Every morning I walk from HCA 19 to the Ardmore NHSL stop, take the light rail to 69th street, transfer to the MFL which I take to 2nd street station, and walk 5 blocks through Old City to the FringeArts office. I assumed this commute would be the extent of my familiarization with Philly on work days this summer, but the FringeArts festival guide dictates otherwise. When I’m not blogging about live arts, emailing artists or formatting webpages I am drawing maps. These maps are intended to help attendees of the Fringe Festival which takes place in Philly every September get from venue to venue. The festival presents theater, dance, music, visual arts and many interdisciplinary performances in Center City, Old City, Northern Liberties, Kensington, South Philly, Northwest Philly, West Philly and the suburbs (including Bryn Mawr this year!). I draw basic grids, landmarks, narrow streets I’ve never seen before and mark festival venues on the maps. A world which was somewhat foreign to me three weeks ago now fits on a piece of A3 paper. As a result I’ve learned a lot about the layout of Philadelphia, and looking at maps from previous years I have started to detect patterns of gentrification based on the locations of “hip” performance spaces. I have learned that unimaginable worlds appear tangible if you only give them your time and effort.
Another world has also become smaller to me—the world of Philly artists. I started off reading interviews on the FringeArts blog and inputting names for the upcoming festival, but along the way I was asked to contact artists and help them with performance logistics. This way I’ve gotten to talk to dozens of people whose work I loved learning about. A highlight for me was getting to correspond with Vashti DuBois, the founder of the Colored Girls Museum, an amazing museum created in the artist’s own home in Germantown. In addition to writing to artists I have gotten to see them! I’ve seen two performances at FringeArts and kept recognizing people I had read about in the crowd. I felt like I was surrounded by celebrities at first. I’ve learned that people are almost always excited to talk about their work. The festival coordinator at Fringe, Jarrod, told me that he writes an email introducing himself to a new artist he’s interested in at least once a week. In the following month I hope to become more courageous and befriend some of the artists I’ve become a fan of.