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Philadelphia City Guide

By: Mary Mihaly

Philadelphia Arts & Culture

©2006 Jon Perlmutter Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program has transformedthousands of blank city walls into works of art.

Since the days when Ben Franklin's writings and inventiveness so dramatically changed his neighbors' lives, Philadelphia's creative spirit has thrived. Today, hundreds of galleries, performance stages, music venues and arts schools operate here.

Some, such as the acclaimed Philadelphia Museum of Art and the Academy of Music, are famous institutions, while dozens of community-based artistic efforts have gained their own momentum. One that's earned the national spotlight is the Mural Arts Program (MAP), begun in 1984 as an anti-graffiti project. Over the years, more than 2,400 lifeless walls have been transformed into historic scenes and inspiring landscapes. Watch for them as you walk around town; they're everywhere!

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Arts organizations everywhere are financially challenged these days, but Philadelphian's have found strength in numbers: More than 300 non-profit cultural groups are united in the Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance, whose ongoing "Campaign for Culture" works to boost arts awareness and attendance at cultural events.

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Philadelphia

Insider's Guide: The Best of Arts & Culture in Philadelphia

Philadelphia has several major performance venues -- the Academy of Music (Broad and Locust Sts), the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts (3680 Walnut St), the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts (Broad and Spruce Sts), and the Mann Center for the Performing Arts (5201 Parkside Ave).

Beyond those, you'll find smaller gems such as the Painted Bride Art Center (230 Vine St), an Old City alternative arts organization that not only offers poetry, dance, theatre, and jazz, it even mounts art exhibits. "The Bride" is a professional venue with attitude; performers have included Carlos Santana, Spalding Gray, and Penn & Teller.

Another respected-but-small acting company is Freedom Repertory Theatre (1346 N Broad St), which is Philly's "Avenue of the Arts." This African-American theater, housed in an historic mansion, presents plays ranging from its signature drama, inspired by Langston Hughes' gospel play "Black Nativity," to classics by James Baldwin.

And for affordable, outstanding drama, try Philly's university theaters. Temple University's Theater Program (Tomlinson Theater, 1301 W Norris St), is the longest-running in the city, and featured "Hamlet" and "The Heidi Chronicles" in a recent season, while Villanova (Vasey Hall, 800 Lancaster Ave, Villanova), offers one of the few master's-level theater programs in the United States.

For dance, no company perks up an audience like Headlong Dance Theatre (1170 S Broad St), which draws on influences as diverse as ballet, sign language, tap, and life experiences in its choreography. This is not your mother's ballet company.

The visual arts, too, are strong in Philadelphia. The Clay Studio (139 N 2nd St) is all about clay; exhibits might include gold-and-lapis teapots by an artist who was inspired by delicate Japanese kimonos or more whimsical items.

For a true Philadelphia treasure, don't miss the Rodin Museum (22nd St and Franklin Parkway), which is considered the largest Auguste Rodin collection outside Paris. Bronze casts of Rodin's greatest pieces are among the 128 sculptures displayed, along with his Eternal Springtime, Apotheosis of Victor Hugo, and a bronze cast of his immortal The Thinker.

Philadelphia is ringing (literally) with famous landmarks and architecture for visitors to enjoy. Learn more about these sites on the next page.