JOIN THE GRID TEAM! We’re Hiring an Advertising and Distribution Associate

We’re Hiring an Advertising and Distribution Associate
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Grid is has the soul of an alt-weekly, and is a change agent in the form of a monthly magazine. We reflect the best of the Philadelphia region: our social entrepreneurs, food innovators and wellness advocates, our makers and doers, artists and activists. Our priorities and politics are informed by social, racial, economic and environmental justice. Grid is distributed free in the Philadelphia region, and is also available by subscription. We reach over 60,000 intellectually curious and actively engaged readers each month.

We seek a highly organized, detail-oriented person to be our Advertising and Distribution Associate. This team member would work closely with the advertising and editorial team to ensure that Grid is distributed throughout the city, including supervising our delivery drivers. They will also support the advertising team in managing our sales database, ensuring that ads submitted to Grid meet our design specifications and are paid on time, and carry out marketing duties as assigned.

We're looking for someone who:

• Enjoys phone and in-person relationship-building

• Has strong analytical skills

• Has an assertive personality and strong project management skills

• Is self-motivated and has the ability to prioritize projects

• Shares a vision of a just and sustainable Philadelphia and world

This is a full-time paid position with generous benefits, stationed in our Center City office.

TO APPLY

We care about cover letters. Explain your interest, convey your passion and tell us why you want to be a part of our team at Grid. Email resume with cover letter ASAP to: Jobs@GridPhilly.com

One Art Community Center is an oasis of healing, learning and support in West Philadelphia

Photo courtesy of Hoshea Hart-Rogovin

Photo courtesy of Hoshea Hart-Rogovin

One Love

by Alex Jones

On an unassuming block of North 52nd Street in West Philadelphia, Malaika Hart and her family have spent more than a decade working toward their vision: an oasis of sustainability and healing where an abandoned lumberyard-turned-short-dumping-ground once stood.

That vision has become One Art Community Center, a sprawling project that has reclaimed abandoned storefronts and lots on a triangle of land within the intersections of 52nd, Harland and Warren streets, just south of Lancaster Avenue.

The center’s stated mission is to “inspire people to creatively heal and express themselves through the varied forms of art”—such as visual or performance art, holistic and martial arts, urban gardening and culinary arts, literature and culture, or even sustainable design.  

Regardless of the subject, One Art’s work is about creating opportunities for this community to be together, heal each other, grow and learn.

“‘Each one, teach one’ is a really important concept to incorporate into spaces like this—but really, anywhere,” says Hart. It’s a proverb that originates in the communities of enslaved Africans brought to the United States, most of whom were denied the opportunity to learn to read: It calls on those who did learn to pass on their knowledge to others.

One Art provides its organizers, visiting artists and practitioners with the space and encouragement to do just that, and it provides the neighborhood with a safe space, community hub and learning environment—all on one block.

“Education has been a key to making sustainability work [at One Art], because if just your people know how to do it, it's not sustainable,” says Hart. “We have to reach everybody.”

At One Art, neighborhood residents—who can attend events free of charge—as well as the community at large, may take regular classes that promote physical fitness, groundedness and empowerment, often with a focus on teachings and traditions of the African diaspora.

“[These classes are] geared toward our community, so someone’s not coming in and being the only student of color in a martial arts class—they’re learning African martial arts,” says Hart.

Vita Saana, which was developed in Philadelphia in the 1970s, places a focus on self-defense and close-quarters combat. The origins of capoiera, a Brazilian martial art, can be traced to communities of Africans enslaved by the Portuguese in the 16th century. And Kemetic yoga is based on body movement, breathing and meditation practices traced to ancient Egypt.

“[Students are] able to connect with their roots and culture, which is really empowering, and the [kind of] empowerment that is really needed right now, especially for our youth,” says Hart.

Meet Hart in person—a beaming, enthusiastic, calming presence—and you’ll understand how she was able to get City Hall to drop fines against her when she was cited for keeping a quiet flock of hens on the urban farm that comprises about half of One Art’s footprint. Raised in a family of activists—“before I could walk, we were marching”—Hart also holds a master’s degree in multicultural education, and she has carried on the work of her late husband, Benjamin Reid, who began work on the project, then called Wall Street International, in 2001.

“The first thing was cleanup,” says Hart, “and then it was just this organic manifestation of this bigger vision that was bigger than any one person and [is] still bigger than any one person that’s on our team.”

The center grew organically as time and money allowed; visiting artists and fellow advocates left their mark, planting fruit trees and adding murals (or, in one case, a permanently parked psychedelic school bus).

“We have a lot of partnerships, because we’ve done everything thus far without any funding,” Hart explains. ”It’s been challenging, it’s been a slow-growing period, but we feel like it’s helped us to really establish strong roots.”

That slow, organic growth has shaped not just the services and opportunities it provides to an underserved community, but also the shape and spaces of the center.

Beyond the bamboo-lined cement courtyard that serves as an entryway from 52nd Street, the interior of One Art is made up of a maze of rooms small and large: artist workshops, social and performance spaces that evoke an old-school, secret nightclub vibe, a recording studio, a soon-to-open café, an art gallery and a healing center.

The neighborhood’s state representative, Vanessa Lowery Brown, even rents office space in one of the buildings on One Art’s property; it helps to connect residents with the center’s work and raise awareness about its offerings.

“Every day there [are] lots of people that come through here and are getting services, getting assistance with a number of things,” Hart says, “and they then [say,] ‘Oh, I didn’t know that you have martial arts here, I’ve been wanting to get my son into [that].’”

Hart is particularly proud of the healing center, which is rented by a practitioner certified in several different kinds of massage therapy. In addition to massage clients, the space hosts Healing of the Nations, a regular event held on the last Sunday of each month that includes lectures by practitioners as well as healthy vegan meals. A fair-style setup allows attendees to connect with diverse healers and learn about different practices. An apothecary-style shop in one area offers herbal preparations and handmade body care products for sale.

