to put a kiln. One of the big limiting factors is the electrical service. NextFab would be the best situation: I could be prototyping here, have all of the software I need and be firing in the studio. Finally...I got the go-ahead to be in the warehouse and get the electrical service run.” That electrical service is threephase, 100 amps and fires the kiln to a steamy 2,235ºF. Mark designs his pieces in computer aided design (CAD) and produces a wax mold from the CAD files using NextFab’s Roland computer numerical control (CNC) machine. After the wax mold is made, Mark makes a rubber “positive” and from the rubber positive he creates the final plaster mold. His work walks the line between art and engineering. While pottery has an aesthetic requirement, Mark also needs his decanters to have a uniform inside diameter. The decanters have corks that need to fit and be airtight and that requires repeatability and precision. The CAD renderings and CNC machining make it possible. The hybrid of handmade custom pieces combined with machine repeatability and a reliable production process makes for a compelling business model. Mark Brandon is the perfect example of a NextFab member who had an idea, found a process and developed the required expertise.

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alex mulcahy

Risking It All

publisher Alex Mulcahy managing editors Brendan Menapace photo editor Charles Shan Cerrone associate editor Vince Bellino Tim Mulcahy copy editor David Jack Daniels art director Michael Wohlberg writers Bernard Brown Constance Garcia-Barrio Jennifer Costo Eric Fitzsimmons Paul Glover Alexandra Jones Alexandra Wagner Jones Emily Kovach John Morrison Lauren Silvestri Paige Wolf photographers Kriston Jae Bethel Matthew Decker Milton Lindsay Megan Matuzak Natalie Piserchio Margo Reed Rachel Warriner Ben Wong illustrators Kirsten Harper Corey Danks advertising Santino Blanco 215.625.9850 ext. 112 distribution Alex Yarde 215.625.9850 ext. 107 published by Red Flag Media 1032 Arch Street, 3rd Floor Philadelphia, PA 19107 215.625.9850 G R I D P H I L LY. C O M J U M P P H I L LY. C O M



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everal days ago, our neighbors gave birth to a baby girl. My wife and I were discussing our newest and tiniest neighbor with our three year-old daughter, who suggested that we should bring a gift. “We could give her one of our books that we don’t like,” she suggested. Her unguarded offer, at once both generous and selfish, made us laugh. But even as adults, aren’t we all inclined to act this way? I think about times when I’ve had the urge to buy something new, maybe furniture or clothing, and I made the internal argument that if I buy something new, someone less fortunate will get something used. How generous and noble I am to upgrade my possessions and, at the same time, give a stir to the ol’ economy! While it’s certainly preferable to give away unwanted things than to trash them, the question arises: What are we willing to give up that we like? This question makes people uncomfortable. Some want to sell you the notion that, with a few—albeit significant— shifts, we can continue to have the society that we have. Solar panels, electric cars and better education for everyone will remake our lifestyle into something that won’t deplete our natural resources. Scientists think otherwise. As you may have read (or perhaps you couldn’t bring yourself to click on the headline?) The UN Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) says that if we don’t complete changes in the next 12 years— dramatic changes—we will have pumped so much carbon into the atmosphere that the consequences will be dire. Paul Glover, Pennsylvania gubernatorial candidate, is a person who has been imagining what a society could look like that would not only be healing to the planet and its ecosystems, but also a more just, equitable and joyful place for its human inhabitants. Glover’s accomplishments are many. In Ithaca, he started one of the most

successful local currencies the country has seen, the Ithaca Hours. Here in Philadelphia he started the Philadelphia Orchard Project, which to date has planted hundreds of fruit trees around the city. He has also developed a number of initiatives addressing some of our most intractable problems, including healthcare and waste management. His ideas are radical in the very best ways. They begin with the ideal that systems need to serve people and the environment and not the other way around. Glover has written our back page essay this month about his candidacy for governor. Governor Tom Wolf, the presumptive winner of the election, has been a friend to the natural gas industry, despite his promises when he ran for office. Several of the points Glover makes in his essay resonated with me. One was the fact that it will take us hundreds of years to undo what we have done to repair the world. There are no quick fixes. Perhaps the most provocative thing that he says is that at the core of our problem is greed. Finally, he argues, that where we are on the spectrum of material wealth and creature comforts strongly influences whether we are more interested in reform or revolution. If you have a lot, it’s certainly understandable that you would like to just improve the status quo. But scientists tell us that how our economy works is dangerous. And if we look at how many people are suffering in our society, we know that that is perilous as well. This November, I’m voting for Paul Glover for governor, because this crazy candidate is the only one who makes any sense.

ALEX MULCAHY Editor-in-Chief





Action Mom: A Point Breeze mom mobilizes her community around education and elections

10 Bike Talk: There’s plenty of top-notch mountain biking—right here in Philadelphia proper 14 Urban Naturalist: The East Park Reservoir reopens, giving Strawberry Mansion a natural oasis 18 Black History: Women like Phillis Wheatley and Black Alice shaped Revolutionary America in a multitude of ways

22 Cover Story: Art and Incarceration U.S. prisons are brimming—these exhibits draw attention to the grave injustices 28 Museums and Accessibility: Ben Baker of Bluecadet brings handicap accessibility to the region’s museums 30 Events: What to see and where to go


32 Cover Story: Sammus How the rapper/Ph.D. candidate exists in two very different worlds at once 36 Chairman Dances: The indie rockers avoid the sophomore slump 38 City Rain: Ben Runyan revives his City Rain project with grown-up ambition

40 Muscle Tough: They joke, but the jazz-funk trio’s chops are no laughing matter 44 smth savant: The collective celebrates beats, friendship and diversity in music 46 Restorations: Life brings change, but Restorations is reliable as ever

48 Dispatch: The Green Party’s candidate for governor lays out his vision


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paige wolf

In the Public Interest

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n the days before Philadelphia elections, 250 subscribers receive “The Devor Report,” a detailed list of recommendations for Democratic voters intended to ease confusion about the voting process and ballot questions. The report’s author, Jen Devor, works as director of partnerships for Campus Philly, an economic development organization focused on retaining college students to the city. With a retention rate of 67 percent, Philadelphia is leading the country in this pursuit. Devor has become well known in her Point Breeze neighborhood as a passionate public school advocate. When she, her husband and now 5-year-old daughter moved there in 2010, they consistently heard negative things about public schools, like the local G.W. Childs. “I started to ask the kids more about their school, their teachers, curriculum, the books they were reading, and the perception and reality did not add up,” she says. Devor concedes that, yes, the school is strapped for resources and that Philadelphia is still desperately in need of a fair funding model. “But the kids, teachers and surrounding community were making the most with what they had and graduating really great, smart kids,” she says. Devor teamed up with other neighbors who were also interested in supporting the school, including Megan Rosenbach, who founded Neighbors Investing in Childs Elementary (NICE) in 2012. NICE has provided grant writing and assistance to bring new partnerships to the school, secured $115,000 for capital renovations, restored the school’s historic auditorium and laid the groundwork for a play space project on the school’s roof. In a neighborhood like Point Breeze,

where there is tension around gentrification, Devor has found it rewarding to find common goals and interests that unite the community. “In my neighborhood almost everyone cares about public education, either because they are a product of the school district, currently have family members attending a public school or want to send their children to the school around the corner from their houses.” Devor says organizing neighbors in favor of her catchment school has been successful, but there are so many schools across the city that could benefit from this type of support. “I started to become more aware of what legislation could be created to make real change, along with identifying which politicians were in support of public education and which ones stood in the way,” she says. To mobilize voters, she became a Democratic committeeperson in 2014. She says seeing the election process at a neighborhood level has been incredibly interesting, and she has witnessed how empowered voters can be when they hold their elected officials accountable. Devor credits motherhood with positively influencing how she approaches solving political problems. “Being a mother informs my work through understanding what kids need to thrive from first-hand experience,” she says. “It encourages me to innovate and to be more creative through the unique perspective of my daughter and the community she is developing through school and the neighborhood.” “When it comes to politics, it’s important to remember that kids are constituents, too,” Devor says. “Just because they can’t vote doesn’t mean they don’t deserve to be represented and served.”

paige wolf is the author of “Spit That Out!: The Overly Informed Parent’s Guide to Raising Healthy Kids in the Age of Environmental Guilt.” Follow @paigewolf on Twitter. 8


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randy lobasso

The Road Less Traveled


ant to go mountain biking? You could travel a few hours to the Poconos or Catskills. You could go to the Delaware Water Gap, maybe, and do some adventure touring. Or, you could stick around Philadelphia, because we have some of the most sought-after mountain-biking trails in the region. Yes, here in Philadelphia proper. That’s what the experts are telling me. Kate Campbell, a bike coach and athlete, has been competing in mountain bike races for the past year and a half. For Campbell, mountain biking in Philadelphia is a great way to spend a day in the wilderness with friends. Campbell sat down with us to discuss what it takes to get off the couch and onto the trails of Philly. Getting Started Campbell suggests starting out without breaking the bank. “I started out trying [cyclocross racing] and liked it. Then, a friend was selling a super-cheap mountain bike, and I just fell in love,” they say. “I’d never thought about riding a mountain bike before; I’d always done road biking, and it didn’t seem like the kind of thing you could get into around here.” That perception would soon change. They began riding in White Clay Creek State Park on its beginner trails. What makes White Clay—about an hour outside Center City—so great for neophytes is its lack of obstacles: Unlike many mountain-biking trails in our area, it’s not rocky, and the trails aren’t obstructed by logs. Campbell moved onto the sand covered trails at Rowan College in New Jersey, ideal for beginners because they don’t get too muddy when it rains. Soon after, Campbell began biking Belmont, a series of trails in West Fairmount

