Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts Sends City into Another Time

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Kait Lavinder, for GPA - “If you had a time machine . . .” That is the question this year’s Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) begins to ask, letting the individual discover the rest. PIFA takes people on a journey through space and time with a month of performances and exhibitions around Philadelphia.

"Time Travel Plaza" in the lobby of the Kimmel Center is the hub of PIFA. A massive interactive "Time Machine" acts as the entranceway to every moment of history chronicled in the 51 artistic works that constitute the festival.

PIFA Artistic Director and Producer Jay Wahl explains, “I was thinking about a theme that could take all of the city on a journey and what kind of theme will do that; and I feel like Philadelphia’s a big history town.” Wahl is also the Director of Public Events at the Kimmel Center. 

Wahl emphasizes the vital role PIFA plays in creating a “Global Philadelphia” by saying the artistic and cultural celebration is not only about Philadelphia’s history, but also focuses on American history, world history, Civil Rights history, women’s history, and so on. He elaborates, “One of the goals of the festival is to really put a spotlight on all the rich cultural attractions and artists we have working here.”

Drawing attention to Philadelphia’s international community works in tandem with attracting international acts to the City of Brotherly Love. King’s College, part of the University of Cambridge in the United Kingdom, was founded in 1441 by Henry VI. King’s College Choir is one of the oldest and most renowned in the world; and it is making its first trip to Philadelphia this month to perform in PIFA.

PIFA volunteer John Devine expresses the extent of PIFA’s reach: “I had a native Philadelphian come in today with two friends from out of town who had told her about the festival, rather than she telling them about the festival.” He says the concept of PIFA and the various events that form it promote a global Philadelphia by making people more aware of their place on the earth.

One compelling aspect of PIFA is described by Kimmel Center Marketing and Communications Specialist Amanda Klein. She discusses the Time Machine kiosks: these technologies aggregate moments in world history that have happened in a person’s lifetime by drawing upon inputted personal information. Visitors’ life timelines are projected into a multimedia display in the Time Machine every evening after 7:30pm, when video, lights, and bright colors explode to create a mystical experience.

Another PIFA highlight is the original 20 minute musical Flash of Time. The performance brings together song, puppetry, and dance to portray fleeting moments in history and to convey the image of one interconnected world. Jill Keys and Bren Thomas attended the production because they are friends with the stage manager. Both say they were impressed and plan on attending more PIFA performances. Flash of Time is free to the public and can be seen until April 27th every Tuesday through Sunday at 7pm and 10:30pm in the Kimmel Center.

Internationally acclaimed Canadian-American musician Rufus Wainwright can also be heard at the Kimmel Center. His moment in time will take audience members to one of the most spectacular nights in entertainment history: Judy Garland’s famous 1961 Carnegie Hall show. Wainwright will recreate excerpts from the Judy Garland program on April 21st at 8pm.

PIFA’s core values of collaboration, innovation, and creativity aim to fulfill philanthropist Leonore Annenberg’s dream of Philadelphia hosting a world-wide arts festival. Before her death in 2009, she set aside a grant to make PIFA possible. 2011 marked the first year Philadelphia was home to this biennial international festival of the arts.

Annenberg’s vision comes alive through Wahl’s summarization that the main purpose of PIFA is “to really broaden the scope of what Philly can do, what it does, and who should come here to see it.” PIFA employs theater, music, dance, photography, film, sculpture, puppetry, and other art forms to position Philadelphia as a city that welcomes and encourages multifarious communities.

PIFA’s festivities, which commenced on March 28th, will culminate on April 27th with a huge block party on South Broad Street where, as Wahl pronounces, “the gates of time literally open up and spill out into the street.” The street fair will span from Chestnut Street to South Street.

Photo courtesy of With Art Philadelphia



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