“We love when people are like, ‘Oh, I’ve never had a massage before,’ and they’re coming in on one of our community days and they can get a free massage,” says Hart. “Especially with our elders, sometimes this is the first time that they’ve ever experienced things like that. That’s one of the joys [of operating this space], allowing people to experience these types of healing that they were not open to, maybe, because they didn’t even know about it.”

And the healing extends to the outdoors. Behind One Art’s buildings, there’s ample space and a stage for performances, plus the foundation of what Hart hopes will be the city’s first Earthship, a 100 percent sustainable structure complete with greenhouse and bathrooms. Tidily stacked bags of glass bottles and aluminum cans are also stored here, waiting to become bottle bricks that Hart’s current husband makes for building and decorating projects.

At workshops, students learn to make these bricks; the bottoms of the bottles appear in a colorful heart motif on indoor and outdoor walls and surfaces around the center.

“We want to share these skills, we want to give people something to go home with,” says Hart. “Because the more we can spread the information, the more powerful it is.”

Beyond the outdoor performance space is the farm, where chickens roost, fruit trees flourish and communal garden beds teem with organically grown produce in warm months. Here, One Art hosts student groups from neighborhood children to nearby university sustainability programs, teaching skills such as how to care for chickens and the art of raised-bed gardening.

“I really like when the colleges come out,  because a lot of those students are in their intellectual world, and this is like, ‘Oh no, this is real,’” Hart says. “Sustainability is real and it’s happening right here in this city.”

While Hart sees the gradually progressing, organic growth of One Art’s spaces and practices as a natural way to build a strong and sustainable foundation for the center and its work, she has a few reasons to be particularly excited for the 2017 season.

Pending approval of building permits, she hopes the Earthship will be finished in the near future. An integral part of the outdoor kitchen, the cob oven (made from affordable materials like clay, sand, bricks and straw), is scheduled to be completed this year. Hart plans to get the One Art Gallery & Cafe up and running. A Philadelphia outpost of the Patch Adams Free Clinic is slated to be built on an area of the property, as is the first tiny house in a project designed to provide affordable, sustainable housing to homeless community members.

Oh, and one more thing: After 15 years without funding, One Art has secured nonprofit status, a prerequisite to apply for grants to fund its programming.

“We’re like, ‘Oh wow, if we could do this with no money, imagine what’s gonna happen [now],’” Hart says.

Grant funding might give the One Art team the resources to enhance the ways they promote sustainability while serving their community—but, as Hart points out, getting this far without it has proven that their vision could be lasting, shaped by their community and like-minded partners, and truly sustainable.

“I think we’re ready—we have our foundation,” Hart says. “The importance of having a strong foundation is that when the winds blow or things are pulling you in this direction or that direction, you’re still firm."

A quick guide to getting your garden started early

It’s Time to Start the Seeds

by Laura Everard

When it comes to growing your own plants from seed, know your growing conditions, pay attention to the plant’s specific needs—and keep experimenting. The joy of starting seeds indoors comes in part from watching those small green shoots work their way out of the soil when the mornings are still dark and the weather still bites.

The Basics

Seeds, container selection and soil
When selecting your seeds: Check for things like disease resistance and lighting requirements. If you live on a shady block, you might not have much success growing a lot of vegetables and flowers. There are options, it just takes a little research.

Choosing a container: Make sure it has proper drainage. I prefer plastic because it can be reused and is easy to clean. Using individual peat pots is also a popular choice since they can be planted directly in the ground without hassling the roots—although peat is a nonrenewable resource and can dry out quickly. Cardboard egg cartons are a good, cheap, more eco-friendly option. You can honestly start seeds in anything, even something like yogurt cups with holes in the bottom. Get creative!

Good soil drainage is key and is largely affected by soil choice: I recommend a seed starting mix, which is very porous and easily obtained at garden centers. Regular planting mix is often dense and retains too much moisture for seeds to thrive.

If you’re saving seeds during or at the end of the season: Seal opened packages as tightly as possible, place them in a Mason jar and leave in a cool, dry, dark place.

Germination
Follow instructions: It sounds simple, but you’ll get the best results if you read the instructions on the packet, which will include when to start the seeds and how deep to plant them. If there is no packet and you aren’t sure about where to start, just look it up online. If you don’t know the variety, just look up the general plant (i.e., tomato, sunflower, etc.), and you should be able to piece together the basic sowing and care instructions.

Temperature: If you are starting your seeds indoors, keep them in a warm place (60 to 75 degrees). Waterproof heating mats are great tools for keeping seed flats evenly warm, which can speed up and increase germination. Although effective tools, they are not required.

Sowing seeds directly in your container: Before planting your seeds, place the soil in a container and evenly moisten it without oversaturating. Pack the soil down firmly, 1/2 inch below the lip of the container. Place multiple seeds per hole at the required spacing and depth (you will thin them down to the strongest one once they have emerged). Once the seeds are placed, push the soil over them and pack it lightly but evenly.  

Using the paper towel method to germinate seeds: Wet 3 paper towels and place seeds inside, making sure they don’t touch. Carefully put the towels in a plastic bag (don’t seal it).  Check daily and mist when dry. Plant the seeds in soil as soon as they germinate.

A tip for germinating carrots: Save paper towel and toilet paper rolls and use a rubber band to secure some paper towel or a coffee filter to one end. Fill the tubes with clean soil, stopping 1/2 inch from the top. Create a 1/4-inch-deep furrow and plant up to 4 carrot seeds across it.  Lightly cover the seeds with soil and softly pack it down.