Park originally created by some dedicated enthusiasts and now maintained by the volunteer-based Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance. Despite it’s humble beginnings, the trail is now on official city maps. Campbell found the rides addictive, and they were soon out on trails every weekend, coaching cycling and eventually racing mountain bikes. Philly, Belmont or Wissahickon? Depends What You Want Belmont and Wissahickon are totally different adventures, and it really depends on what you want. “Some of the new trails in Belmont are more beginner friendly,” they say. “There are some 5-mile routes you can do without technical features—no logs or things like that.” For many of the trails, you can park at Belmont Plateau and follow the signs into the woods. Additionally, it’s easy to get to Fairmount Park via Belmont Avenue, if you’re willing to trek it along the avenue’s broken and decrepit side path (which, at this point, is best ridden with a mountain bike!). Wissahickon, they note, is a different beast entirely. When you’re riding in the Northwest Philly park, get ready to ride over rocks, for sure, but you also may hit up some train platforms and “get ready to climb some really technical rocks,” they say. And if you want a map of the trails, Friends of Wissahickon has you covered, for a small donation. Want to Ride with Someone? It’s as Easy as Logging On Philadelphia has no shortage of groups to join. In addition to the Belmont Plateau Trails Alliance and the Bicycle Club of Philadelphia, Brewerytown Bikes, Cadence Cycling and other shops in the area do (separate) beginner rides every Sunday in the parks as well.

randy lobasso is the communications manager at the Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia. 10


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urban naturalist

Back to Nature With the opening of the Discovery Center, the East Park Reservoir is once again an oasis in Strawberry Mansion by

bernard brown


n 1970, the City of Philadelphia closed off the East Park Reservoir at the edge of the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood. A gate blocked the ramp up from Fairmount Park. “I grew up in Strawberry Mansion, and the reservoir was used by the community as a recreational space,” explains Tonnetta Graham, president of the Strawberry Mansion Community Development Corporation. “There was a road around the perimeter, a simple dirt road that was open to the public. People would run around or walk around. There was an incline around the reservoir and kids would walk around there and explore.” Due to drownings and other safety concerns, the city closed off the reservoir, and “several generations of Strawberry Mansion residents grew up with just that fence,” says Graham. Now, 48 years later, the gate has been opened again and the community welcomed back in. Thank the birds. Birds can fly over fences, of course. From the perspective of waterfowl flying south 14


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in the winter, the reservoir stands out, according to Keith Russell, program manager for Urban Conservation for Audubon PA. “Even though a lot of different types of waterfowl have been recorded there, the most common species you find are birds that dive, because it’s so deep,” (currently eight feet, though up to 25 in the past). The list is long, but it includes ducks such as merganser, scaup, and canvasback, not to mention other non-ducks like grebes. Russell pointed out another benefit for waterfowl: the reservoir doesn’t receive polluted stormwater runoff, unlike our rivers, so the water quality remains high even after a major rain. In the mid-1980s, Russell, then at the Academy of Natural Sciences, and volunteers followed up on waterfowl observations from before the reservoir had been closed off. “There were a lot of birds, and we were like, ‘Whoa that is amazing!’ ” In 2005, Audubon included the reservoir in the Fairmount Park and Benjamin Rush Park State

Park Important Bird Area designation. Around the same time, Audubon was searching for sites for urban conservation centers to reach populations historically underserved by environmental education programs. The East Park Reservoir fit the bill, according to former president of Audubon PA, Phil Wallis, in a 2014 interview. The neighborhood is a densely built landscape of rowhomes. The majority of the residents in the zip code next to the reservoir are African American, and nearly half live below the poverty line—all in all not the sort of community that usually hosts nature centers. City officials made the connection with the Philadelphia Outward Bound School, also then looking for a new home in Philadelphia. Several years of negotiation, fundraising and planning followed. Wallis noted that the site was challenging to work with, given the history of drownings, terrorism-related water-safety concerns, and the involvement of multiple city agencies. “It took two years to get the lease done,” he P HOTO G RAP HY BY M ARGO REED

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Tonnetta Graham, president of the Strawberry Mansion CDC, worked hard to ensure the Discovery Center is inclusive. “We want to make sure [it] is connected to the residents so that they feel welcome.”

said in the interview. “As a CDC (community development corporation), we were there from the beginning,” says Graham. “The groups had minimal conC nection to the neighborhood. How could they align with needs of the residents?” She recalls M several outreach meetings over the years of Y planning, “some heated but productive. We CM want to make sure the Discovery Center is MY connected to the residents so that they feel welcome. This is for residents that are here CY now,” in a community concerned about gen- CMY trification. “We want to make sure it’s a place K they can call their own.” On September 28, Audubon PA and Outward Bound cut the ribbon on the $18.5 million dollar Discovery Center. In addition to a ropes course and space for Outward Bound activities, the center includes environmental educational exhibits and a lab for research into urban ecology. Graham highlights the importance of community space in the Center: “The center has a multipurpose room to hold community engagement meetings. It also provides us with another place we can decompress,” she says, noting the opportunity to address the neighborhood’s health challenges. The reservoir grounds will be open to the public five days a week, May through October, and three days a week November through April. “We as a community are rediscovering this place,” Graham says. “It gives us that opportunity to take that deep breath and respite from our daily lives [and] do some nature exploration as well. I have a 13-year-old now, and my son will be the generation to take advantage for decades to come.”

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black history

American Woman

in colonial times, “…served as a place to inspect Black slaves recently arrived from Africa and to bid for their purchase…” Some Black colonial hotspots stand Colonial women of color shaped history and paved hidden in plain sight. Congo Square, later by constance garcia-barrio the way for others called Washington Square, 6th and Walnut Streets, received its earlier name because iven the unruliness of time ment criticized other Quakers for owning people of African descent socialized and machines, apt to choose their own slaves. By 1700, 1 in 10 Philadelphians had danced there, according to Charles Blockdestinations, you’ll need a bike, slaves—including William Penn, who used son, founder of Temple University’s Blockcar or SEPTA to see the scattered them at his country home, son Black History Collecsites where enslaved Black women Pennsbury Manor—historition. Black Alice—perhaps ALICE OF helped to get colonial Philadelphia going. ans note. wearing a “…waistcoat made DUNKS FERRY Take Black Alice, aka Alice of Dunks The London Coffee House of … cotton ...and a petticoat As a child, Alice served Ferry, who reached age 116, c.1686 to 1802, historical marker, at Front … seamed in the common drinks and oysters in a tavern. She later became historians say. Her parents, from Barbados, and Market Streets, says that way,” as suggested in “Rules a horse boat operator. arrived here in 1684 on the Isabella, the first this establishment, popular for Cloathing [sic] and Feedslave ship to reach Philadelphia. By age 5, Alice began serving drinks and oysters in a tavern and lighting pipes for its patrons, according to Susan Klepp, a retired Temple University history professor. Legend has it that when Alice lit a pipe for William Penn (1644–1718), he tipped her one pence, about 75 cents into today’s money. Years later, Alice’s master apparently moved her 17 miles upriver to what became Bensalem, where she eventually operated a kind of ferry called a horse boat. A strong, savvy woman by all accounts, she calmed skittish horses, handled rowdy passengers and collected tolls for 40 years. Alice never gained her freedom, but she may have used the ferry to help fugitives escape. She never fled herself, maybe because she had at least one child in Dunks Ferry, Dr. Klepp says. Alice rode to Philadelphia to attend Christ Church on Sundays, and she became an esteemed oral historian and storyteller who recalled Philadelphia as a tree-filled outpost of bobcats. Today, tours of Christ Church, 20 N. American Street, include Alice’s story. Visitors can also get an earful from her in a lifesize video kiosk at the African American Museum in Philadelphia, 701 Arch Street. You need sharp eyes to spy some evidence of a Black colonial presence. You could easily cruise past the plaque at Germantown Avenue and Wister Street, marking the site of the 1688 protest against slavery, the New World’s first formal antislavery petition. Drafted by Quakers six years after Pennsylvania’s 1682 founding, the docu-




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ing Negroes [1772]”—may well have met tional Archives, Washington, D.C. A Black with friends here. In 1732, the Philadelphia woman who cooked, cleaned, spun cloth City Council passed an ordinance to limit and laid fires boosted a household’s status, Newman adds. Sunday slave “tumults,” as councilmen called the gatherings, this on top of the 1725 The Museum of the American Revolulaw for the Better Regulation of Negroes, tion, 101 S. 3rd Street, offers a good overview which meant a storm of restrictions for free of how the brewing rebellion affected enBlacks. For example, free Blacks had to turn slaved women. For Black women throughtheir children over to justices of the peace to out the colonies, change bore down on two be bound out into their twenties. fronts. Enslaved writer Phillis Wheatley (c. Colonial Philadelphians must have seen 1753–1784) soared to stardom in April 1773— mere months before the Boston Tea Party many Blacks going about their work. By 1720, some 2,500 Black people, in December—with the pubmost of them enslaved, lived in lication of her book, Poems on PHILLIS WHEATLEY the city. By 1767, roughly 1 in 5 Various Subjects, Religious and Kidnapped from Africa, Philadelphia families owned Moral. Kidnapped from West Phillis was educated by Africa at about age 8, she was a slave, according to Debra her owners in Boston, won her freedom and bought and educated by prosNewman Ham, former Black became a published perous Boston merchant John history specialist at the Napoet.

