Midweek News Podcast, Rail Park, SEI, art openings, news, and 4th of July

Roberta and Ryan discuss the 4th of July holiday, the Rail Park's grant from the NEA and what it could mean for the Cut, the West Collection at SEI, art openings, Ryan's theater pick of the week, and just a hint of politics.

In this installment of the Midweek Podcast Roberta and I discuss the Rail Park and the grant it received from the National Endowment for the Arts and what that could mean for the Cut in Center City. Roberta tells us about the West Collection at SEI. I share a couple of noteworthy art openings this week as well as my theater pick. We dabble into the contentious political realm of the Supreme Court while staying true to our roots with the suggestion, “Make Art About It.” ~Ryan

View of the Rail park in the evening, Philadelphia
View of the Rail park in the evening, Philadelphia
Click to expand the podcast transcript

Roberta: Hi everybody, it’s Roberta.

Ryan: And this is Ryan and this is the Midweek News

Roberta: on Artblog Radio. Good morning, Ryan.

Ryan: Good morning.

Roberta: I’m going to tell you some news this morning. There’s not a lot of news. It’s the 4th of July week, so we are going to be light on the news today and hopefully, you are going to be heavy on your holiday feasting and partying.

That’s our goal today. So the first thing I want to talk about is the Rail Park. The beloved Rail Park that took the Reading Railroad tracks in Chinatown, basically turned it into this lush and wonderful park, parkette, or whatever you want to call it. It’s our Highline, and the Rail Park just got a nice $25,000 grant from the NEA to do community engagement on the next phase of the Rail Park, which is “The Cut.” “The Cut” is this vast overgrown area that is down from the viaduct. It’s on the ground level or below ground level, whatever, and it’s just a jungle right now. But they’re going to talk to people now with this community engagement money (from NEA) and figure out what to do with it and go forward with this. “The Cut,” which Ryan, you told us about after you took your family down there to take a look. So what do you think? It’s really great. It’s going to happen.

Ryan: So the piece that I went to go see was an augmented reality piece That was really interesting. We’ll put a link to that article in the show notes. There’s so much interesting history in the city. And modern Philadelphia has so much space available that’s untouched. I think I was reading that around the Rail Park in Center City area they say 32% of it, is open, available, vacant.

Roberta: 30% in Center City?

Ryan: Yeah. Isn’t that interesting? I was having an interesting conversation with someone talking about what would you do if you were mayor of the city? And I would be like, okay, arborists, go to town. Let’s put trees everywhere. Okay. Food truck people, let’s do this. We’re going to have popup food trucks permanent. Yes. You know, and be creative with your space. Be open with the space and 

Roberta: and community-spirited with the space.

Ryan: All open to people and walking and making it a path. Yeah. So they were saying that it’s was part of Reading, the old train lines. B+O and all of those old train lines that are in Monopoly.

Roberta: From the Barons, the railroad barons.

Ryan: Like my great uncle.

Roberta: Mm-Hmm.

Ryan: Wherever you are, great uncle. No, I’m just kidding. But I wish I was a trust fund baby. Yeah. It’s a really interesting space. It could be a lot of fun. It is very different than the Rail Park. “The Cut” is because it is in that lower section below street level, but it could still be a lot of fun. Really interesting. You’d walk by it on and, and then all of a sudden, boom, there’s this park. And space for people to sit in provides a lot of shade in the summertime because of the buildings on the sides.

And I think there was some confusion, like, who owned what. So different schools own certain portions. Drexel had like a parking garage along there and a few other spots. So there’s always a lot of input that you need to get that done. But yes, throw some millions of dollars at it to get somebody’s attention to participate. So I hope it turns out great. I hope it becomes something rather than just an empty lot.

Roberta: Yeah, and it’s great that they got community engagement involved because they need to do that. Anything that’s public should automatically come with a benevolent sort of idea that sparks it. But you can’t just impose it on people unilaterally. You’ve got to reach out to people and get their feedback and bring them on board. The more you have on board, the more people who support you, the better chance you have of getting monies that will help you actually realize your vision. So, makes a lot of sense to me. Really smart. So, go NEA! Go, Rail Park!