Helping seedlings thrive
Lots of sun is crucial: Generally, seedlings need 8 to 15 hours of direct sunlight to thrive, which can be problematic in the winter. If you have a very sunny, south-facing window, you might be able to get enough light to produce healthy seedlings. If your house is on the dark side, I would recommend rigging up grow lights (hung about 12 inches above the tray) and a light timer (you can purchase these at any large hardware store).  

Watering before the seedlings emerge: Some flats come with clear covers—if not, lightly cover the top of the soil with damp paper or plastic wrap with holes until the seedlings start to emerge. Spritz the paper if it dries out.

Watering after seedlings emerge: Use a spray bottle because the stream from a watering can may be too intense. The soil should not be too wet because this will cause the seeds to rot.

Transplanting
When it’s time for them to be on their own: Once your seedlings have formed 2 to 3 sets of mature leaves, they are ready to transplant into their own container and can go outside the second week of April.

Easy Starter Seeds
Predicted last frost: April 6

Zinnias
Start indoors around the end of February and transplant once all threat of frost is gone. Space the seedlings a few inches apart.  You should get flowers in 60 to 70 days. These are  easy-to-grow show-stoppers that produce plenty of stunning cut flowers.

Peppers
Start 8 to 10 weeks before last frost. You can start these seeds with the paper towel method. Lots of light, not too much water. Transplant after the threat of frost is gone. Plants will fruit 60 to 160 days after planting.

Carrots
Sow anytime after mid-March. They can take up to 2 weeks to germinate, so don’t panic if they don’t show signs of life right away. It usually takes about 60 to 80 days after you plant the seeds for them to reach full maturity. Resow seeds every few weeks during cool weather only.

Lettuce
You can sow the seeds outside a couple of weeks before last frost; they have fast germination and high yield. Sow seeds 1/2 inch deep and between 4 to 18 inches apart (depending on variety).  Resow new seeds every 2 weeks to keep the crop going, but taper off a little in the warmer months.

Basil
Start them inside a couple of weeks before April 6, or plant outside after the threat of frost is gone. Bury seeds 1/4 inch deep and 6 to 12 inches apart. This is a fast plant to germinate as long as it is in a sunny area with well-drained soil.

Chives
Plant 1/4 inch deep in well-drained soil. If you want to plant the seeds directly outdoors, wait until after April 6. If you start the seeds inside, keep them somewhere cool and dark until they sprout, then place them somewhere with a lot of light.

Forget-me-nots
Sow indoors a couple of weeks before the last frost for longer blooms, or directly in the ground after the threat of frost is gone. Plant 1/8 inch deep and 4 to 5 inches apart and then thin them to 10 to 12 inches apart.

A young playwright turns teasing in the classroom into applause in the auditorium

Illustration by Heather Franzen Rutten

Illustration by Heather Franzen Rutten

Second Act

essay by Angela A. Bey

The 100-year-old brownstone of John M. Patterson Elementary School in Philadelphia held my first-grade classroom. I remember everything vividly—dried-up Crayola markers, paint-chipped walls and photocopies of “Hooked on Phonics” workbook pages.  

My peers walked in close-knit groups down the halls, and certain lunch tables were off limits to me. We were all from the same neighborhood, but I talked “too white,” my hair was “too nappy” and I cried “too much” for their liking. Before long I grew uncomfortable with myself, too. This ascribed identity pervaded every aspect of my life. I grew quiet—very quiet—and went days without saying anything at all.

My first-grade teacher, Mrs. D.W., helped me find my voice through creative writing.

One day, she handed me paper and a pen. “Homework,” she said. “Write down what you’re feeling and bring it to class on Monday—anything you want.”

I found myself completing D.W.’s assignment a thousand times over—between classes, at recess, after school. I wrote about streetlamps, my favorite corner store and dandelions in the summer—anything I wanted, just like she said.

Before long, my interests expanded. I wondered how my stories would sound to music, if dialogue could be spoken onstage, if the rhythm of language could inspire bodies to move. However, Patterson Elementary did not have a performing arts program, so when I told D.W., she simply said to “Keep creating!”—and so I did.  

At the end of the year, she notified my parents of Philadelphia Performing Arts Charter School. It was relatively new, but had better academics and resources than Patterson and a brilliant performing arts program. After a short conversation, my sister and I were placed in a lottery for that fall.

For two months, we raced to the mailbox every morning and dreamed aloud at the dinner table every night. By the time a letter came in the mail, I’d written several fairy tales about my new school. Only, the letter was not for me; it was my little sister’s. I was devastated.

My parents did not give up. Immediately, they collected my stories and scheduled a meeting with the principal; Mrs. D.W. was there, too. At the end of a short conference, I was enrolled.

PPACS was everything I imagined and more. My classmates welcomed me with open arms. We danced ballet, learned French and sang in choir. I also continued  my passion for creative writing. PPACS’ arts education was invaluable. It equipped me with a unique skill set that will help me pursue fields in and outside of the arts.

I think back to who I was years ago and recognize that I am not alone. Plenty of students are told they are insufficient and may not have someone like Mrs. D.W.—or arts programs—to show them otherwise. A student’s worth should never be defined by the scores of their tests or the size of their group of friends. A person should be able to express themselves through multiple outlets and be valued for the diversity of their mind and talent. To think otherwise eliminates and excludes voices that are integral to the fabric of our society.

I was convinced I did not matter. Arts education made me think otherwise. Unfiltered, honest outlets for kids are vital, and it’s what the performing and creative arts offer. Every voice is a thread that binds the delicate fabric of our society. Now more than ever, we cannot drop stitches or cut corners.

Angela Antoinette Bey is a playwright, performer and student at Ursinus College. For more information, please visit angelabey.com.

Across neighborhoods, time zones and generations, RESPECT Alliance creates future leaders

Childhoods Lost and Found

by Justin Klugh

The Raymond Rosen housing projects at 22nd and Diamond streets in North Philadelphia were an unsettling place to be a child. Built in 1954 for residents with low incomes, they were in time swallowed by drugs, crime and disinvestment, all of which served as the backdrop for Connie Grier’s adolescence.

