The Urban Archives

Admittedly, the Urban Archives do not provide the same overwhelming and circling feeling as the third floor of Paley Library, but rather reroute the fascination. The space feels like a knowledge bank – the literal shelves turn like vaults and shift to close one section and open another. This space is doing some of the most collective and thorough preservation in the entire city. To pin point the specificity, they have everything from photographs of ‘Camp Beehive’ to oral notes from Philadelphia City Meetings in the early 1900’s. That explanation even is incomparable to the vastness of the collection, and the diverse mediums the archives approach. Although I label the collection as ‘diverse’, it is more so representative of organic and common media. What qualifies as common is not necessarily defined and will always probably be difficult to define, as the person’s story and collection is subjective as well as how much the collection actually receives from outside sources. The connection to the public does present some difficulties though. Although the archives are becoming more accessible online and utilize social media, I think it is missing a target. This can possibly be aligned with Temple University’s lack of attention to the department, because they have the tools to broadcast the benefits of the department more widely than the department does alone. The public values the archives nonetheless, but the students who are consistently involved in academia should be encouraged by professors and the University as a whole to tap into the archives.

Patrick Grossi & Preservation

The title of “Director of Advocacy” is deceiving. Initial thoughts fall along veganism, gay marriage or local campaigning. I quickly learned that I am far off the point, and very far off the point at that. Patrick Grossi, the Director of Advocacy for the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia is a diplomatic mediator between preservation and renovation. A main question is: why do we need an advocate to mediate this? Deep in the dark realms of human ethics, some people have feelings for objects and place. Whether the place has cultural or personal value, it undoubtedly has history, and continually interpreting that history is of great value to the human or ‘we will never learn’. More so, the contemporary human wants space and lots of it. One of Grossi’s main challenges seems to be balancing the highly active concept of adaptive reuse in Philadelphia within communities that don’t want to be renewed. Some of the issues discussed align with density and overdevelopment – the probability of the neighborhood going in a direction the person doesn’t want. Although almost always, the person is not heard and a newer and taller building is erected. In my eyes it becomes difficult to distinguish value – since the Old City District has more fiscal value, more history do we fight harder to preserve it? It becomes difficult to find everyone’s narrative in a city, but there has to be a place. Maybe that place is rather the museum and not the neighborhood? Maybe there is no real or imagined place in a city.

Eastern State, Kelly and Curation

The dialogue that Sean Kelley had with our group seems to extend far into his work. At Eastern State Penitentiary since 1995, Kelley has endured the direct issues in a space that intersects historical and contemporary issues. Alongside its age, the penitentiary has a list of “firsts” for many of things and in turn presents a social iconography as well as a challenge for the programming. This means that the penitentiary needs to constantly maintain and have an awareness towards the justice system. Humbly, Kelley admitted that there was a time in the early 2000’s where this awareness was not necessarily present, and presented his solutions. Although the end goal was ultimately more racial awareness towards the prison system, I think that the importance of scholarship, dialogue and honesty became crucial going forward. During Kelley’s talk, he repeatedly said he was unable to find the right words, or that he wasn’t going to say what he meant precisely. I don’t say this in harshness or crudeness, but his response is continually representative of how comfortable the dialogue continues to be – he still hesitates in some ways. A direction I feel that is more expressive, is his goal to hire a more diverse staff to have these discussions as well as bringing in people who have experienced the prison system in consequence of their race.

Something else that was interesting at ESP was the pricing. I think Kelley both recognizes the negatives of having a 70% white and touristy audience and the positives (…money). He claimed that $14-16 isn’t irrational in comparison to the New York Adventure Aquarium (?) which ranges around $25 – but ESP is not an aquarium. The outside appeal of the museum is only partially interactive, and many of the stereotypes of the museum are focal to Al Capone or Steve Buscemi’s audio tour. The success of the Terror Behind the Walls is proof that people will pay for the direct interaction. If they seek to have a more direct interaction and discussion surrounding race in the prison system, or if they seek more marginalized guests – the prices should lower – it’s contradictory as African American and Latina peoples have the lowest-median incomes across the nation.

One Excited Historian & One Trump Museum

Levi Fox, a Temple graduate student, is working on arguably the most highly politicized museum space in America: The Atlantic City Trump Museum. Fox’s presentation immediately debunks the myths of naming the museum as a honorary shrine to the president, and instead seeks to create a dialogue on the effect the casino culture that Trump has highly influenced. Through the Trump owned Trump Castle, Trump Marina and the Taj Mahal, Fox uses these built environments to show the impact they have on the immigrants and local communities of Atlantic City. He also undoubtedly uses Trump’s name to acquire customers too, whether pro or con the president. In many ways, this is a risk as well as an opportunity to obtain more resources for participation and discussion. This approach is interesting because it undoubtedly aligns with Simon’s goals of the participatory, but Fox’s awareness of the highly politicized also pushes him to create the museum towards the right-winged political spectrum. Morally, although Fox seems to disagree with the right, he still provides that there is no way to form a conclusion. I feel that his focus on the touristy-right audience is fair then to his way of work as they not only fiscally fund his work, but also add an interesting perspective to the dialogue. The only issue with this is that many people feel so extremely opposed to Trump that they won’t seek to participate with anything under his name – so a dialogue outside of the museum also needs to happen or the left-wing won’t even give a look. Although the ‘name and the game’ of Trump may draw certain people in, the narrative of the lower-class gambling and shore community hides beneath the guise.

Tyler Walkthrough. Pink Bike.

