Monday, November 30, 2009

Now Introducing...

At Art-Reach, a new Arts Partner is like a new best friend.  So, Art-Reach supporters, I would like to introduce you to our new best friend: BalletX, a modern ballet company in Philadelphia.  The company and Art-Reach are both very excited about BalletX’s pledge of 20 tickets to a Saturday matinee during the Fall ’09, Spring ’10, and Summer ’10 shows.

Even more exciting for us is that BalletX is not just any modern ballet company, but a modern ballet company out to “redefine ballet and bring it into the new century.”  This mission seems apparent if you watch video clips of past performances on the BalletX web site, where dancers in simple costumes and ballet renditions of classic children’s stories like The Cat in the Hat grace the stage.  But to really understand what BalletX is all about, I needed to talk to its members.

I was lucky enough to catch a few minutes with artistic co-director and founding member Christine Cox while she was busy preparing for the Fall ’09 show.  As Christine says, the understanding for BalletX is that “If someone is choreographing a work right now, it has to be about today.” In other words, though BalletX performances may speak the classical language of ballet, the speakers are modern dancers and choreographers with contemporary accents who draw on contemporary inspiration.

Also, “because it’s being created today, it’s easier for an audience to relate and connect to.” And connect they do.  As publicity coordinator Inna Lobanova-Heasley comments, “We love our audience!  It is a special breed, it seems.  They react during performances and their enthusiasm is very inspiring to the dancers on stage.  There is a big exchange of energy during any given show, which is just amazing.” 

At the time this article went to cyber-press, the BalletX team was working like mad to finish the Fall ’09 show, which premieres November 19 at the Wilma Theater.  Christine promised three pieces, one sensitive, one inspired by the ocean, and one inspired by classical music.  But Inna has one piece of advice for the audience: “Whatever they expect, they will always be surprised!”

-Alli Blum

Tuesday, November 24, 2009

What are you thankful for?

Art-Reach wishes everyone a safe, happy and bountiful Thanksgiving Day feast, and in the spirit of the holiday season please share what you are most thankful for this year in your arts community. Have you had a tremendous experience that you wish to share? Have you witnessed the transformative power of the arts first hand? Did you have a blast visiting a museum or meeting an artist? This is a warm and fuzzy post, and we want to hear from you! Please take time to share your experience, and know that we are truly thankful for all of you!

Monday, November 23, 2009

What’s Audio Description?

Audio description allows people who are blind or have low vision to enjoy equal access to cultural events such as live performances, film, or television, providing individuals with descriptive information about visual elements during pauses in dialogue or narration.  Information is transmitted to listeners through a wireless earpiece, allowing people with visual impairments to sit anywhere in the audience during live performances.
Audio description is a means of communicating the most essential information about significant visual elements such as actions, body language, costumes, and settings.  Bill Patterson, owner of Audio Description Solutions and a founding member of the Audio Description Coalition, explains audio description as “being the eyes of the audience.  So much of our world comes to us through visual information.”  The audio describer’s role is to describe what he or she sees without interpretation or explanation.  For instance, rather than describing a character as “angry,” the audio describer would say, “Sarah clenches her fists.”  This allows listeners to draw their own conclusions. 

Audio describers come from a variety of backgrounds and participate in extensive training and coaching.  Qualities that make a good audio describer include strong verbal skills, a pleasant voice, and the ability to process information quickly.  Ermyn King, Manager of the PA Cultural Access Project at VSA arts of Pennsylvania, says, “It’s exhilarating to do audio description.  It requires the integrated application of so many principles, and when you do it well, the difference that it makes is indispensable to the listener.”
For more information about audio description, visit the Audio Description Coalition’s website at

-Jennifer Oglesbee

Thursday, November 19, 2009

Free Public Concert this Sunday

Opera Company of Philadelphia offers a free concert this Sunday, November 22, 2009 from 2:30pm - 4:30pm at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church 
412 Pine Street, Philadelphia, PA

An RSVP is required using Eventbrite.