“Our family endured harsh realities,” she recalls.

Grier’s upbringing would have been very different had it not been for her father’s continued advocacy to get her into a school more suited to her gifts, and for the involvement of teachers who listened to and empowered her. “Had my father not advocated for me, my life would definitely not be the same,” Grier says.

While Grier has built a robust career in nonprofits and education as an adult, she knows that her own early experiences continue to manifest themselves in the lives of Philadelphia’s youth.

“It has become very easy to treat Philadelphia's children like second-class citizens,” she says, “to send them to school with limited access to things that youth in other areas of the state take for granted.”

Grier drew on her own experience of having an involved father and teachers who helped her as she created the RESPECT Alliance, a nonprofit she founded in 2011 to fill in gaps and build connections among the homes, schools and communities of children in Philadelphia. She wants to lessen the impact of obstacles put in place by economic status and give kids the support system they need to succeed. In a big, loud city like Philadelphia, especially when you’re alone, it’s easy to feel drowned out or left behind.

Grier aims to keep the lines of communication open and support those who have fallen into the cracks. Youth can attend Know Your Rights forums in collaboration with the Childhoods Lost Foundation, where lawyers educate children on laws and their rights. They can connect with mentors or get involved in arts programs that help them process big issues facing their community or their peer group.

“Raising children with the thought that they are to be ‘seen but not heard’ does both our youth and our future society a great disservice,” Grier says. “Parents who are courageous enough to allow their children to ask questions respectfully, and express their feelings respectfully, are helping to raise children who are independent thinkers, who will advocate for themselves.”

As is often the case, Grier’s work has been strengthened by collaboration. Born and raised in South Philly, Kaliek Hayes has joined with Grier and the RESPECT Alliance to facilitate workshops, notably the Know Your Rights campaign and The Unheard Monologues, a theatrical series.

“Whatever we can think of that young people battle with, we show it to them onstage,” Hayes says. He has been writing and producing stage plays on issues facing urban youth for the last five years, including productions that address HIV/AIDS, depression and bullying. He draws from his own experience growing up too quickly; unlike Grier, Hayes didn’t have the support that he needed to thrive at a young age. A CBS news story on Hayes laid out his life: At 13, Hayes and his brother witnessed the murder of his best friend. He was a father at 14, turned out of the house by 16. He dealt drugs, and by 20 he was in federal prison.

He wants to get to kids before their own childhoods are lost. Exposure alone is a boon for some youth, Hayes explains, “Just seeing what other people their age have dealt with and battled.” It’s that lack of connection, he says, that has left youth without a local foundation from which they can stabilize themselves.

Naturally, as a playwright, he’d like to see a deeper commitment to the arts in city programs. “From my perspective, the arts are lost in this city. I’d like to see more programs that benefit young people’s ideas and vision,” Hayes says. “That’s why we use the arts to try to advocate figuring out who ‘yourself’ is, and just growing and building toward that.”

He’s also seen how simply getting kids in the same room through the RESPECT Alliance’s multitude of programs has reignited previously deadened support systems.

“Kids who may have never known each other, seen each other, just seeing how certain programs will have them together—I’ve seen how that builds a sense of community,” Hayes recalls. “That’s another thing that’s missing, especially in urban areas: We lost a sense of community. We lost the sense of knowing each other and being there for each other.”

The STARS (Successful Teens: Aware, Resilient and Strong) program is one of the avenues through which the RESPECT Alliance directly addresses the “lack of awareness” of which Hayes speaks. STARS focuses on empowering young girls and now includes a global component in which they connect with youth in Africa. Mentees in the program are often provided with outlets and information to which they otherwise may not have been privy.

“Not many teens have access to information on college prep,” says STARS high school participant Yahnee Acklin, who is perusing pre-med collegiate programs. “Recently, we had a guidance counselor from [Norristown Area High School] come to one of our sessions, and she explained to us what we needed to do. If I didn’t have the program that I do on Saturdays, I wouldn’t have known about college prep at all. So, bottom line is that this program helps with issues that I think Philadelphia youth are going through.”

With STARS’ intention to nurture teen voices, Acklin says the value of attending sessions is in the open forum that it gives her and other attendees to discuss what’s on their minds and what they’ve been working on—a place to use their voice without concerns of unneeded reprisal or being ignored. Already, she’s seen other STARS members respond well to the environment after only a few weeks, crediting the intimacy of meetings for cultivating a safe space.

“The group is smaller, so you have the chance to say what you need to say, whenever you need to,” she says. “It makes it more comfortable for the mentees; you don’t have to worry about being drowned out by everyone else.”

The goals of all of RESPECT Alliance’s programs cascade into one another; in the broadest example, STARS is working toward flying Acklin and other local youths to its installations in West Africa this summer, bridging a pair of versatile communities and bolstering global perspectives among teens on two continents. Participation in community groups and activities builds supportive relationships with other kids, as well as adults, which leads to better social and emotional well-being. That can mean higher attendance rates in school and better participation in the classroom, which leads to better academic performance and higher graduation rates.

The intergenerational, local and intercontinental connections that Grier has helped create are a critical intercession for young people who may feel helpless, voiceless or trapped, and the RESPECT Alliance will continue to spark larger-scale change by supporting the youth who will become the next generation of leaders—including future doctors such as Acklin.

“I would definitely help,” Acklin says, “especially on the level that Miss Connie does. I would love to do that."