Wheatley and his family. Though Wheatley died poor, she’d won her freedom and helped smash the myth of inherent Black stupidity with her book. Other exhibits show that for many Black women, the American Revolution meant a toss of the dice: Would the colonists or the British give them the best chance at freedom? Lord Dunmore, royal governor of Virginia, tried to undercut colonists in 1775 by offering freedom to enslaved Blacks who agreed to fight for British forces. Many who sided with the British migrated to Nova Scotia, Canada. A handful of Black women went to Africa. Others pinned their hopes on rebelling colonists. One such woman was Elizabeth Freeman, or Mum Bett (1742–1829), who sued for her freedom in a Massachusetts court in 1781. She won. Her case set a precedent that helped to end slavery in that state. Philadelphia has its own Black heroine who cast her lot with the colonists. The story goes that Dinah, freed in 1776, saved Stenton, 4601 N. 18th Street, the country home of James Logan, colonial mayor of Philadelphia, and his descendants. Weeks after the British won the Battle of Germantown in October 1777, a pair of British soldiers knocked on Stenton’s door and told Dinah, the housekeeper caring for the Logans’ palatial home in their absence, that they meant to burn down the house. The soldiers were in the barn gathering straw to start the fire when British officers rode up and asked Dinah if she’d seen deserters. “Yes,” she said, “two are hiding in the barn.” The officers arrested the soldiers and took them away, thus saving Stenton. Dinah has a plaque in her honor at Stenton, and she’s included in a mural on the north wall of the historic YWCA, 5820 Germantown Avenue. You can tour Stenton, a 3-acre site, recently featured in Antiques and Fine Art Magazine, and see original furniture Dinah could have dusted and dishes she could have washed. Stenton’s Annual Holiday Tea Party will take place Saturday, December 1, at 2 p.m. Call (215) 329-7312 or see From plaques to parks, museums to murals, Philadelphia offers glimpses of the lives of Black women whose forced labor helped make the city a colonial powerhouse. N OV E M B E R 20 18




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EXPRESSION of FREEDOM Mass incarceration is a daunting problem with racial implications. Public art and educational efforts aim to start a conversation. by alexandra wagner jones


ussell craig stands in his Fairmount art studio, a few floors up in a brownstone church. It’s a little messy—there are buckets of paint stacked against the walls and acrylic paint tubes scattered between plastic tubs and paintbrushes on the floor—but he isn’t embarrassed by the chaos. “This is the process,” he says. Craig is a self-taught artist who was incarcerated for nearly 10 years on a nonviolent drug offense, for dealing cocaine.



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Russell Craig was imprisoned for nearly ten years for dealing cocaine and now teaches art to former inmates. The self-taught artist’s portraits of his students adorn the Municipal Services Building near City Hall.

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After being released, Craig came to know another artist who had just finished time for cocaine-dealing charges, Jesse Krimes. The two met at the Restorative Justice Guild, an apprenticeship program that teaches former inmates hands-on skills like carpentry, landscaping, and mural and mosaic creation. Krimes, who holds a bachelors in Studio Art from Millersville, had just been released from prison after nearly six years. After looking through a few large rolls of paper, Craig picks out one and spreads it flat on the floor. It’s a portrait he’s done of a smiling man in a green shirt. He has warm eyes, a tight-cropped haircut and a chin strap beard. It’s one of Craig’s art students. He and Krimes are now teachers with the Guild, helping its cohorts with art projects that support returning citizens. By early October, Craig had painted 17 of his students’ portraits, and after having them photographed and blown up onto slabs of vinyl, all 17 faces were then wrapped around the base of the Municipal Services Building, just across from City Hall. They’ll remain there until December. A large-scale outdoor exhibit, the project is called “Portraits of Justice,” and its central location is meant to encourage all Philadelphians to discuss problems within the criminal justice system. It serves as a backdrop for participatory public art, with past performances from formerly incarcerated artists with Mural Arts Philadelphia. The massive portraits will eventually all but disappear. The mural was designed so that people can wipe the bricks away and write in potential fixes for the reentry system with paint markers. The wall’s erasure, Krimes says, will symbolize that the system can be dismantled. From what he has gathered from reactions to his previous projects, Krimes says most people have no idea that incarceration rates are so high. “People really don’t have a good understanding of what the criminal justice system entails,” he says. “Or how unjust it actually is.”

A Country of Prisoners In November 2017, lifelong civil rights lawyer Larry Krasner rose to give his victory speech after being elected as the city’s district attorney by an overwhelming majority. “We believe it’s time to end mass incarceration,” he shouted into a microphone to a cheering crowd. This was the crux of the campaign, a pledge to radically reform the 24


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The “Prisons Today” exhibit at Eastern State Penitentiary highlights what has happened in law enforcement since the penitentiary closed in 1970—mass incarceration.

city’s criminal justice system. “Mass incarceration and other civil rights issues are arguably the biggest issues of our time, and they require a mass movement to change,” Krasner says, when speaking with Grid in a recent phone interview. “We’re the most incarcerated country in the world, and that is an outrage in the country claiming to be the land of freedom.” Holding more than 2.3 million inmates in its prisons and jails, the United States has the largest prison population in the world. The U.S. makes up about 4.28 percent of the world population, but about 22 percent of the world prison population. “I think it’s outrageous and an affront to all people who care about justice and healing society,” Krasner says. Over-incarceration is an unfortunate pattern across the country, but Philadelphia holds the dubious distinction among the United States’ largest cities of having the highest per capita incarceration rate, a distinction many hope is on its way out. This past February, Krasner sent a memo to his staff detailing policies designed to “end mass incarcerations and bring balance back to sentencing.” As Krasner describes it, working on criminal justice reform is a lot like tuning a car. “What I mean by that is, every time you improve one part of the system, you are improving other parts of the system,” he says. In the same way a car will pollute less, be quieter, and accelerate more quickly when

it’s properly tuned, when the criminal justice system is adjusted, the benefits will be many. “So it doesn’t take forever to get to trial. So people are not in jail when they shouldn’t be. So fines and costs are not excessive. So immigrants are not marginalized,” Krasner says. “The whole system works better.” Using this line of thought, Krasner’s new policies instruct prosecutors to stop prosecuting marijuana possession, regardless of weight, end cash bail for low-level charges and requests judges to limit probation after incarceration to no more than 12 months maximum. Although at least one police union responded to these reforms by labeling Krasner “anti-law enforcement,” the district attorney’s new policies are meant to address the fact that most of Philadelphia’s 5,200 inmates are in jail for nonviolent offenses. The city’s prisoners are typically a majority mix of accused persons held pretrial, convicts serving less than two years and parole violators. These are the kind of offenses, Krasner says, that didn’t usually land someone behind bars 40 years ago. P HOTO G RAP HY BY N ATAL IE P I SERC HI O

“We are the closest thing America has to a national prison museum.” —sean kelley,

Senior Vice President and Director of Interpretation at the Eastern State Penitentiary

“Certain types of offenses were crimes, but they weren’t serious enough for the offender to go to jail,” Krasner says. “There were other ways to hold an offender accountable. Somehow we lost track of that, and we started locking up people for all kinds of nonviolent offenses who did not need to be there.” According to Krasner’s calculations, each inmate costs the city between $42,000 and $60,000 a year. All together, that’s around $218 million.

Numbers on Display When Sean Kelley took a program directing job with Eastern State Penitentiary in 1995, he knew almost nothing about the criminal justice system. Twenty-three years later, as he weaves in and out of cell corridors, the now director

of interpretation talks in-depth about every exhibit on the old prison grounds. He can rattle off stories about inmates who lived at Eastern State in the 1800s, describing how they were kept in complete isolation in cells for 23 hours a day. For those who think of Eastern State as an historic site, it may be surprising that Kelley’s excitement becomes most palpable when he talks about a more recent exhibit he led the curation of, “ Prisons Today.” The exhibit has little to do with Eastern State’s dark past. Instead, it focuses heavily on imprisonment policies and practices that have emerged since the prison closed in 1970: the age of mass incarceration. “We are the closest thing America has to a national prison museum,” Kelley claims proudly, pointing at the ground. “There is no other place where people are really

talking about mass incarceration.” When visitors walk into “Prisons Today,” they’re met with the booming recorded voices of public officials, from both ends of the political spectrum, promising that mass incarceration will lower violent crime rates. “Let’s double the penalty for two-time felons and put three-time losers behind bars for life. It’s time to turn career criminals into career inmates,” a crackly voice rings out. The problem, Kelley explains, is that the promise doesn’t ring true. Looking at data compiled by U. S. Department of Justice’s Bureau of Justice Statistics, it’s clear that violent crime rates have remained steady as the War on Crime, three strikes you’re out and minimum-sentencing policies have increased the number of prisoners by more than 700 percent since 1970. Later, visitors are faced with a large wall of handwritten criminal confessions, some of which are from formerly incarcerated individuals while others are from visitors. Light-up buttons underneath the messages indicate which messages are which, a demonstration of how arbitrary punishment can be. After that, a breakdown of which states still let ex-convicts vote and which ban them for life. (In Pennsylvania you can vote after you’re released from prison, even while on parole.) Kelley, who came to the museum as “a white kid from the suburbs,” readily admits that he was against putting this exhibit up for a long time. “Everytime we tried to talk about what happened we couldn’t find the words—it felt awkward,” he says. They worried it would seem non-neutral, like they were driving some kind of a political agenda. But after talking to visitors in 2012 and 2013, the museum began to shift its programming to ensure visitors left with some contemporary knowledge of what the prison system is like today. “For our audience, it actually made more sense to start with statistics and say, ‘Just N OV E M B E R 20 18



Demonstrators march with artwork and banners made by formerly incarcerated women as part of the Free Our Mothers parade.