Ryan: Yes, absolutely.

Roberta: The second thing I wanted to mention, Ryan, is the West Collection, which, I don’t know. Do you know about the West Collection at SEI in Oaks, PA?

Ryan: I’ve never been.

Roberta: Okay. Well, the West Collection started a long time ago, 1996, when Al West, the founder of SEI and his daughter Page started collecting art and not just, you know, Matisse and Picasso and impressionist art, but they started collecting provocative art and things that you might consider controversial or perhaps even an offensive but it’s art. And they broke some boundaries and they were together doing this. And they have I don’t know how many thousands of pieces of work. And the idea was to install the art on this campus of this company, SEI, that is a financial services company founded by Al West. It’s a campus in Oaks that has nine or 10 buildings that look like barns, and it’s full of high tech people working in the finance field. And so it’s quite a space or spaces to look at, and they put the art in the areas where people were working.

There’s not a separate museum there or one wing that has art and it’s not in the work space. It was meant to be for the workers. It was meant to be in the spaces they put it in. Long story short, a lot of people were offended by a lot of the controversial or perhaps cutting edge art that they didn’t like, and so they would take it off the walls.

Then suddenly the people that were collecting it, Paige and Al West had to decide what to do with this. There was a revolution going on. People didn’t like the art, so they created a space that became a museum of the rejects. They called it the Hot Hall. And all the pieces that were rejected were allowed to be rejected. Why not? And they hung them in the Hot Hall. And there was a computer set up in the Hot Hall where you could lodge your complaints about why you didn’t like the piece. And you could actually, if you were from a different part of the building, than where originally had this piece of art that was rejected, you could say, me and my team, we really liked that art. We’d like to adopt it, and so there were adoptions out of the Hot Hall. It’s this thing, this ongoing thing of art being a conversation starter in the workspace, which is pretty remarkable. I know a lot of corporations have collections. I don’t think most of them work this way.

The story is that you can now take tours and they’ve done this periodically. You can take tours of the West Collection, you have to email them. The tours are on Wednesdays at 10:00 AM and 1:00 PM and you get a guided tour through the workspace by someone that knows the art and the story of the Hot Hall. You get to tour the Hot Hall. I’ve done this several times. It’s a wonderful place. The whole project is great. The Wests collect a lot of local art. So you’ll see many names that you recognize if you’re from around here, Philadelphia Artists in the West Collection. So go take a tour. Oaks is maybe a 40 minute drive, something like that. It’s not really accessible by transit. So you’ll need a car or a van or something or other to get out there. Bicycle, maybe?

Ryan: Bicycle, yeah. I’ve ridden out there a few times. Yeah, there’s some nice paths out there.

Roberta: There are paths I’ve driven out there and seen the paths along the road. They’re very beautiful. Yeah. Take a bike tour out there. That’s it for me for the news. Apart from that, we all know it’s the 4th of July and the news is that you should spend time enjoying and relaxing and have a good day off.

Ryan: That sounds great. 4th of July should be a lot of fun.

Roberta: Over to you now, Ryan. What’s on your agenda?

Ryan: Da Vinci Art Alliance, has some openings this weekend that look really interesting. Take a look at those. “The Earth Has A Fever”, is an exhibition curated by Bill Brookover. Looks interesting that is opening this weekend. Cherry Street Pier has a “Phantastic Phibers” opening reception that looks very interesting as well.

The Plastic Club has some interesting things that are opening. Take a look at those in the distance. Those are some art ideas. And then my theater shout-out is the Pennsylvania Shakespeare Festival in Central Valley is just about closing up The Many Wives of Windsor. That’s open through this weekend.

So take a look at that as well. And something that I just learned about, which is the Philadelphia Dance Day. It is coming up in July 27th, so maybe I’ll remind again in a future podcast, but it’s a free all-day workshop on different types of dancing. Which seems kind of interesting. I’ve never really thought of myself much as of a dancer, but maybe I’ll give it a shot and see how that works out.

So it’s all sorts of styles of dance on just one day, it’s July 27th, so if you’ve got a little bit of time, and it’s free. It’s just off of Rittenhouse. It’s 19th and Chestnut at the Philly Dance Fitness Studio 1923 Chestnut. And take a look at for more information on that.