An Arab cultural center uses art as a common language

photos by Kriston Bethel

Building Bridges, Planting Seeds

by Nancy Chen

Once a week, master percussionist Hafez Kotain holds court in Jay Fluellen’s music class at Northeast High School in Philadelphia. During the 50-minute percussion lesson, an infectious energy and rowdy enthusiasm fills the room as every single student picks up an instrument and contributes to the rhythm. The group of 30 students are mostly boys, between 15 to 17 years old. Beyond that, it’s extremely diverse in terms of ethnicity—a mix of black, African-American, Hispanic, and a few Asian, Arab and white—as well as individual personality.

Some of the students are loud and disruptive, easily heard from the other side of the room. Others barely utter a word the entire time. What’s interesting to observe is that the most introverted students hit their drums just as loudly as the most vocal and clearly extroverted students. Outside the classroom, in the crowded and more anonymous hallways, many of these students probably never interact with each other. When they play rhythms together in music class, they are each finding a voice through their drums, and also learning to speak together.

Working with Fluellen, himself a professional musician and composer, Kotain teaches the students an assortment of both Middle Eastern and Latin rhythms, explaining along the way that each rhythm is associated with specific countries: “The laf and baladi rhythms are found in Syria, Lebanon, Palestine and Egypt, but not Morocco or Algeria. You also find them in Latin America, too, under a different name. You find the same rhythms in Latin America and the Middle East, because these rhythms all come from the same root in Andalusia.” Playing samples of each beat as he discusses them, Kotain creates a musical social studies lesson.

Smiles and laughter break out in the middle of boisterous drumming—one percussion pattern after another. Playing certain instruments seems as strenuous as some gym classes. Students are encouraged to try a new instrument every time, so it may be doumbek (a goblet-shaped drum that is common in the Middle East and North Africa) this week, then claves or maracas the next.

When he’s not teaching percussion to everyone from kindergarteners through college and beyond, Kotain plays as a core member of the Al-Bustan takht (traditional Arabic music platform) ensemble. Now in his early 40s, he speaks of carrying three cultures within him from three countries: the United States, from being in Philadelphia for more than 12 years; Venezuela, where he was born and first thought of as home; and Syria, where he lived during his formative teenage years, and where he won the top spot in Syria’s national percussion contest five years in a row.

When asked about his work with Al-Bustan, Kotain spoke passionately about the impact of teaching. He believes music is a form of therapy that brings people of all ages and backgrounds out of their shells—no matter how shy they may be and no matter what emotional baggage they may have brought to the lesson. Reflecting on the social and political climate at home and abroad, he said, “When some people think of the Middle East, all they think of is war, and—I don’t even want to say it—terrorism… What I do, with percussion and music, is to show the opposite—to show that there is a rich culture behind it. When I teach, I see over and over that people who don’t understand each other’s language can come together through the music. We don’t know what’s outside the door, with all this mess going on worldwide, but in the classroom we keep things positive. When we are together in music class, I see everyone come together in a kind of union. We call this sagrado [teamwork] in Venezuela.”

The percussion class led by Kotain is part of a multilayered, yearlong project called Tabadul led by Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture, a Philadelphia-based arts organization that is a national leader in presenting and teaching Arab culture. Tabadul, meaning “exchange” in Arabic, exemplifies Al-Bustan’s mission to promote cross-cultural exchange across ethnic, socioeconomic and religious boundaries.

The radical diversity of Northeast High School and the Northeast Philly community makes it fertile ground for Al-Bustan (Arabic for “the garden”) to sow the seeds of cross-cultural understanding and exchange. The Northeast is a popular area to resettle immigrants and refugees since it has access to public transportation, health services and affordable homes.

Serving Rhawnhurst, Oxford Circle and Fox Chase (among the Northeast Philly neighborhoods that have grown increasingly diverse through successive waves of immigration), NEHS is a microcosm of the wider diversity of the entire city, and perhaps the entire world. NEHS is the largest school in Philadelphia, with 3,400 students enrolled this school year, around 700 of whom are enrolled in the English as a second language (ESL) or English for speakers of other languages (ESOL) programs. About 60 languages are spoken in its hallways. And as an amusing bit of trivia, it is where Tony Danza tried his hand at being an English teacher, as documented in the 2010 A&E reality series “Teach: Tony Danza,” and his bestselling memoir “I’d Like to Apologize to Every Teacher I Ever Had: My Year as a Rookie Teacher at Northeast High.”

“While there’s a lot of diversity in the school, we hear of experiences of isolation and lack of communication. Parents feel like they don’t come into the school except to deal with disciplinary infractions,” said Nora Elmarzouky, Al-Bustan’s director of education. Al-Bustan has been collaborating with NEHS on and off for 10 years, offering programs that create opportunities for students, the school community and the broader city to come together and share the best of what different heritages and cultural traditions have to offer.

In the wake of 9/11
Al-Bustan was founded within a year after the terrorist attack on the World Trade Center on Sept. 11, 2001. Its first program was an Arab language and culture summer camp in July 2002. Founder and Executive Director Hazami Sayed wanted to create a supportive environment where Philadelphia youth (including her two young sons) could be immersed in the richness of Arab arts and culture.

Since its founding, Al-Bustan has been a secular and nonpolitical organization that focuses on presenting and teaching Arab arts and languages. The staff often encounters the terms “Arab” and “Muslim” being used interchangeably or mistakenly conflated. “Arab” refers to ethnic identity. “Muslim” is a religious affiliation.

“There’s an assumption that because we’re an Arab cultural organization we must be a Muslim organization. We certainly address Muslim religious culture as there’s a lot of overlap, but they’re not synonymous. Not all Arabs are Muslim and not all Muslims are Arab,” explained Elmarzouky.

Additionally, there is a tendency to view “Arab” as a monolithic identity, when contemporary Arab heritage is extremely heterogeneous. Today, Arabs reside in the 22 countries that are part of the Arab League, with a combined population of 423 million people. Someone who is Arab may be from Algeria, Bahrain, Comoros, Djibouti, Egypt, Iraq, Jordan, Kuwait, Lebanon, Libya, Mauritania, Morocco, Oman, Palestine, Qatar, Saudi Arabia, Somalia, Sudan, Syria, Tunisia, United Arab Emirates or Yemen.