This colorful and quilt surrounded stationary bike is a creation of Emily Rothstein. Her exhibit seems to not only draw on popping baby blue and hot pink, but the nostalgic feelings of a feminine childhood. One of the main objects used to show this is the pink boombox with many stickers. The current way of listening to music is almost disinterested in the CD and cassette player, even skipping them and giving more appreciation to the record player. The piece needs no more evidence to explain that this is an approach to the 80’s and 90’s aerobics, colorful bright spandex and all. The art exhibits acts as a sort of time capsule and provides that this is not a moment from contemporary times or the times of an adult. The ribbons coming out of the handlebars of the bike and the stickers on the wheel give a sense of a starter bike that a young person would seek to decorate. The quilts also add a lot to the piece as they both symbolize a baby blanket as well as the person who created it. Historically and traditionally the person who created a quilt would be an elderly woman, which also contextually surrounds the representational young-persons’ bike. Overall the piece is historically active because it involves nostalgia and intentionally evokes feelings of childhood – where everything can be bright and pink – a place where adults aren’t so welcome.

Powel House 2-14

The Powel House is an interesting visit as Old City helps contextual its presence. The house has undeniable history, but the current understanding of its history is contemporary and has been forever shifting since its creation in 1765. Yes it has some of the most lavish colonial architecture the modern eye has ever seen, and yes Samuel Powel thee most Patriotic Mayor to date lived there, but the preservation and the opposing separations the house has endured are also worth glorification. As Jonathan Burton, the Executive Director, guided a tour around the house, he expressed concern around how much attention Samuel received in comparison to his wife Elizabeth. Specifically, her power and prominence in the financial field, where she took over her husband’s finances and responsibilities after his passing. This is interesting because although women in the 19th century had a strong presence in preservation, they were never the topic of discussion. Interestingly enough, I’m reading a text by Henry Adam called Democracy, where a woman named Madeline Lee immerses herself among male senators and politicians. Lee is windowed, as was Elizabeth, and is a reflection of a woman fitting herself into a man’s world. The importance of this reflection is that Elizabeth is highly underrepresented as a woman that did incorporate herself into a male dominated world.

(https://www.philamuseum.org/collections/permanent/103007.html?mulR=1754948754|3)

Interestingly, when Jonathan pointed out along the tour that some of Lafayette’s troops had stayed at the Powel House, my mind went to my family heritage as my ancestors came to America on one of the troop ships. This personally proved to me the fact that the public connects to history when it is relative to their family. Just as I drew this connection, the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Metropolitan Museum of Art drew their own reasons for valuing the history of the Powel House. Particularly as a response to immigration, the period rooms that started emerging in the early 1920’s show why the Colonial-Gregorian styled Powel House is of value to the museums. By having the private rooms that thee most Patriotic Mayor ever lived in shows a responsive affirmation of American culture as a rebuttal to the increasing non-American population.

 

 

The Wagner Free Institute

Last fall a friend told me of a class at the Philadelphia Horticulture Center called Urban Plant Ecology. I heard it was offered through the “Wagner Free Institute of Science” but never thought much of it. A professor at UPenn, the great Ivy league school of Philadelphia, was teaching the class and of course, I was freaking out that such an intellectual was going to talk to me about soil and trees. The classes through the institute are only a minuscule part of the history and knowledge it has brought to the area. The physical Institute itself stands in full of fascinating objects; contextually fascinating in a different way now than back in the late 19th century. To the contemporary viewer, the impression is likely one of repetition. Now we are raised on science books, classes and interactive museums. What was shown previously in the 19th century was a presentation of connecting objects to ideas. When in the institute, you can see how Wagner uses simple objects – such as carved wood blocks to represent the different shapes of gems, scaling up to minerals and bones and then the fullness in the taxidermal work. The use of objects still leaves a strong impression and leaning to learn from looking, but there is a second layer to the looking. Laughing. There is something about the objects that causes (as I interacted with my classmates on Thursday) a light hearted response to the animals – that they are almost alive or enacting human-like things. Why are we able to make jokes? The materials are literal and even grotesque, so maybe it’s just the human response to working with the objects. More so, is the classes gaze through the lens of public history. I personally felt that knowing the history of the museum enhanced the experience and made the building and objects feel more of an artifact than approaching it blindly. Possibly a way to move forward in approaching all museums is to give the history of preservation, and to give perspective on the history of the collection and intention of curation.

The Independence Sprawl (Mall)

A walk around Independence Mall is a walk around a formulation. A mingling between display and dismissal. At the birthplace of the American museum, the former Peale Museum locates itself to the east side of Independence Hall. Although Peale’s collection has been long transferred to the APS (American Philosophical Society), the ghostly heads of the high elect officials of the 18th century still peek out the windows to this day, gazing and glorifying the Hall.

Opposing Independence Hall is the Constitution Center, a large building housing the “inside scoop” of how it all went down! It fittingly looks like a courthouse. So hand in hand Independence Hall and the Constitution Center look upon each other all day, declaring what is true and just. What is in between is a different story.

It is questionable how Americans seek to preserve their heritage. Is a building more symbolic than the land? For Americans, maybe so. The patch of grass that lingers in between Independence Hall and The Constitution Center guides your eyes to each end, making it known which parts of the landscape are important. Besides the newly added President’s House replica which includes the slaves that worked there, the eminence of white men holds the space between the two buildings. Although progressively inclusive, the President’s House display only seems to illuminate the lacking of racial diversity amongst the other buildings. The reasoning of why the building is ghosted rather than completely erected is questionable. There is no large portion of land completely excavated to symbolize its importance. Is it a matter of how much money and space the small exhibit exposing slavery costs?  The fact that Peale’s building still stands shows us the value of preserving the sciences and the natural, but where humanities are concerned, it becomes hard to trace – where are we supposed to truly learn from?