“[The mobile exhibit] allows us to bring art into spaces that have historically and systematically kept these voices, experiences and perspectives excluded from the conversation.” —mark strandquist,

co-director of the Reentry Think Tank

forget about individuals—just look at the pattern,’ ” Kelley says, referring to the museums “mostly white” visitors. Since the exhibit opened in May 2016, just a handful of people have complained about its contents. “The pattern is there are dramatically more people in prison,” he continues, “and the racial disparities are growing worse.” Kelley thinks statistics offer a perspective that individual stories cannot. No one person’s story can describe a generational shift in values that led to mass incarceration, but the numbers can.

People to the Power There are more than 70 million people in this country with criminal records. Courtney Bowles and her friend Mark Strandquist are two of them. Both white, the pair say their racial and economic privileges allow them to do things many with criminal backgrounds struggle to do, like teach at a university and own a home. 26


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Aware of their privilege, Bowels says, and frustrated by inequality, she and Strandquist co-direct the Reentry Think Tank, an initiative that works with citizens reentering society to shift negative perceptions surrounding incarceration. In 2015, the Think Tank began running three-month fellowship programs with a dozen or so formerly incarcerated individuals twice a year. Strandquist compares Reentry Think Tank to the U.S. Congress of reentry organizations. The applicants are carefully nominated and selected by reentry organizations around the city. When the chosen representatives meet, they discuss ways to tear down the barriers society puts in place for reentering citizens. Participants create movies, poems and artwork that present their personal stories about reentry and the effects incarceration has on returning citizens, and then assemble these pieces into mobile exhibits. Although many exhibitions are pop-ups, to date, they’ve set up permanent installations at the

Mayor’s Office of Reintegration Services and the Institute for Community Justice. The mobile exhibit has also been displayed in the Philadelphia Museum of Art, but museums aren’t the only place the Think Tank displays its work. Because museums have self-selecting audiences, viewers often already agree that mass incarceration needs to be dismantled. That’s why a mobile exhibition is appealing to him. It can engage a wide variety of audiences by traveling between government buildings, city streets, churches, legal clinics and galleries. Even political meetings. In October, the Think Tank fellows brought an exhibition to a “Ban the Box” City Council hearing to discuss how universities prevent former inmates from reintegrating into society by asking about criminal record history. “It allows us to bring art into spaces that have historically and systematically kept these voices, experiences and perspectives excluded from the conversation,” he explains. “It’s really important that we’re making sure that we’re using this project as a Trojan horse or as a bridge to connect the voices, dreams and demands of those in our project with those in power.” For both Strandquist and Bowles, the hope is that when people see the mobile exhibits, it becomes impossible not to see returning citizens as human beings with complex histories. It’s the kind of empathy, he says, that invites viewers to not only to imagine a more just world, but to try to build it. P HOTO G RAP HY BY M ARK STRANDQUI ST


Get tickets online at Arrah Lee Gaul (1883-1980), Ryukon (detail), n.d. Oil on canvas. H 25 x W 30 inches. James A. Michener Art Museum. Bequest of the Estate of Harry W. Lownsbury.

Visit the beloved art environment lo cated in the heart of Phi ladelphia

1020 South Street Philadelphia, PA 19147

Ree Morton: Cauleen Smith: The Plant Give That Heals It or May Also Leave It Poison SEP 14–DEC 23, 2018

Don’t worry, I’ll only read you the good parts, 1975. Oil on celastic, 54 × 26 inches. Photo: Joerg Lohse. © Estate of Ree Morton. Courtesy Alexander and Bonin, New York.

Sojourner (production still), 2018. Color and sound (in progress). Courtesy the artist, Corbett vs. Dempsey, Chicago, and Kate Werble Gallery, New York.

118 S. 36th Street, Philadelphia, PA 19104 Free. For All.

Support for Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison has been provided by The Inchworm Fund. ICA was recognized as part of the inaugural Sotheby’s Prize 2017 with a commendation that applauds the breadth and depth of ambitious exhibition research for Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison. Additional support for Ree Morton: The Plant That Heals May Also Poison has been provided by the Edna W. Andrade Fund of The Philadelphia Foundation, Nancy & Leonard Amoroso, Amanda & Andrew Megibow, and Norma & Lawrence Reichlin. Support for Cauleen Smith: Give It or Leave It has been provided by The Ellsworth Kelly Award. Additional support has been provided by B.Z. & Michael Schwartz, Meredith & Bryan Verona, and Susan Weiler. ICA is always Free. For All. Free admission is courtesy of Amanda and Glenn Fuhrman. ICA acknowledges the generous marketing support of Pamela Toub Berkman & David J. Berkman and Lisa A. & Steven A. Tananbaum.

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ACCESS FOR ALL How one advocate is pushing for accessibility in the city’s museums


n two legs, museums make sense. You’re able to see and be seen over the ticket counter or visitor information desk. Informational panels next to objects are relatively close to eye level. It’s easy to spot signage pointing you upstairs to another collection—and easy to get up those stairs once you do. For a wheelchair user, it’s a different story. “The world was never made for people 28


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by alexandra jones

who are sitting down full time,” experiential designer Ben Baker says. “The world was made for people who walk. Everywhere you go, there’s going to be challenges.” At museums, those challenges are varied—whether it’s finding information about

accessible parking or avoiding the glare from a glass frame that only a seated patron would see. That’s why when the Franklin Institute was updating its wayfinding with greater accessibility in mind, Baker, producer and resource manager at Fishtown-based experience design agency Bluecadet, advised them not only to think about how a wheelchair user moves through their museum, but to try it in a wheelchair themselves. P HOTO G RAP H BY KRISTO N JAE BETHEL

Experiential designer Ben Baker helps to make museums places for all people, regardless of physical ability.

“Unless you put yourself in a wheelchair and go there, you won’t have that perspective,” he says. According to a 2014 report issued by Institute for Museum and Library Services, there are more active museums in the United States—35,000—than locations of McDonald’s and Starbucks combined. That’s more than double the number of museums estimated in the 1990s, according to the Washington Post. “When you’re talking about that many places, they have to be accessible,” Baker says. “We have to be on the front lines.” Today—often after consulting Baker—the city’s museums continue to invest in accessibility for all visitors: With his help, the Mütter Museum chose an accessible ticketing desk model when it replaced the old one a few years ago. In addition to creating more navigable spaces and richer experiences for visitors with disabilities, the Franklin Insti-

tute was the first museum in the city to adopt the new handicapped symbol, which updates the familiar icon of a person in a wheelchair to communicate agency and movement. The institute is also leading the way with accessibility in their interactive exhibits. Baker sees that progress reflected in the museum’s SportsZone, where visitors can crank pedals in a virtual bike race, develop and analyze their pitching technique, and even compete alongside virtual world-class athletes who appear on a huge video wall next to a 40-foot raceway. Among the virtual athletes visitors can compete against are Philadelphia Eagles’ wide receiver Jordan Matthews and the considerably slower Phillie Phanatic—in addition to U.S. Paralympians Tatyana McFadden, a 17-time medalist who races in a wheelchair, and world record holder Richard Browne, who sprints with a running blade. “It’s like you’re racing next to them,” Baker says. “If it were only able-bodied athletes that I was sprinting against, I wouldn’t have a connection to it. “To be able to race against a world-class sprinter in a wheelchair gives the able-bodied public a nice glimpse into what an athlete is capable of.” Ever since a fall down a flight of stairs in 2005, in which he sustained injuries to his neck and spinal cord, Baker has used a manual wheelchair to get around—a change that’s impacted not only his personal life, but his life’s work. While his role at Bluecadet isn’t specifically about accessible design, he’s able to serve as a resource for other designers at the firm so that they can ensure their work will be accessible to all users. “When we’re thinking about designing size and placement of a touch wall, for example, I get to look at the specs and help figure out if it really makes sense for a wheelchair user,” Baker says. After graduating from Drexel University with a bachelor’s in marketing, Baker ran his own design business but soon realized he wanted to work in the cultural sector. After researching museum studies programs, he decided on Drexel’s museum leadership master’s program. There Baker embarked on a research project that combined his knowledge and personal experience with accessibility issues and his passion for museum studies. While a student, he authored a paper titled