Hannah Erdogan is a high school senior who has been involved with Al-Bustan for the past 10 years, since she first participated in Al-Bustan camp at 6. Erdogan grew up in suburban Yardley, about 40 minutes away from Philadelphia. Born in the U.S. to Egyptian and Turkish parents, Erdogan went to Al-Bustan camp because her parents wanted her to stay connected to her Arab heritage.

“I really looked forward to camp because it was the first time I was with people like me, in a community of our own. It was very different than my experience in school,” recalled Erdogan. “There were both Arab and non-Arab children—everybody was interested and open-minded about Arab culture. Participating in the camp and other Al-Bustan programs has assured me that I’m not alone. There are people like me who live in America, and I don’t need to hide the fact that I’m different. The camp really encouraged us to celebrate and learn from each other’s differences.”

Concurrent to the launch of the camp, Al-Bustan’s presence in Philly schools started as a mentorship initiative with an all-volunteer network of Arab-American professionals looking for ways to support Arab-American youth who were experiencing social tensions after 9/11—being targeted or attacked by their peers. Sayed recalled, “A group of us who were working in fields like law, education or pursuing graduate studies came in and tried to help them navigate a tough environment. Arab kids were getting into trouble and receiving disciplinary infractions. We encouraged the youth to stay in good academic standing so that things didn’t get worse. We met with students weekly after school and helped create a student club called Arab Future Leaders.”

Over the years, Al-Bustan has expanded and implemented different iterations of programs in response to the evolving needs in its partner schools. With increased financial investment, the organization now supports teaching artists during school and in after-school programs at NEHS, the Moffet Elementary School in Kensington, and the Albert M. Greenfield School in Center City.

Sharing the same ‘fears and hopes’
In November and December 2015, terrorist attacks in Paris (by an ISIL terrorist cell) and in San Bernardino, California (by a Muslim Pakistani-American couple), brought on a new wave of anti-Muslim rhetoric and instances of vandalism, death threats and hate crimes across the country, according to USA Today and advocacy groups. In Philadelphia, a severed pig’s head was left on the sidewalk in front of the Al Aqsa Islamic Society in Kensington. At NEHS, school administrators perceived the need for increased support for Arab and Muslim students, many of whom were new to the U.S. and were feeling isolated and ostracized. Some students even stopped coming to school because they didn’t feel safe, according to ESOL staff, who added that the students didn’t feel physically threatened so much as marginalized by society. At the administration’s invitation, Al-Bustan staff started convening female Muslim students through a group called the Muslim Girls Culture Club.

Many of the young Arab and Muslim women who have been part of the Muslim Girls Culture Club come from vastly different backgrounds and never interacted with each other before at NEHS. The club brought students struggling with isolation and transition together by highlighting what they had in common as women and immigrants. “Many of the young women in the club wore veils and traditional clothes rather than the school uniform. Language was also a challenging barrier—in some cases English was not the second but maybe the third or fourth language spoken by some of the students. We would do writing exercises, photography and other arts activities to prompt discussion and reflection, exploring their identities and how they are perceived, issues they faced. Our goal was to create a space of community and empowerment,” said Elmarzouky, who played a lead role in organizing the club.

NEHS’ former ESOL director, Patricia Ryan, recalled a turning point in the club: when the young women, with guidance from Elmarzouky and other Al-Bustan staff, made a presentation to their teachers and the administration that shared, for the first time, the personal stories of how they came to Northeast Philly.

“Many of the girls were the type who usually sat quietly in the classroom, and we never really heard them have a voice before,” Ryan said.  “So when they did this presentation, it was a significant shift in how they were viewed by their teachers and how they viewed themselves—as though they gained power and gained a voice when they shared their stories. The club helped them realize, though they came from all different countries, they shared the same fears and hopes.”

A few of the girls were present at a recent Al-Bustan Tabadul community workshop that brought about 50 NEHS students and teachers together and invited them to get to know each other better as they sampled a selection of ethnic foods. There was Gulalai and Zahra, bubbly best friends who call each other sisters, both from Afghanistan, wearing hijabs (head scarves) with jewel embellishments; Salawat from Sudan, who talked about her dream of becoming a doctor and going home to Sudan to help the homeless and sick people there; Mariam from Egypt, who got slightly choked up when she confessed she was struggling to make friends in school; and Rushana from Tajikistan, who said her family fled their home after her mother, a journalist, received death threats for publicly criticizing the government. Her family fled to Russia briefly, then Turkey for three years and finally to the United States. Rushana is intent on becoming a journalist, to carry on the spirit of her mother’s work. If people ask her where she is from, she says Turkey instead of Tajikistan, because “Tajikistan is a terrible place, full of corruption,” and “Turkey is where I was reborn, where I learned that Islam was about peace, not violence and death.”

In a hallway on the school’s second floor, there is an exhibition created by the Muslim Girls Culture Club that includes a map of where the girls’ families migrated from and photo portraits of the girls overlaid with writing. Across their portraits, many girls write about wearing a hijab as part of the expression of their individual identities, while showing a clear awareness of the stereotypes that exist about Muslims in America. Another common thread across their different stories is the tension between their home life—the expectations of their family and a traditional culture—and the newfound freedom of being an American high school student.

The idea of merging photography and writing in creative expression was inspired by the work of internationally renowned photographer and Macarthur Fellow Wendy Ewald. Ewald will be doing a four-week artist residency at NEHS this spring as part of the Tabadul project, working with a cross-section of students to create photography-based public art that will be exhibited across the city. Tabadul will be Ewald’s first project in Philadelphia, in a 40-year career of collaborating with youth and community in social-justice-oriented photography projects.