This free public recital features tenor William Burden and baritone Troy Cook on Sunday, November 22nd at 2:30 p.m. at Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church. Burden, who has sung numerous leading roles at the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the most prominent opera houses around the world, most recently performed the role of the Male Chorus in the Opera Company’s sold-out run of The Rape of Lucretia in June 2009. Troy Cook, who just completed a critically-praised performance as Sharpless in OCP’s Madama Butterfly, heads to Royal Opera Covent Garden in December to sing the role of Guglielmo in Così fan tutte, a highlight in his burgeoning international career. Both Cook, who resides in Bucks County, and Burden, a resident of Princeton, are proud to offer their performances in the spirit of National Opera Week for this free-to-the-public recital, which requires reservations. Joining them will be pianist Tim Ribchester.

In exchange for admission to this free recital, the Opera Company of Philadelphia is asking attendees to bring a non-perishable canned good to donate to Project HOME, who just happens to be an Art-Reach member. Reservations are required in order to attend.

For information, call 215-893-3600, ext 242, or email Parking is available at these locations:
* 249 S 6th Street
* 530 S 2nd Street
* 516 South Street

Click the following link for directions to Old Pine Street Presbyterian Church.

Monday, November 16, 2009

People First Language 101 (Or how I failed this course miserably)

There I was, having dinner recently with a very dear friend, and I used the word “lame” to describe something I thought was done very poorly. Did I mention my friend has a disability, one that involves mobility?

Audience: Gasp!

Me: Massive. FAIL.

My, uh, experience in unthinkingly using abelist* language got me thinking about issues of respect and dignity in not just how we treat people with disabilities, but how we speak to and about them. And the way we sprinkle our daily lingo with words like “lame,” “retarded,” “schizoid,” “madhouse,” and so on. So I thought I would jot down some pointers and drop a few hot links for all of us, so we can better check our abelist privilege at the door.

The cardinal, golden, primo rule when speaking about or to any person who has a disability is to use People First language. This is simply positive language that recognizes the person first, the disability second.


Examples of People First language include:
  • People with disabilities
  • People who use wheelchairs
  • People who are blind
  • People with a mental illness
  • People with cognitive disabilities
  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing
  • People with mental retardation
  • People with a congenital disability
And so on.

And some examples of language not to use?
  • The handicapped, not normal, not able-bodied, lame, crippled
  • Confined to a wheelchair, wheelchair bound
  • The blind
  • Insane, crazy, psycho, nuts, lunatics
  • Morons, idiots, retards, “slow”
  • The deaf
  • Mentally retarded, retarded, retards, “slow”
  • Birth defect (As in, “She suffers from a birth defect.” By the way, don’t use the verb “to suffer” when referring to a person with disability, either. Another biggie to avoid: the noun “victim.” And when using “People First” language with a person with a disability, always address the person, not the caretaker/translator.)
What happens if you mess up in front of a person with a disability? Do you have to blog a public confession like I have here? Absolutely not! We are all human, and we all make mistakes. The important thing is that you own up to your flub, apologize sincerely while not making too big a deal of it (thereby embarrassing yourself further), and think before you speak next time.  Here are a couple of educational links on People First language and why it’s important:

*Abelist: somebody who exhibits discrimination, or uses prejudiced language, against people with disabilities or in favor of able-bodied people.

-Kathy Spillman

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

How could a person who is blind enjoy a trip to the zoo?

The Philadelphia Zoo is one of Art-Reach’s newest arts partners. It may seem odd that the zoo is included among that group; but upon closer look, the zoo is an art institution in more ways than one.

In addition to being the nation’s first zoo, the Philadelphia Zoo features more than 1,300 animals. It is a 42-acre Victorian garden with beautiful foliage and architecture, and Gladys, one of the group members, commented during the visit on how the scenery was lovely and peaceful.

My first blog assignment was to report on an Art-Reach arranged trip to this venue. I would be accompanying a member group from Associated Services for the Blind (ASB). This is a non-profit organization in Philadelphia that serves people who are blind or visually-impaired. I make that distinction because not everyone they serve is completely blind, and I learned this after talking to a man in the group named Rafael, whose impairment affected only his central vision.