“Physical Accessibility in Philadelphia Museums: Looking Beyond the ADA.” It examined the restrooms, entryways, and ticketing desks at 18 different landmarks like the Philadelphia Zoo, Eastern State Penitentiary and the Philadelphia Museum of Art—but it also analyzed how well these institutions were exhibiting collections and interactive experiences, considering factors like graspability of tactile components for visitors with limited to no hand function and the height at which artworks and their accompanying informational panels were displayed. The historical buildings that are some of the city’s most popular landmarks are, unfortunately, cultural artifacts and, as such, aren’t universally accessible. But overall, Baker found that Philadelphia museums built after World War II have been “making good strides” in accessibility, typically meeting ADA standards. Baker estimates that at the time of his injury in 2005, he could navigate approximately 25 percent of the city. Now he puts that that number closer to 40 percent—but an old city like Philadelphia is going to be slower to change, and that change costs more. One challenge is that the Americans With Disabilities Act, enacted in 1990 to ensure that people with disabilities have the same rights and access as everyone else in places open to the general public, isn’t updated very often; it was last revised in 2010. That means that even a compliant business or institution might lag behind technological advances. Baker is working with his colleagues at Bluecadet to develop standards that go beyond ADA requirements, collaborating with a spatial designer and going through the current ADA to consider aspects of a space like steps, tabletops or interaction with a wall. “We’re trying to think about those standards in today’s world,” Baker said. “We want to make things 100 percent accessible so that outliers are within the bell curve as opposed to being outside of it.” As the Baby Boomer generation ages, the number of people with disabilities visiting these institutions (and moving through public spaces in general) is growing, and Baker sees museums as being on the front lines of creating accessible spaces for all. “My passion is within museums, and if I can push the ball a little bit within the museum world, I think I’m making a difference for a lot of people.” N OV E M B E R 20 18




november 2018

N ovember 8–18

N ovember 16-18

N ovember 17-18

Gershman Philadelphia Jewish Film Festival

Philadanco: Choreographers on the Move

Art Star Craft Bazaar

The long-running film festival (and oldest in Philadelphia) returns for another round of films inspired by Jewish heritage, history and values. More than two dozen films will be screened at various locations. See website for exact times, locations and prices.

So you think you can dance? The debut of a brand new show, Philadanco examines how live dance has been affected by television dance shows and the growing popularity of hip hop in the mainstream. WHEN: Shows all weekend; see website COST: $10-47 WHERE: Perelman Theater, 300 S Broad St

75 vendors both returning and new attend Art Star’s holiday bazaar, which features artists and makers across all mediums, in addition to make-and-takes, cocktails and food from Cedar Point Bar and Kitchen. WHEN: 11 a.m. to 4 p.m. COST: $3 WHERE: Event Center at Sugarhouse Casino, 1001 N Delaware Ave

Philadelphia Asian American Film Festival

Philadelphia Marathon

The 10-day festival aims to “educate and expose the Philadelphia region to films by and about Asian Americans.” Exact scheduling details are still pending, but prior years have screened dozens of films at locations like International House of Philadelphia and Asian Arts Initiative.

Runners of all abilities will have a chance to take place in the Philadelphia Marathon weekend festivities, which also includes a half-marathon, 8K and kids fun run. There are plenty of spots for spectators to watch and cheer on friends, family and other racers.

WHEN: Varies by screening, see website COST: $80-100 WHERE: Varies by screening, see website

WHEN: See website for race-specific info COST: Free to spectate, $35-315 WHERE: See website

N ovember 11

N ovember 17

Farm-to-Feast Harvest Dinner & Auction

First Person Arts GrandSlam

Christmas Village Opens

It’s on when storytellers compete for the bragging rights and prestigious title of “Best storyteller in Philadelphia.” Storytelling organization First Person Arts hosts the event, which pits StorySlam winners from earlier in the year against each other.

A variety of vendors, both local and international, will be in attendance at Christmas Village, which will spend its first year in the newly-renovated Love Park. In addition to wintery vendors, food and drink are available, plus live performances.

WHEN: 11 a.m. to 7 p.m. COST: Free WHERE: Love Park, 15th & Arch St.

Local chefs and food producers will prepare dinner while guests can watch the process of flower arrangements, beer brewing and more. In addition to dinner, there will be entertainment and an auction at the end. WHEN: 3 p.m. to 8 p.m. COST: $150-300 WHERE: The Seed Farm, 5854 Vera Cruz Rd, Emmaus



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WHEN: 6 p.m. COST: $20-27 WHERE: FringeArts, 140 N. Christopher Columbus Blvd

N ovember 22 Thanksgiving Day Parade The annual Thanksgiving day parade is the oldest in the entire country, with a focus on floats, balloons, choirs, dancers and other performers. Santa Claus will be there too, symbolizing the transition into the “official” holiday season. WHEN: 9:30 a.m. COST: Free WHERE: 20th & Market St


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c ov e r

s t o ry


How rapper/Ph.D candidate SAMMUS

pulls off the ultimate balancing act story by 32

brendan menapace


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photography by

charles shan cerrone



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nongo lumumba-kasongo

seems calm. Calmer than you might expect considering her current workload. The 32-year-old, perhaps better known by many as Sammus, is sitting on her couch, which is perfectly angled in a spotless, sun-filled living room that could very well be found in a West Elm catalog or interior design Instagram feed that focuses on minimalism. The only thing that resembles clutter in her West Philly home is one shelf of books on the wall and a stack of records beneath the TV. On the other wall is a Mac desktop computer and small keyboard. In this place of absolute organization, there’s tranquility. Nothing seems overwhelming to her, even as she balances life as an up-and-coming hip-hop artist and as a Ph.D candidate at Cornell. Which makes her kind of like a superhero: She’s Énongo at school and on paper, but on stage she’s Sammus, and she just might bust out a mock blaster cannon like her namesake wears in the “Metroid” video game series. “It’s been really nuts,” she says. “I’m really blessed in that things started to take off after I finished my first round of qualifying exams. Basically, before you take your qualifying exams, you have to be on campus. You have to take classes, and you have to teach classes, and you have to write a project proposal, all of this stuff. So, during that time, I was just dipping my toes into what it would be like to be a full-time artist, but I wasn’t fully committed.” After she wrapped up her first round of qualifying exams at Cornell, she had a little more freedom to move outside of her academic bubble in Ithaca. This allowed her to do her first tour, and eventually, move to Philly with her fiancé. It didn’t mean her workload was any lighter, though. And now that she’s away from school, she’s had to learn to decide which one of her passions she feeds at the moment. “In terms of balancing, I guess it’s just figuring out what’s more urgent when,” she says. “It’s like a series of putting out small fires. Even with working on my dissertation now, ideally, I would be working on my next album. But my committee [at Cornell] is like, ‘Yo, you need to finish this.’ And I want to be done. I work on songs when I can, but Monday through Friday is disser34


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tation time. At other points in my career it’s been forget the dissertation. I’m not thinking of that. I need to figure out the details of this tour. I need to email with folks and figure out where I’m staying, how much I’m making, whatever, whatever. Going hard for whatever I’m working on in a particular time. Switching gears right away.” Lumumba-Kasongo’s Ph.D dissertation focuses on how recording spaces exist as both commercial entities and also spaces designed to benefit the community. “My area of research is focused in the politics of recording studios that are supposed to also function as community resources,” she says. “I would say over the last decade, there’s been this burst of the number of programs that are studios for the underserved communities, that are geared toward teaching them certain skills. Not just recording skills, but mixing and mastering more generally. So what I’m interested in is how the people who run these spaces and also participate in them, how they navigate the dual identity of the space—how it’s functioning on the one hand as a commercial studio, but on the other hand as this radical community space, and that sometimes those interests don’t necessarily align. They could be in contention.” The theme of two worlds living in contention is what brought her to Don Giovanni Records, a Jersey-based label that mostly puts out punk music, and is run by Joe Steinhardt. Lumumba-Kasongo and Steinhardt met while they were both at Cornell, while the latter was working on his post doc. She had gone to see a Don Giovanni band, Izzy True, and ended up talking with Steinhardt. “Basically, I was telling him that I wanted to move out of this weird geek space that I had been sort of placed in,” she says. “My name, Sammus, comes from a video game character. I have a concept album about ‘Metroid.’ I love video games, I love cartoons. So I reference it really heavily in my music. But what happened was a lot of folks started putting it in the category of Nerdcore hip-hop, which I didn’t even know existed until people were like, ‘You’re a nerdcore rapper!’ ” Although people connected with her love of video games and references in her music, it’s not what she wants to be known for or identified as. “So I want to resist this label so much! I’m more than just this woman who talks about

geeky [stuff],” she continues. “I’m using it to talk about other things. So I was talking to Joe about, like, how do I reject that label in a strategic way? And we started thinking, like, maybe it would be cool if I worked with Don Giovanni, because they’re, like, kind of a punk label, not really like a standard hiphop label. So, in that way, I would really be differentiating myself from the label that I had before. And also, he felt it would be a nice way to start exploring what it would be like to represent hip-hop artists on the label. So it just worked out really nicely.” She and Steinhardt realized they were kindred spirits in the sense that they both were balancing on the line between academia and indie music, and both had similar ideals and goals for themselves and their art. “I was on this panel [at Cornell with her], and I started talking to her, like, ‘I want to support you, and I want you to stay independent and succeed, and I want you to make smart decisions. I want to help you,’” Steinhardt, 34, says over the phone from East Lansing, Michigan, where he’s currently teaching at Michigan State. “Then, I think, the more we talked, it felt like we