Sayed has been following Ewald’s work since 2003—the beginning of the Iraq War under the Bush administration—ever since she saw a New York Times cover story with the headline “A Nation at War: Arab-Americans.” She keeps a clipping of the article, which describes how Arab-American youths who weren’t even teenagers yet were inundated with images of war-torn Iraq, showing young faces resembling their own surrounded by destruction and grief. As a counterpoint to the Arabic language primers that had proliferated in the U.S. since 9/11, most of which focused on terms like “jihad” or “Al Qaeda,” Ewald worked with Arab-American youths in Queens to create a portrait series called “The Arabic Alphabet” that showed everyday language, including the words for neighbor and peace.

Creating a home for refugees
In direct response to the global refugee crisis and the recent influx of Syrian and Iraqi refugees to Philadelphia, Al-Bustan has launched (DIS)PLACED, a project exploring the theme of “displacement” in reference to both the global refugee crisis and more local resonances, including the experience of Philadelphians who have been displaced due to gentrification. The first phase of the project is to collect and document stories of displacement. The second phase is commissioning Arab artists of various disciplines—Lebanese poet Nazem El Sayed, Tunisian muralist eL Seed, Syrian installation artist Buthayna Ali and Syrian composer Kinan Abou-afach—to create new works that explore the commonalities across these experiences.

In the project’s first phase, Al-Bustan has been meeting recent refugees and immigrants through a series of Welcome Meet & Greets that started last November. “We got the idea to do Meet & Greets for refugees after we reached out to Nationalities Services Center (NSC) and Hebrew Immigrant Aid Society (HIAS). We asked those resettlement agencies how we could support the needs of Syrian refugees who have been coming to Philadelphia since 2015, and the Iraqi refugees who have been coming since 2008,” said Hazami Sayed. “Within our means as an arts organization, we realized what we could do is create a cultural space [with live music and art making] that is culturally familiar to people who have come a long way from their homes. We could create a space that’s welcoming, provides a meal, connects the refugees with other people and resources, and distributes donated goods.”

Together with NSC, HIAS and other community partners, they reached out to recent refugees who arrived in the last few months. Word spread to others who had been here longer. So far they have welcomed more than 300 refugees and recent immigrants at three events at the Friends Center (15th and Cherry streets). Speaking of a recent Meet & Greet event, longtime Al-Bustan program participant and volunteer Hannah Erdogan said, “People were meeting each other, creating a sense of community and being there for the refugees. There was an abundance of volunteers. So many people wanted to help, it was heartwarming. Everyone was smiling.”

‘I used to be just like those kids’
Donald Trump’s recent executive order to limit immigration and travel from seven predominantly Muslim countries—what many opponents are calling a Muslim ban—includes a cap on the total number of refugees to be admitted in the 2017 fiscal year to 50,000, significantly reduced from the ceiling of 110,000 put in place under Barack Obama. The order (which is still being contested and will likely move to the Supreme Court) has a very direct effect on the communities that Al-Bustan serves, including its staff members and the artists they want to bring to Philadelphia. “The current climate doesn’t change our work but emphasizes the urgency even further,” said Elmarzouky. “The silver lining is that there’s an increase of support and interest in our work. More organizations and companies want to work with Al-Bustan to counter the negative rhetoric about Muslims and Arabs.”

For better or worse, Sayed sees that the need for the organization has only grown over the past 15 years. “Sadly, due to a number of current events and today’s politics, there continues to be a great deal of misinformation and stereotyping out there [of Arab and Muslim people]. We stay focused on celebrating diversity, because it’s hard to demonize someone when you have learned something of their culture, after you’ve shared a table and talked to each other face-to-face.”

Lately, Al-Bustan has been planning to start a percussion class specifically for Iraqi and Syrian refugee and immigrant youth. When approached to teach the class, percussion director Kotain replied, “Of course I would do it! I used to be just like those kids when I went to school in Syria. Welcoming immigrants and refugees—it’s a responsibility we have. It’s a message we have to send."

7 Summer Camps Your Kids Will Love

Art, Science and Civic Engagement: It’s What They’ll Do on Their Summer Vacation

by Lauren Johnson

Children can still feel like they’re on a fun vacation even when they’re learning—especially if it involves riding a unicycle or starting a band. Summer camps these days extend well beyond the campfire. Here are a few your kids will be delighted  to write home about.

Philadelphia School of Circus Arts
The big top awaits your little one
5900A Greene St.

There’s no need to run away to the circus when Philadelphia School of Circus Arts is right here in your own backyard. Since 2008, the school has been the go-to place to discover the craft and mystique of circus arts, and its summer camp offers opportunities for the novice up to the experienced performer. Campers can try their hands at a variety of balancing and gravity-defying feats including trapeze, aerial silks, clowning, juggling, unicycling, plate spinning, tightwire—along with arts and crafts projects and rest time as needed. This season’s camp offers several options for participation, including Junior Circus Camp (ages 5 through 7), Youth Circus Camp (8 through 14) and Performance Intensive (8 through 18), where students get the chance to show what they’ve learned to family, friends and the general public. Sessions range from one to two weeks, and there is also an A La Carte Camp (ages 8 through 14) in which participants can drop in for a day or two, or stay the whole week. Kids can build strength, courage and flexibility in an environment that—above all—encourages having fun.

Butcher's Sew Shop
Not your mother’s home ec
1912 South St./800 S. 8th St.

