The Re-Branding of Philadelphia as Arts Destination, 1955-1962

Arts Festival Poster, March 19, 1962 (

“Some of us may be inclined to think and talk of Philadelphia in terms of magnificent buildings, colossal machines and other products of imaginative planning,” said Mayor Joseph Clark in 1955. “Not forgotten, but somewhat less talked about today in the cultural vitality which has always identified Philadelphia nationally and throughout the world. Our city is nobly endowed with schools in every field of art, with outstanding art treasures and with widely valued art activities. All of these are expanding rapidly and with a sensitivity to the spirit of our age which I believe will account for much of the city’s greatness in the future.”

And so, Philadelphia launched an “Art Festival,” a collection of performances and exhibitions that would draw 50,000 attendees. The new idea of re branding the city as an arts destination would catch on, if a bit slowly. In 1959, the second “arts festival” (now plural) got off to its start, complete with a rationale, as explained in the Inquirer:

“Modern technology and increased productivity have added golden hours to everyone’s days. Some of these extra hours, of course, are devoted to sports and travel, gardening, bird watching and the like. But a steadily increasing proportion are being used for the enjoyment of the arts. Never before have so many people taken such an active interest in paintings and sculpture, music, dancing, the theater, and all the other divisions of art. To encourage this growing interest and to acquaint the people of Philadelphia and its suburbs with their wealth of art facilities, is the purpose of the Festival” which presented more than 100 events.

The third festival took place in 1962.

“The city is going on a 16-day crash diet of high-calorie culture,” proclaimed the Daily News on June 8th. “It’s called the Philadelphia Arts Festival… And if this can’t get a fellow away from his television set, nothing can.”

Plastering of the First Kiosks, June 7, 1962 (

“Music, ballet, painting, sculpture, architectural exhibits, poetry drama, you name it, Philadelphia will have it. And a good many of the cultural dishes will be just what the best things in life are supposed to be – free as the air. Most of them, in fact, will be in the air. … There’ll be more than 100 events, more than 5,000 performers—pros, amateurs, students… An estimated one million persons will peek at some phase of the fête before the curtain rings down on June 24.”

The kickoff included the opening of major exhibits at the Museum of Art and the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, an illustrated lecture by Jack Bookbinder, director of art education, Philadelphia Public Schools: “Understanding and Enjoyment of Modern Art.”  The festival included “an all-star jazz concert” under the stars including Billy Krechmer and his five-man group; pianist Bernard Peiffer with Gusti Nemeth; bassist Billy Root and his octet, and the Vincent Montana Trio. It featured a program of folk songs with George Britton at the Hospitality Center (at what is now Love Park). In all, the festival sponsored by the Mayor’s Arts Advisory Council was a packed schedule of events from a clothesline art exhibition at Rittenhouse Square to the Ferko Mummers String Band on the Parkway, to square dancing at the Cheltenham Shopping Center.

Theatrical performances included “an evening of comedy” featuring  Jules Feiffer’s “Crawling Arnold,” the barroom scene from Sean O’Casey’s “The Plough and the Stars” and scenes from Moliere’s “The Imaginary Invalid.” Dance soloists at the Philadelphia Museum of Art featured character sketches by Andrey Brookspan, Leah Dillon and her Dance Arts Group, Sally Gibbs McClure and her Spanish dance group, and solos by Malvena Taiz.

Word spread via schedules posted on 25 temporary kiosks throughout Center City.

Arts Festival Awards Presentation at the Warwick Hotel June 15, 1962 (

The highlight event took place on Saturday evening, June 16th when more than 5,000 filled the cavernous Convention Hall (then in West Philadelphia) for a free concert of Rachmaninoff’s Rhapsody on a Theme of Paganini (Jerome Lowenthal, soloist) and works by Shostakovich, Barber, Gershwin and Bernstein.

The Mayor’s Arts Advisory Council honored eleven Philadelphia creatives “for bringing credit and renown to the city.” Recipients were presented with engraved silver plates. They were:

Architecture: Louis I. Kahn “who did the Art Gallery at Yale and teaches at Penn and Princeton.”

City Planning: Roy Larson, president of the Philadelphia Art Commission, “who has ‘kept a watchful eye on the design of the city.’”

Dance: Zachary Solov, “who, after leaving Philadelphia, studied with Balanchine, Scholler and Loring and who was selected by Rudolf Bing to bring a new look to the Metropolitan Opera.”

Fashion: Tina Leser, “noted designer.”

Literature: Loren Eiseley, provost of the University of Pennsylvania “and prize-winning author of The Firmament of Time.”

Music: Samuel Barber, “composer of prize-winning works and first American to have his work performed at the Salzburg Festival”; famed bassoonist Sol Schoenbach, of the Philadelphia Orchestra and Woodwind Quintet; and Susan Starr, “pianist who recently took second place in the Tchaikovsky International Exhibition in Russia.”

Painting: Charles Sheeler, “’the grand old man of painting,’ who studied here, later in Spain, France and Italy.”

Theater: Playwright George Kelly, “of the famous local family, who won the Pulitzer Prize 37 years ago with Craig’s Wife.” And actress Ethel Waters, “Chester-born star known for her work on Broadway and Hollywood.”

[Sources: Gertrude Benson, “Art Festival Sets Array of Awards,” Inquirer, January 30, 1955; “20,000 at Museum See Opening of Art Festival,” Inquirer, February 26, 1955; Hugh Scott, “The Arts Festival,” Inquirer Magazine, January 18, 1959; “Citywide Stage is set for 16-Day Art Festival,” The Philadelphia Daily News, June 8, 1962; “3rd Festival of Arts Opens on Saturday,” Inquirer, June 9, 1962; [Advertisement] “Free Tickets Philadelphia Arts Awards Gala, Convention Hall, 34th and Spruce, Friday, June 15, 8:15 PM,” Inquirer, June 13, 1962; “City to Honor Eleven Artists from Area,” The Philadelphia Daily News, June 15, 1962; “Phila. Pays Tribute To 11 for Achievement In the World of Arts,” Inquirer, June 16, 1962; Samuel L. Singer, “Concert Highlights Art Awards Gala,” Inquirer, June 16, 1962; “Arts Festival Events at Peak,” Inquirer, June 17, 1962.]