I arrived early in the day of the visit. I was not really sure what my expectations for this trip were, but there was one question I had in the back of my mind that I was too afraid to ask: How could a person who is blind enjoy a trip to the zoo?

I met with the leaders of the group outside of the front gate. I asked the participants, consisting mostly of senior citizens, what they wanted from the trip and was given a multitude of answers that included hearing the animals roar, learning about the animals, and not being mistaken for one of the animals. I was glad to see that I was accompanying a group with a good sense of humor!

After entering, we met the tour guides Gail and Caleb. They were both docents - volunteer teachers for the zoo, and they reminded me of Art-Reach’s Ambassadors.

The first stop on the tour was the reptile house, but the group did not enter. Instead, they sat on the benches outside of the reptile house while Gail and Caleb let them feel snakes’ skins and a tortoise shell. The next stop on the tour was the hippo exhibit, where our guides answered questions and provided all sorts of information on everything from the hippos’ diet to the design of their pen. The guides continued to answer questions about all the animals we passed on the way to the last stop, including donkeys, rhinos, eagles, and peacocks, which have free reign of the zoo. The final destination of the tour was the childrens' zoo. Here the guides took the group to the petting zoo and helped them pet the goats.

After a quick lunch, the group decided to continue seeing more of the zoo. They ended up going to the big cat exhibit. It was here that I got the answer to my question. I noticed that when we approached an exhibit, the guides were able to show the members of ASB where the animals were by describing the structures between them and the animals, and then giving them distance of the animal. With this information, the members seemed to have a greater appreciation for the zoo exhibits. I saw this displayed somewhat ironically when we stopped at the theater there. The members of our group listened intently to hear the sounds of the big cats, but a small child held his hands over his eyes, because it was too scary for him.

At the end of the day, I felt I had a greater appreciation for the zoo and the widespread ways it can be enjoyed, and I wasn’t the only one. As one of the group visitors humorously told me,"they didn’t get to see much, but were glad to see what they did."

-Michael Endres

Interested in visiting the Zoo as an Art-Reach member? Contact our Program Department who can help you arrange a trip!

If you have a cultural arts experience you would like to share, we want to know about it! Contact Stephanie Borton, and your experience could be featured on this Blog, or add to this experience by posting a comment at the end of the article! Let us know what you think!

Monday, November 9, 2009

One of the hardest things to do is to explain visual art with mere words

This fall I had the pleasure of visiting the Institute of Contemporary Art. I wasn't quite sure what to expect, and when I arrived I certainly was not fully prepared for what I was about to experience, which was one of the best museum visits I have ever made. Now, I may be only sixteen, but I have had my fair share of visits to museums, and I know when something is truly unique.
The first exhibit I encountered was called "Dance with Camera." It consisted of film, video and still photography of different dances. Dance, in video and film, is a more regular occurrence, but still photography is not. Dance focuses on timing, and changing the timing of similar movements of the same dance, can completely change the mood the dance creates. In still photography, those motions are shown without any timing at all. The dances are permanently held in place and it makes you wonder what emotion you are "supposed" to get from the dance. It can be completely different experiencing a dance in person.

After the still shots, there is a large room filled with various types of video screens and projectors with an eclectic selection of dance films and videos being played. Some have sound, and others do not, but all the sounds mesh together and somehow seem to work. You might think it would be overwhelming, but the elements seem to compliment each other even though each dance and soundtrack is vastly different. There is some nudity in this exhibit, and you may choose to accept that, or you can even ignore that part of the exhibit if you may feel offended by it. It is worthwhile to just ignore it and be able to appreciate the rest of the exhibits in the Institute.

To make your way to the next exhibit from "Dance with Camera," you must make your way up the ramp towards the second floor. But, it's not just an ordinary ramp. This ramp is the centerpiece of an ongoing exhibit at the Institute appropriately named the "Ramp Project." Each changing of the exhibits also includes a re-vamping of the ramp. As of now, its name is "Third Space" and is a collage of geometric patterns made of stiff lines and bold colors and worth taking the time to admire before continuing to the second floor.

