Whitman at 200

Press Release




FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE                                                               




Presented by the Penn Libraries with support

for the Artistic Commissions from The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage


Philadelphia, PA – Walt Whitman is so much more than a bridge! In conjunction with Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy, a year-long, region-wide Philadelphia/Camden initiative, four Whitman-related public art commissions are taking place beginning in May and continuing throughout the summer. These include:

·         When You Look on the River and Sky, an interactive work by Spencer Finch on the RiverLink Ferry from May 11 to September

·         New Songs of the Open Road, four neighborhood walks created by interdisciplinary artist Homer Jackson, May 18, June 8, June 22, and July 6

·         Contradict This! A Birthday Funeral for Heroes, an outdoor performance by John Jarboe and the Bearded Ladies Cabaret at Cherry Street Pier, previews May 28 and 29, performances May 31, June 1 and 2

·         RiverRoad, a multimedia installation by artists Carolyn Healy and John JH Phillips on a barge in the Delaware River, June 4 and 5

In keeping with Whitman’s multidisciplinary reach, the four projects, curated by Whitman at 200 artistic director Judith Tannenbaum, represent a range of ideas, approaches, and methods that underscore the relevance of Whitman’s work for artists today. Jackson’s group walks branch out into four different sections of Philadelphia, whereas the works by Finch, Healy/Phillips, and the Bearded Ladies are located at the Delaware River waterfront. According to Tannenbaum, “Siting these works at the river highlights the connection between Philadelphia and Camden, where Whitman lived the last two decades of his life.”

New York-based artist Spencer Finch, known for sculpture, installations, and drawings that capture fleeting natural phenomena and sensory experience, has created an interactive work on the RiverLink Ferry that operates between Philadelphia and Camden. In Whitman’s day, a number of ferries connected the two cities, but today only one ferry runs, from May to September. Finch’s artwork, When You Look on the River and Sky, directly links Whitman’s journey in the late 19th century from Camden to Philadelphia to today’s visitors’ experience of the river. Ferry-goers will match the color of the sky and water by turning two color wheels of Pantone swatches Finch selected after observing the ever-changing tones of the Delaware River and the sky above it. The ferry will fly two color flags each day, one the color of the sky, and one the color of the water. Finch is the only artist to create a work for the National September 11 Memorial Museum in New York.

Editor’s note: Press is invited for the first launches on May 11 and 12.  All ferry-goers can experience the artwork through September. The RiverLink Ferry runs weekends only through May 26, from 10am to 6pm. Starting May 27 it runs every day from 10 to 6, with additional evening hours for concerts at the BB&T Pavilion in Camden. Penn’s Landing, Riverlink Ferry dock, Columbus Boulevard and Walnut Street

Inspired by Whitman’s poem “Song of the Open Road,” interdisciplinary artist Homer Jackson has organized four walks in different neighborhoods ranging from the Strawberry Mansion reservoir in North Philadelphia, and Germantown in the Northwest part of the city, to Whitman Plaza in South Philadelphia, and Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City. Born and raised in North Philadelphia, Jackson was bussed to school in the Whitman neighborhood of South Philadelphia. New Songs of the Open Road draws on the history of civil rights protests and freedom songs as well as particular poems by Langston Hughes and Whitman. For Jackson, “When coupled with the notion of freedom, walking is a special thing, as Whitman himself suggests.” The walks will be accompanied by new chants and songs of affirmation written by Toby VEnT Martin and Waverly Alston whose gospel ensemble, In the Company of Friends, will lead the walkers in song.

            Editor’s note: Each walk will have a distinct character based on the neighborhood where it takes place. Media can join any or all of the walks. The first walk will be held May 18, starting at 3pm at Mander Recreation Center, 2140 N 33rd St, around East Park Reservoir in the Strawberry Mansion section. Interviews are available with Homer Jackson, who heads the Philadelphia Jazz Project, and the composers and singers with whom he’s collaborating.

Additional walks are scheduled for:

June 8, 3pm, Joseph E. Coleman Northwest Regional Library to Cliveden (Germantown)

June 22, 4pm, Marconi Plaza to Whitman Plaza (South Philadelphia)

July 6, 4pm, Parkway Central Library to Boat House Row (Center City)

The Bearded Ladies Cabaret, an experimental group led by John Jarboe, is creating an extravagant outdoor performance--part trial, part birthday party, and part funeral--to explore both the human and heroic sides of Whitman. Contradict This! A Birthday Funeral for Heroes was inspired by an actual spontaneous trial of Whitman held at a Radical Faerie camp in Vermont that questioned the poet’s role as a queer hero. This production, which features a team of actors, singers, dancers, and composers, also considers the complexity surrounding Whitman’s writings about race. Jarboe says, “I’m blessed with a group of collaborators who have varied relationships to Whitman. Some love him, some never even tried, some feel betrayed. It’s really rich.” In 2013, the Beards staged Wide Awake, A Civil War Cabaret at the Kimmel Center, which featured Whitman’s poetry.

            Editor’s note: Non-reviewing Press Only are invited to attend rehearsals between May 24-27, and should contact Bryan Buttler at bryanbuttler@gmail.com for a more detailed rehearsal schedule, or previews on May 28 and 29.  Reviewing press invited May 31, June 1, and June 2 performances at 7:30PM. Cherry Street Pier, 121 N. Columbus Boulevard. Tickets are available on a sliding scale. No one will be turned away at the door. VIP reserved ticket package is available for $40. On May 31, cast, crew, and supporters will gather at La Peg, 140 N. Columbus Boulevard, following the show. All are welcome.

Also located at the Delaware River waterfront, artists Carolyn Healy and John JH Phillips, joined by James Osby Gwathney Jr., have collaborated on a multimedia, floating installation entitled RiverRoad, based on Whitman’s poetry. Incorporating video, sculpture, lighting, and electronic sound, their work features the entire text of Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.” The audience will board a large industrial barge approximately 30 feet wide by 130 feet long, guided along the Delaware from Penn’s Landing by a tugboat. Gwathney, a bass baritone who performs frequently with Opera

Philadelphia, has worked with Healy and Phillips to develop the soundscape/score and will recite the original version of Whitman’s text. According to the artists, “By choosing a site that is both urban yet floating free, dark and quiet under the night sky, we hope to offer an abstract setting that opens the audience to a heightened experience of Whitman’s words.”

            Editor’s note: The installation of this work on the barge will be happening May 24 and is open to press. The artists will be available for interviews. The full presentation takes place June 4 and June 5 at 8pm and 10pm, south of the ferry dock at Penn's Landing, 211 South Christopher Columbus Blvd. All performances are free but tickets are required. 

*Look for forthcoming information about We Contain Multitudes: Celebrating Walt Whitman’s 200th Birthday with Poetry, Song, and Cake--the community birthday celebration at City Hall Courtyard on Whitman’s actual birthday, Friday, May 31--featuring writers, musicians, and prize-winning cake.

Major support for Whitman at 200 artistic commissions has been provided to University of Pennsylvania Libraries by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage.

The projects by the Bearded Ladies, Spencer Finch, and Healy/Phillips were organized by Penn Libraries in partnership with the Delaware River Waterfront Corporation.


For more information about the Whitman at 200 commissioned works, please visit www.whitmanat200.org. For interviews and press tickets and reservations, please call Nina Zucker Associates at 610.457.4387 or email at nina@ninazucker.com.


#   #   #