“…complexity is an incredible thing that’s difficult to deal with, but necessary for future change in the world.” could really do big things together. I was like, ‘Wow, we really share the same values.’ I’ve always used the word punk incredibly loosely. I don’t think punk is so much about a sound. So, talking to Sammus, I was like, ‘Oh, you do punk stuff! You want to be a punk band, even if you’re an emcee and producer.’ And having these discussions, we were like, ‘All right, let’s do this!’ ” Don Giovanni put out Sammus’ last fulllength LP, 2016’s Pieces in Space. Having the partnership of two people who understand the unique world of balancing an academic career and creating a music career, especially one that allows you to live off your art, made the two connect in ways that other labels and artists might not. Steinhardt says his scholastic perspec-

tive gave him a better understanding of her current situation, and he tried to encourage her to, as she puts it, put out the academic fire at that moment, and finish upcoming music when she can properly dedicate her energy toward it. “I was like, ‘Don’t worry about the record, get your dissertation done,’” he says. “The record is going to be huge, and your dissertation will pass, and you’ll get your doctorate.” The theme of duality returns over and over again in conversation with Lumumba-Kasongo, understandably. She’s this incredible rapper and creative force, and she’s also smart and thoughtful in the traditional academic sense. And she keeps these two very heavy plates spinning (three, if you count preparing

for her wedding). “I think at first I tried to keep the two worlds as far apart as possible, because I thought I was going to go nuts if I even brought in a little of my academic work to my music,” she says. “Music was my escape, almost. It was like a refuge from academia. But I do find that even the way that I write, the way that I work on songs mirrors the way that I write my dissertation or work on papers. I’m very particular with the words and connotation, and how the music or the paper is going to be interpreted by other readers or other listeners. So I think that kind of attention to detail about what the meaning of what I’m trying to say has been informed by working on this Ph.D. And I guess, to an extent the content itself is also a little bit informed by what I’m working on academically.” She mentions one particular track of hers, the 2016 single “1080p,” as an example of this. It conflates self-doubt about higher education (“Cuz they write books nobody reads / For these white folks that they tryna please / Recycle all the right quotes tryna cite blokes ain’t my cup of tea”) and a devastating post-break-up depression. When asked what she learned the most from all of this, she pauses longer than any other response during our conversation. “I would say that the biggest takeaway that I have is that it’s really complicated, but really rewarding, to celebrate complexity— to live in complexity,” she says. “The spaces that I’m studying for example—they mean multiple things to multiple people. Instead of trying to whittle it down to being purely a commercial space or purely a radical community space, it’s kind of nice for it to live in this in-between world, and it’s actually a benefit for a space to be interpreted in multiple ways. I think, for my career, for all kinds of folks to be invested and engaged with my music... Whether you’re a geek or a gamer, or just really love hip-hop, whatever it is, I don’t want my stuff to be able to be easily whittled down to one thing. And so I think that complexity is an incredible thing that’s difficult to deal with, but necessary for future change in the world.” She more easily answers what she plans to do after she finishes her Ph.D and album. In addition to a celebratory tour, she’s got one other thing on her to-do list. “I’m gonna sleep so much.” N OV E M B E R 20 18



city rain

Complex Sentences A Q&A with Eric Krewson of The Chairman Dances



ightly wound, drama-tinged indie rock shot through with synthesizers and anxious lyrics is what you’ll find on Child of My Sorrow, the newest record from The Chairman Dances, released in early September on Black Rd Records. It’s the follow-up to the band’s 2016 full-length, Time Without Measure, which earned a spot on CMJ’s Top 200 Chart and garnered positive critical reviews. It can be tricky creating something new after a warmly received work. Do you replicate the process or go in a wildly different direction? The Chairman Dances took another path: pushing forward, leaning into layered instrumentation, watering the seedling of the band and coaxing it into a state of full bloom. Dan Wisniewski, 32, of Northwest Philly, from the Philly band Spelling Reform, was 36


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emily kovach in the first iteration of The Chairman Dances back in 2010. In the almost-decade since then, he’s observed a deliberate shift and growth in their sound. “The most obvious change is the shift toward these complex, synth-saturated arrangements, which are quite engaging,” he says. “This most recent record is also notable just for the amount of ‘stuff’ that’s going on ... I hear different things every time I listen to the new record, which is super fun.” We chatted with Eric Krewson, 32, of Fishtown, lead vocalist, guitarist, and trumpet player in The Chairman Dances, to learn more about the band’s evolution: JUMP: Who’s currently in the band? ek: The current lineup of the band is Dan Comly (synthesizer, piano), Dan Finn (synthesizer, piano), Maria Mirenzi (vocals, baritone and alto saxophones), Will Schwarz (bass guitar), Kevin Walker (drums) and

myself. Over the course of the band’s lifespan, a number of other musicians have been involved. Thankfully, all those members are still in touch with us, and a few of them contributed to the new album. Were there any particularly strong takeaways from making the newest record? ek: Child of My Sorrow was an all-consuming project. There were many stages of editing before recording. That sounds like it’d be boring and enervating, but it was exciting for everyone. Each band member took an active role in building the arrangements. We took turns taking the lead, so to speak. I should add—not everything was planned. I brought “No Compass, No Map” to the group at the last minute. It wound up being a single, and it might be my favorite track on the album. In addition to the core group members, there were many guest musicians this time around. It was a thrill working with Mike “Slo-Mo” Brenner, who played on my favorite Magnolia Electric Company and Songs:Ohia records. Also, the name of the record seems pretty dark. What’s behind that title? ek: The title comes from the last song on the record. While that song does not seem to end well for its narrator, I think it’s implied that their grief is bearable, that it’s temporary, even as it feels otherwise. I don’t think the album is especially dark. A number of songs are supposed to elicit laughter. There’s a song for the Chick-fil-A mascot. The Acme at Girard and 2nd Street is the setting of the opening track. The phrases “bookish” and “literary” are often used to describe your band. Is your songwriting inspired by literature? ek: I hope the songwriting is literary. I love novels and essays, theology and history. There’s nothing like creating characters, even if they exist for just a few lines. Songwriting aside, sometimes I think the term is used to describe the tone of the band. By that, I mean my bandmates write and perform thoughtfully and deliberately. That’s not always the case with rock bands. P HOTO G RAP H BY CHARL ES S HAN CERRONE

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city rain

Back From the Void Ben Runyan revives electronic pop project City Rain by

lauren silvestri


en runyan never thought he would perform as City Rain again. After starting the electronic project in 2007, it became a full band in 2010. In 2013, he released the single “The Optimist” as a duo with guitarist Scott Cumpstone, which caught MTV and VEVO’s attention and did well on Spotify. “I’m just blessed and happy that I had one piece of art that reached people on more than a molecular level,” Runyan says as he sips his coffee in Center City’s Capital One Cafe. However, by 2015, Runyan felt disenchanted. He became increasingly unsatisfied with the production and end result of his last album, Take Me To The Void. It was the first record that Runyan did not solely produce, and the different creative opinions lead to screaming matches with the co-producer. “I don’t think I really understood the implications of what working with another producer would look like,” he says. “I felt like I wasn’t in control, and I’m fine not being in control in a lot of aspects of my life, but in my artistic life, I do require that control, and I think I have a right to it.” The experience, coupled with personal conflicts within the band, caused City Rain to go on an indefinite hiatus in 2016, and Runyan admits he does not speak to most past members. In fact, he’s pretty sure they all hate him. “I would imagine I’m not the easiest 38


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person to work with, because I have such strong opinions,” he says. “I’ve been accused of such before.” Visual artist and director Stephen Rutterford, who has collaborated with Runyan in the past, says he has not come across that behavior. He calls their relationship a “twoway mentorship.” “He has a very clear vision on things,” Rutterford says. “He’s so passionate about music; there’s an excessive fire within him.” During the hiatus, Runyan preoccupied himself with JUSTPROCESS, an ongoing collaborative project where he writes and produces for other artists. He also teaches music technology at Drexel, Rowan and The University Of The Arts. Over time, he missed creating his own music but believed City Rain was over. His best friend and current band member Matt Rivard relentlessly tried to convince Runyan to restart City Rain. Runyan was reluctant, but one day he wrote a riff during a class. At home, he finished the song and realized it was a City Rain song. He released the electro-pop spinner “Little Dreamer”

under the City Rain moniker in May. Soon after, he reformed the band with Rivard, Amanda Desenna and Gabby Relos, debuting two new songs on Radio 104.5’s Live at 5 earlier this year. “It felt natural making the songs again,” Runyan says. “It’s a core emotional outlet for me.” At 31 and recently married, Runyan feels better than ever. “I’ve proved myself,” he says, his “No Excuses” tattoo peeking out from his black T-shirt. “I wasn’t a well-developed adult during some of the earlier years of the band, and I think that affected my relationships with bandmates. The walkaway was a good thing for me, and I’m glad I’m doing it again. It provides me with an identity, which I think everybody needs.” Runyan believes his identity is more than a performer. “A performer is a small aspect of it, but my records and what I write, I think that’s something that will hopefully last forever,” he says. He’s become his own optimist. P HOTO G RAP H BY M ILTO N LI NDSAY

Eat. Drink. Shop. NOW OPEN T H E B O U R S E P H I L LY . C O M @ T H E B O U R S E P H I L LY 111 S INDEPENDENCE MALL E P H I L A D E L P H I A , PA 1 9 1 0 6