Following the ramp is a screening room and a film is playing with dialogue that doesn't quite seem to match. Only after leaving the museum and reading the pamphlet did I understand this exhibit and now I am sorry that I didn't take more time to recognize the true value of it. I won't tell you what the secret is, that would just ruin it and you'll have to find out for yourself, but I'd advise that you go in and take a look and listen to the video for a few minutes then read the information about it in the pamphlet. After you've done that you should go back and watch a little more, I promise, you'll be able to appreciate it much more.

After the video exhibit ("Video Art: Replay Part 1. Asking Not Telling"), you enter a white room filled with many paintings, drawings and "sculptures." It may seem unoriginal now, but upon closer examination, you'll realize that each of these works of art is created over top of a canvas layered with pages of a book, newspaper, comic, or music sheet. Some of these books you may know, and some you may not but you'll still discover that the tales depicted in those stories are enhanced by the artwork that uses each book as a base. Not just a theoretical base, but also a physical one. I'm sure you'll be amazed, just as I was by the astounding layers of meaning in each of these works of art.

As you (probably reluctantly) begin to exit this final exhibit, you'll see the information about it posted on the wall. This summary explains that everything in those two rooms you were just exploring was created by collaboration between a former art teacher in the Bronx named Tim Rollins and his former students, now called the K.O.S. (Kids of Survival). This group work has taken up a special place in my heart, and I really hope you'll take the chance to see if it can do the same for you.

I've come to realize that one of the hardest things to do is to explain visual art with mere words. You will never be able to truly do the piece justice. All I know is that there will never be enough positive adjectives in the dictionary for me to accurately describe my visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art, and especially The Tim Rollins and the K.O.S. exhibit.

To arrange a visit to the Institute of Contemporary Art contact the Programming Department of Art-Reach at 215-568-2115.

-Mary Altamuro

Mary is currently an Art-Reach Ambassador serving an Independent Study with Art-Reach via the ILP Program at Science Leadership Academy.  All photos in this post were taken from the ICA website.

Wednesday, November 4, 2009

Brunch Recap and Brand New Concert!

Art-Reach would like to thank everyone who worked, attended, or supported the 2009 annual brunch. This past Sunday more than 225 guests joined Art-Reach at the Bellevue for our 18th annual fundraising brunch: “Dixieland Jam: A Celebration of New Orleans Jazz.”

Christine Rouse accepting her award

Amy Murphy Nolen accepting her award

Complete with a live auction by Mayor Nutter for lunch with the Nutters, music from John Hoey Orchestra, a terrific meal and a silent auction packed full of goodies the event was dubbed a smashing success. Our volunteer ambassadors were charming, our donors were generous and we are pleased to share that our goal was exceeded. The entire event grossed over $74,000, far beyond what we aimed to achieve! We thank everyone involved. Because of your support, Art-Reach will continue to be successful in bringing the arts to people who need it most.

Mayor Nutter auctioned breakfast with the Nutters, and then added a second dining session that doubled the amount raise. We can not thank him enough!

We thank David Cohen for introducing our 2009 Commitment to Cultural Access Honorees during the awards ceremony and for representing Art-Reach beautifully.

For more brunch photos, visit us on facebook.

The brunch may be over, but the fun continues with another fantastic way you can support Art-Reach. This Monday evening The Monsters of Folk will perform in concert at the Academy of Music in Philadelphia as a benefit for Art-Reach. A portion of each ticket sold will be donated to us, and Art-Reach staff members will be on hand to provide information about our services. When Monsters of Folk began 5 years ago, they deliberately gave their band a name to throw audience expectation off kilter as a way to stress their versatility and illustrating that they touch on many types of music without easily being categorized into one type specifically. As Michael Hill writes on their web site, “Though there are elements of country, blues, easygoing rock and, yes, folk to be heard throughout, the overall sound defies instant categorization.” The concert begins at 8pm, and tickets can be purchased by visiting

We hope to see you this coming Monday evening, November 9, to support Art-Reach and a band that is not only talented, but makes it a point to give back to the communities they entertain. For more information about Monsters of Folk, visit .

Listen to Monsters of Folk Music:
Whole Lotta Losin’
Dear God (Sincerely M.O.F.) 
Say Please  

- Stephanie Borton