Looks interesting if you’re, if that’s your thing. And if it’s not, maybe get out of your comfort zone just a little bit. Could be a lot of fun.

Roberta: What kind of dance? Ryan? Ballet and Modern and,

Ryan: yeah, it seems to be quite a few choices. The classes seem to run half an hour, maybe 45 minutes, but it’s from contemporary to tango, to Lindy Hop, tap, and belly dancing. There’s a strip tease dance. It kind of covers a wide swath of interest. So if you, if you don’t know what you’re interested in, it starts at 9:30, ends at 4:15, 4:30, take a look at it. And then there’s a showcase at the end at Plays and Players Theater on Delancey. In the evening. Could be a fun, interesting day.

Roberta: A dance show. Plays and Players is theater, do they do dance?

Ryan: I’ve never seen dance there. I’ve obviously, I’ve only seen theater there, but I mean, you could do whatever you want there. I’d be curious to see what that looks like. The Plays and Players event is from 5:30 to 7:30. Doors open at 5pm for that, and I’m not quite sure what that’ll be. It could be really interesting. Suggested donation to Plays and Players, the rest of it says free. Take a look at that, if that’s of interest to you.

Roberta: I want to swing around to the Merry Wives of Windsor. This is a Central Valley production. Where is Central Valley please?

Ryan: So the address is 2755 Station Avenue in Center Valley, Pennsylvania. So Center Valley, that’s just outside of Allentown. There’s a couple corporations that are headquartered there. I can’t think of what they are, but yeah, it’s basically Allentown, Bethlehem, Easton. It’s just just outside of that, just south of that. It’s just up 309, if you’re familiar with that.

Roberta: Vaguely.

Ryan: So it’s just like straight south of Lehigh University.

Roberta: Oh, yeah. Okay,

Ryan: Cool. All right.

Roberta: Center Valley, Shakespeare. Yeah. And then there’s Shakespeare in the Park, right? At Clark Park. 

Ryan: Clark Park, yeah. 

Roberta: Clark Park in the summer. Clark Park. I don’t know what, when that is, but

Ryan: They do do that in the summer.

Roberta: Yeah. Well, Ryan, we should wrap it up. The elephant in the room is the Supreme Court and what happened yesterday, which has reverberated throughout our land with yays and nays, fearmongering and all kinds of pushback. And I want to say we’re feeling it. People we’re with you here. Thinking the thought that this was not a good thing for our democracy for many reasons but that we can’t lose hope. There’s nothing gained by losing hope. Of course, the corollary to that is. You’ve gotta take action. We don’t know what kind of action. We’re not here to promote any particular action right now, but we just want to share our solidarity with you in your thoughts about what went on yesterday and say, we’re here with you. We’re here with you. So let’s organize, let’s do whatever it takes.

Ryan: Make art about it.

Roberta: Make art about it. Ryan, brilliant idea.

Ryan: Welcome to Artblog, everybody. We talk about art, so make some art. How do you feel about the Supreme Court? Let ’em know. Make some art.

Roberta: Yes, indeed. Yeah, indeed. And send it to them.

Ryan: Well, let us see it first. So,

Roberta: all right.

Ryan: Yeah,

Roberta: Not much else we can say about that, but we just wanted to say we’re here with you so we, we know it. We are concerned deeply. 

Ryan: Indeed, we are.

Roberta: Well, that’s it for me

Ryan: and this is it for me. This has been Artblog Radio’s Midweek News. And I’m Ryan.

Roberta: And I’m Roberta.

Ryan: Thanks. See you next time.

Roberta: Bye. Bye.

Meet Our Hosts

Roberta Fallon makes art, writes about art and thinks about art probably too much. She enjoy’s making podcasts and sharing art news. She’s the co-founder of Artblog with Libby Rosof and now is Artblog’s Executive Director and Chief Editor.
Ryan deRoche - Managing Editor - Artblog
Ryan deRoche is the Managing Editor. He continues his work with youth theater with and as a cycling coach at Kensington High School working for Bicycle Coalition of Greater Philadelphia’s Youth Cycling program.