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muscle tough

A Night At The Improv

Muscle Tough’s highly skilled and hilarious funk fusion



jennifer costo

unk-fusion trio muscle tough is gathered at Turtle Studios in South Philly. They’re discussing the best ways to dissect Fleetwood Mac classics for an upcoming tribute show at the Ardmore Music Hall. The intense mood is a far cry from the playful musical personas that serve as the foundation of the Muscle Tough experience. Bassist Jonathan Colman plays the role of the dry and sarcastic MC in between sets of experimental, psychedelic sounds. In between songs like “Text Your Dad” and “Clear Your History,” they interact with the crowd. He yells, “Get Tough” to the audience, to which they reply “Muscle Tough!” They have a handful of synchronized dance moves they’ve dubbed the “Chanel Step,” “Butt Womp” and “The Peacock Stomp,” which Colman readily jumps up from the couch to demonstrate. The difference speaks of their dual nature—on one hand, they are classically trained musicians who take their craft seriously, but on the other, they are simply a fun-loving group of friends doing what they love. “The chemistry between [guitarist] Ross [Bellenoit] and Jon always brings laughs, whether they’re dancing in sync or laying down a funny riff,” long-time fan Brett Wilshe says. “If instrumental music can have comedic timing, I think these guys are pioneers. They can finish up an intense and energetic song that gets the crowd pumped, and then follow it up by throwing giant inflatable pizza slices into the crowd while covering ‘Gimme Pizza’ by the Olsen Twins.” Muscle Tough is much more than their 40


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humor-infused sets. All of the members of Muscle Tough studied jazz performance in college and now are musicians by trade. “As serious as players and instrumentalists as we are, we also like to keep a lot of irreverence and silliness as a part of everything,” Colman explains. “It’s straddling those worlds of, like, we’re dead serious about this music, but also we’re really gonna laugh at ourselves about it at the same time.” Before Muscle Tough became a reality, it was a mere dream of Bellenoit’s. With a band name and a desire for more musical autonomy, he booked a night at Time, a bar in Center City. Initially he was in talks with two other musicians, but when they fell through, he reached out to drummer Joe Baldacci and Colman. “I had been playing sort of other people’s music for so much, I was like, ‘I want to book a night where we can just make people dance, make weird sounds, and I don’t have to care about what anybody thinks,’ “ he recalls.

Despite studying jazz, Baldacci also admits that he did not always have many opportunities to play it. Instead he spent most of his time playing behind other artists and following their lead. With Muscle Tough’s highly improvised style, he’s finally found a project that allows him to explore and create on his own terms. “I think we have all done so much of that as professional musicians that this is such a wide-open canvas for us, and I think that’s why it’s really easy and natural, and why we stick with it,” he states. The rapport between the band manifested itself into their first full-length album, Magical Achievements, in late 2017. Now, not even a year later, the group is returning to the studio to record their second album. In true Muscle Tough fashion, that is to say serious-yet-playful, it’s going to be a theme record about modern romance. That could mean tugging at heartstrings, or laughing about Tinder dates. Or probably both. P HOTO G RAP H BY M ATTHE W DEC KER

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215.218.4022 | N OV E M B E R 20 18



smth savant

Kindred Spirits in Beats A pair of DJs create smth savant, a collective and label for by john morrison marginalized electronic musicians


ackyard bxss (pronounced “Backyard Bass”) was founded in 2017 as a monthly showcase for local women, gender-nonconforming people and people of color who produce and perform electronic music. By being intentional about booking and the work it highlights, the event brings a totally new energy to the scene and challenges the stifling homogeneity of experimental music. Recently scaled back to a quarterly event, Backyard Bxss has featured live sets from a variety of electronic musicians. In its short time in existence, Backyard Bxss has built a rich community of diverse performers dedicated to pushing the sound and social mores of electronic music forward. The event’s founders, multi-instrumentalists/producers Ada Adhiyatma (aka Madam Data) and Kilamanzego (who goes by K) met through a mutual friend when Adhiyatma moved to Philly from the West Coast. Upon hearing Madam Data’s electronic sound, Kilamanzego invited them to play at her birthday party/BBQ in South Philly. From that event, a desire to create a new space for Philly’s beat-making community was born, and that became Backyard Bxss and smth savant (pronounced “something savant”), a collective and independent record label. “A mutual friend of ours in Oakland hit me up saying that we should meet because their experimental style reminded him of mine,” Kilamanzego says. “I checked it out, and it sounded like some boiler-room-ready set to me. [laughs] Anyway, I immediately hit them up and was like, ‘You’re playing my birthday party.’ They agreed. It’s funny because this was before we even knew each other, but I was super-confident in their abilities, and their sound amazed me, and still does so much.” 44


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“From that BBQ, I wanted to replicate the same mood and have it be monthly, because Philly’s beat scene has gone through a lot of phases,” Kilamanzego explains. “I just happened to be a part of it at a time where locating that particular scene wasn’t the easiest. So I tapped Ada on the shoulder to partner up with me on smth savant.” In a scene that sometimes does not tolerate diversity, their event and label celebrated it. “I know so many artists who have run into complications getting booked or getting paid properly due to their gender or sexual orientation. It doesn’t have to be that way, but it is,” says Kilamanzego. Despite their aligned visions, Adhiyatma and Kilamanzego came from two very different musical backgrounds. A formally trained multi-instrumentalist and composer, Adhiyatma dove deep into the post-Bop work of Miles Davis’ late quintet as a teenager, a discovery which led them into a musical journey through the avant-garde. “And from then on there was always something just out of my reach,” says Adhiyatma, “that I didn’t quite understand, and I could never put it down, ’cause I need to know what these people are trying to put into the universe.” Adhiyatma would eventually enroll in Mills College in Oakland, and had the opportunity to study with Roscoe Mitchell, the legendary avant-garde composer and cofounder of the Art Ensemble of Chicago and Association for the Advancement of Creative Musicians. It was this relationship that helped open their ears and heart to the spirit of community that music could help create when it’s done the right way, with care and compassion. ”The jazz world nowadays is not a good place to be in,” Adhiyatma says. “It’s very macho, very masculine, very competitive,

in a completely non-productive way. ... It’s, like, dominated by institutions where white people have a lot of power, which is bizarre to think about.” Adhiyatma says what saved them at the time was going to AACM concerts in New York, a place they felt was more open and caring. “It was a community thing,” they say. Everyone was open. They were listening for new sounds.” Playing music since she was a kid, Kilamanzego spent her formative years playing bass in a variety of bands, from ska and punk to hardcore and death metal. She eventually was inspired to dive into hiphop production after being blown away by J-Dilla’s iconic second album, Donuts. “It had either come out that year or I found it early the following year,” she says. “That’s how quickly it must’ve blown up. Anyway, I listened to some snippets and bought it. I was completely floored. I didn’t stop playing that album for months.” It was simply different. “It was the first time I started asking questions like ‘How do people produce?’ I remember my roommate at the time smiled as he saw me listening to it and was like, ‘You could use a program called Fruity Loops.’ ” So she did just that, eventually moving on to more sophisticated programs like Abelton. Marked by pounding drums, oceanic basslines and elegant synths, her tracks are like a sonic funhouse of glitchy twists and turns, not unlike the twists and turns in their own lives that led them to where they are now in Philly. The artist collective/record label has been busy since the two first met and realized they were kindred spirits, with Kilamanzego releasing genre shifting singles like “Red Light Green Light” and the gorgeous dancefloor burner “Stay Floated in the Tribe.” Madam Data recently put out their 2018 experimental opus A Thick Band of Orange Light and the label’s first compilation, featuring local producers and electronic musicians. Coupled with Backyard Bxss, which relaunches as a quarterly event in January, the smth savant crew has made an invaluable contribution to Philly’s music scene. P HOTO G RAP H BY M EGAN MATUZA K

Kilamanzego (left) and Ada Adhiyatma (aka Madam Data) of smth savant N OV E M B E R 20 18




As Good as New Restorations faces change with confidence by eric fitzsimmons and loud guitars


on loudon, the 34-year-old lead singer and one of three guitarists in the band Restorations, is crouched at a laptop in a largely unadorned room crammed with amps, mic stands, trunks and other essentials. Loudon and his bandmates are working out beats on a drum machine before rehearsal. The space is not attractive in the conventional sense of clean, modern and new or in the rock ‘n’ roll sense of low-lit, smokefilled and dangerous. But with a new album on the way and a tour about to kick off, the guys from Restorations need a place where they can rehearse consistently, having grown tired of bouncing from place to place and paying by the hour. Finding this big room on top of a garage in East Mount Airy was a blessing. “It’s still new and shiny for us. It’s not totally covered in drumstick shards yet, but ... soon,” Loudon says. Today starts the shift of focus to new music from their fourth album, LP5000—the cheekily named follow-up to their albums LP1, LP2 and LP3. It’s been four years since Restorations’ last album, which can seem like a lifetime when it comes to releasing new music. Despite this, there is no sense of urgency in the room. Loudon, coming from his home in Mount Airy, is the first there, and others funnel in over the next hour. He is dressed more for comfort than rock stardom, in khaki shorts and a plain, drab T-shirt, seemingly the unofficial uniform of the afternoon. Guitarist Dave Klyman, 36, comes from Germantown in the same outfit, embellished with a slightly different color T-shirt and the addition of a baseball cap. If the band is relaxed, it seems to come from a place of confidence. From the beginning, members of Restorations had few as46


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sumptions about where their efforts would lead. Loudon describes their start as “super casual,” playing local shows to a good response. Singles led to touring and records, and a decade later people are still coming out. This attitude has carried the band for a decade now, making and playing music with no assumptions. “It’s the same goal we’ve always had, which is if this just keeps working, great,” Loudon says. “I’m always surprised this still has legs after all this time.” Early indications suggest that what they are doing is working better than ever. The first releases off the new album have gotten a strong response, being covered by NPR, WHYY, Stereogum, Uproxx and other outlets. In person, the band members are easy-going and quiet, the inverse of the loud, energetic music for which they are known. On LP5000, the recognizable Restorations sound is brought to bear on issues anyone living in 2018 Philadelphia has things to say about including gentrification (“The Red Door”) and the Trump presidency (“Nonbeliever”). The songs are tied together by the question of balancing involvement and responsibilities at home that start to accumulate as you get older, as it is for the protagonist in “Nonbeliever,” who sings about old priorities slipping now that he has a partner and a kid on the way. If this question of what comes next—part of the “perpetual existential freakout,” that Loudon says has always been a part of Restorations’ music—feeds a universal appetite, the flavor remains a local one. “I’ve lived here most of my life,” Loudon says. “So [Philly’s] always been the palate for me, it’s most of what I’ve known in my life.” The titular entrances in “The Red Door” are the symbols of new, high-priced, fill-in

developments that have been dotting, then overtaking, neighborhoods around Philadelphia. Loudon says it’s a scary thing for people that came up through a burgeoning art and music scene. Rising rents threaten the conditions that made it possible for bands like Restorations to get started. Things are changing not only around these musicians, but for them as well. In the years since LP3, Loudon says Restorations also pulled back on its touring schedule. Band members have gotten to focus on things that get pushed to the side when you are constantly on the road. Loudon got married, and Klyman went back to school. Ben Pierce, Restorations’ 34 year-old keyboard and guitar P HOTO G RAP H BY B EN WONG

Restorations, left to right: Ben Pierce, Dave Klyman, Jon Loudon, Jeff Meyers and Dan Zimmerman

player living in Germantown, opened a vegan diner in South Philly called The Tasty. Both Pierce and Loudon have recently moved to the Northwest from lately posh South Philly. Loudon had been looking this way as the neighborhood grew more expensive, and when his landlord raised rents again, he says there just weren’t many places left he could afford in that area of the city. The band never went away, though, and if coming off the road meant more time to work on things outside the band, it also meant more time to work on this next record. According to Loudon, this is the first time they got to record demos, work in small sessions and record in different locations.

For Chuck Daley, 42, of Charlotte, North Carolina, co-owner of the record label Tiny Engines, seeing Restorations continue to find its audience even after a break is not surprising. Daley has been working with Loudon and Klyman since before the forming of Restorations, doing public relations for their earlier band, Jena Berlin. Daley stayed friendly with them and has worked with Restorations on occasion, releasing LP1 on Tiny Engines and again, now, putting out LP5000. “I think it’s hard to find another band with a catalog that’s that consistently great throughout the entire thing,” Daley says. “They’ve never really drastically changed their sound, but at the same time I think

they’ve always managed to keep it fresh and interesting.” Surviving a decade as rock musicians has always been an unlikely feat. Making it a decade and still generating excitement is a mark few bands hit. While the headlines in rock have always been dominated by legends of wild parties and destructive behavior, Restorations succeeds through the ongoing work of the music business. “We’re just beer nerds; we like other bands; we like to travel. We don’t have a really super-interesting story other than, like, keep plugging away. That that’s been interesting to anybody is amazing to me,” Loudon says. N OV E M B E R 20 18




Prepare for the Best The Green Party’s candidate for governor lays out his vision


or ten years Grid magazine has invited us to repair the planet and help one another. Most media scream that everything is getting worse because people are dangerous or stupid. Yet thousands of Philadelphians are building hundreds of businesses and organizations that shift power toward ecology and justice. Meanwhile, modern society demands we compromise with the destruction of nature and the abuse of labor—that we shrink our dreams in order to have a home and a job. That we vote for candidates who will cause less damage rather than reverse damage. Thus there is constant social tension between tradition, reform and revolution. Between hierarchy and equality. Between caution and risk. Those who have racial privilege and achieved comforts—homeownership, a retirement fund, decent health insurance, restaurant meals, travel, debts paid—are often satisfied with reform. But when an increasing part of the public lacks secure housing, steady work, medical care, retirement without debt and regular meals, then anger grows—especially among Black and brown people, the middle class and millennials. Eventually, without bold change, rich and poor alike will endure boiling summers, impossible food prices and greater violence. So we are each challenged to decide how much to compromise or how much to rebel. Our paths forward are rugged because today without fossil fuels and uranium we could not heat and cool our homes, could not cook dinner, could not take hot showers, could not light the night. And yet these fuels poison the future. The good news is that crude technologies, faulty science, poor decisions and greed got us into this mess. Therefore, new technologies, geoscience, smart decisions and generosity must drive the next Philadelphia. To preserve civilization, we’ll need to rebuild it completely. Weaving nature into cities is a vast, orderly process that feeds and warms us without fossil fuels; delights us without shopping; heals us without pills; 48


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moves us without cars; protects us without wars; enriches us without dollars; employs us without pollution. Let’s be realistic: this will take a while. Explicit slavery was banned in this nation partly because crazy Quakers first declared it evil, starting in Philadelphia 177 years before emancipation. Most workers now work eight-hour days with two days free because crazy, angry laborers bossed the bosses for two hundred years. Women can vote today because crazy ladies started demanding suffrage 72 years earlier. In each campaign, people risked their lives and homes. And in each they were told to shut up. Today, a small group of proudly crazy people are saying that during the next decades, Philadelphians can systematically transform our car-clogged, fossil-fueled, gentrifying city, empowering the poor while fully employing the next ten generations. Such solutions surround us, as this magazine proves. Every neighborhood can enjoy green jobs, secure housing, cheap utilities, great schools, urban farms and free medical care. Who could argue? Philadelphia’s current

power brokers, who dominate land, law, labor and money. Their principal notion of economic development in this hungry city is condos and skyscrapers serving major employers—evicting the poor. They compromise our rebellion by making us compete for jobs, grants and loans. They purchase our silence. Thus we will not prevail without confronting greed. We need not only to think outside the box, we need to break outside of it. This is why the Green Party asked me to be their candidate for Pennsylvania governor in 2018. Both major party candidates favor fracking, accept mass incarceration, oppose marijuana legalization and are dominated by insurance lobbyists and corporate cash. Greens intend to ban fracking, end mass incarceration, expand green jobs, expand transit and bike paths, extend Medicare to everyone based on co-ops, prioritize worker ownership, foster regional organic agriculture, restore fresh air and water, legalize marijuana and ensure that education inspires creativity—building cities as beautiful as our children.

paul glover is the author of six books on grassroots power, including Green Jobs Philly; He is one of four candidates for governor on the Pennsylvania ballot. P HOTO G RAP H BY KRISTO N JAE BETHEL


A Crazy

Kind of Love

A mesmerizing six-foot blonde, Storm Large is a musician, actor, playwright, author, and most famous as an unforgettable interpreter of American popular music. She sold out the Kennedy Center with her debut as guest vocalist for the electric band Pink Martini and The New York Times called her “sensational” when she performed at Carnegie Hall in 2013. “I‘ve always liked the whole idea of the Rat Pack and Frank Sinatra, all those kinds of very cool atmospherics,” she has said. Storm’s Crazy Kind of Love set features tunes from “I’ve Got You Under My Skin” through “Somebody to Love” and “Forever Young”. Her sizzling interpretations of POPS classics form the perfect counterpoint to Leslie Odom, Jr.’s more mellow revue of American popular music.

Verizon Hall, Kimmel Center featuring Michael Krajewski, music director


Branching out A Penn student explores environmental challenges from a sociological perspective

VIRTUAL CAFÉ Join the MES program

When you envision environmental careers in urban areas, you might not think of forestry. But after Bailey Smith (MES ’19—expected) spent a year working with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society as an intern, her study of urban forestry branched into an exploration of Philadelphia’s complicated relationship with the trees that line its streets.

director on the first Tuesday of every month from 12-1 p.m. for an online chat about your interests and goals. Log in with us. @Penn_MES_MSAG

“The benefits of planting trees are amazing,” says Bailey. “Trees improve community building and public safety, and lower instances of asthma.” But planting the wrong kind of tree for an urban environment can create other issues, such as sidewalk-wrecking roots or slippery leaves that make walking hazardous for pedestrians. Interviewing specialists in urban tree policy and maintenance, Bailey is developing a detailed understanding of how Philadelphia can plant trees that encourage neighborhoods to thrive. Within the flexible, customizable Master of Environmental Studies curriculum, Bailey has the tools and mentorship she needs to bridge her study of the scientific and sociological health of Philadelphia’s trees. “I am passionate about urban forestry,” says Bailey, “but I’m really interested in policy that can transform the lives of people in urban settings by supporting a more sustainable environment.” To learn more about Bailey’s human-centered approach to environmental studies, visit:


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