Home economics is back with a modern flair at Butcher’s Sew Shop, where kids can learn a craft that’s both fun and functional. Situated inside a former butcher shop, the studio’s name pays homage to those who once learned a skilled trade to make a living. Students learn practicality and problem solving while bringing their creative ideas to fruition. To add to the fun, daily activities such as hula hooping contests, beanbag tournaments and scavenger hunts help keep the creative juices flowing. Summer camp is broken down into weeklong, themed sessions arranged in three different age groups: Super Stitchers (ages 5 through 8), Creative Threads (8 through 11) and Fashion Week (12 through 15). Along with sewing tips and techniques, weekly camp sessions offer themed sewing projects and challenges to help foster imagination. Themes for younger campers (5 through 8 and 8 through 11) include Puppet Theater Week, Super Hero Week, Back to School Week and more. Campers attending the Fashion Week program get to try their hands at designing (à la “Project Runway”) by planning and creating original clothing and accessories from start to finish.

Girls Rock Philly
She’s not with the band. She is the band.
1428 Germantown Ave.

Girls Rock Philly is a nonprofit organization led by a team of passionate, music-loving staff and volunteers whose mission is to encourage, mentor and empower girls and young women through music. Even if you have no musical experience, you’ll feel like a pro in no time as participants immediately learn how to form a band and work together to write, practice, perform and record an original song—all within one week. The program includes instrument instruction (choice of guitar, bass, drums or keys, depending on availability) and is arranged by age. Workshops help develop problem-solving techniques and creative thinking, and visiting artists drop in to teach and share their experiences. Since its formation in 2006, the summer music camp has gone from 20 to 140 campers annually and continues to grow. The organization welcomes aspiring musicians of all social and economic backgrounds, encouraging diversity while building teamwork using music as the connecting point. Tuition for the weeklong summer camps is based on a sliding scale, and the option for lunch and tokens for transportation can be provided.

Camp Invention
Calling all tinkerers and future mad scientists
Various locations

Who wouldn’t want to be the kid to create the next big thing? Camp Invention is just the place for the inquisitive young tinkerer in your life. Inspired by the inductees of the National Inventors Hall of Fame, Camp Invention presents unique, hands-on experiences for children in kindergarten through sixth grade, led by educators in the community. New curriculum topics are introduced annually, and themes this year include Duct Tape Billionaire, in which campers get to try their hands at creating the next big accessory. Kids invent from scratch while learning everything from how to start a business to understanding patents. Other themes include Mission Space Makers, where kids can express logic and creativity to create a new planet for humans to live on. During Operation Keep Out, campers learn how to decode notes written in invisible ink and reassemble electronics to make their own treasure box that only they can open. So whether your child is an aspiring environmentalist, CEO or engineer—or maybe all three—Camp Invention has something to satisfy and challenge every curious kid. Best of all, there are several schools hosting these programs just minutes outside the city.

WHYY Summer
For the young writer, movie maker or budding media mogul
150 N. 6th St.

In an age heavily focused on media and broadcast, WHYY’s summer camps help students develop the tools to do it right. These programs give students the opportunity to create and share stories with an introduction to film, journalism and media production. There are two options for high school students, including Summer Journalists and Summer Filmmakers programs. Summer Journalists is geared toward those interested in hitting the pavement as reporters. In this two-week program, students take to the streets of Philadelphia for a hands-on learning experience that includes everything they need to know to tell  a great story, including developing story topics, honing interviewing skills and understanding audio and video production. Summer Filmmakers (a three-week program) is for aspiring writers, directors and cinematographers. Campers learn how to write a script, and shoot and edit movies on professional equipment while working their way toward the completion of their own short film. WHYY also has a two-week program for middle-school-age filmmakers that covers all aspects of filmmaking, including screenwriting, casting, editing and more. Students learn to work collaboratively to create a final piece using their newly developed skills and techniques. These programs offer a unique opportunity for young people to build confidence while discovering and sharing their voice.

Riverbend Environmental Education Center
Is your child the next Rachel Carson?
1950 Spring Mill Road, Gladwyne, Pa.

If you’re looking for your child to get outside to experience more than just a breath of fresh air, Riverbend Environmental Education Center is the place to be. Situated on 30 acres of lush forest dotted with ponds, streams and nature trails adjacent to the Schuylkill River, the property once belonged to Lenape Native Americans who used the area at the river’s bend as their summer station (thus giving the center its name). Riverbend Environmental Education Center invites campers to fully experience and explore nature. They’ll also—individually and in groups—develop their ability to foster environmental awareness and stewardship in others. These summer camps are broken down into ages 3 through 6, 7 through 11 and 10 through 13, and they include a variety of themes to learn about the natural world surrounding them. Younger campers can choose from a range of activities including acting out photosynthesis, identifying insects, discovering animal “superpowers” and even how to make a campsite. Older campers develop wilderness skills before heading out on adventures such as traveling to the Jersey Shore to learn the importance of clean watersheds, spending time in the Pocono Mountains to hike and canoe, or visiting local farms and community gardens to learn about food, farming and more. In addition, the center promotes good environmental stewardship practices: Students will learn about recycling, energy efficiency, planting native flora, and controlling invasive species throughout the grounds.

Capitol Debate
Start them early on standing up to fake news
Villanova University

For young experts of persuasion, Capitol Debate’s summer camp offers the chance to sharpen communication skills and critical thinking while building confidence through public speaking. The program encourages a new generation to effectively use their voice to advocate for causes they care about, and gives them the concrete skills they need to succeed. The camps offered are for middle and high school students and are composed of small class sizes to maximize participation and give time for instructor feedback.  Students learn from those with many years of experience—teachers are experts in their fields, and many have coached national debate champions. In Middle School Debate Camp, the foundations of public speaking and argumentation are explored in a supportive, encouraging environment to build courage and self-esteem. Participants give speeches, prepare debate cases, learn how to do research, write rebuttal briefs and refute opposing opinions. In High School Debate Camp, students learn how to construct a case, present and analyze evidence and use practicality to successfully argue a point. The camp teaches the necessary skills to lead a successful debate while using informed critical thinking skills in academic, career and daily life—and there’s no sense in arguing with that!

Can inclusively minded cultural institutions help build stronger communities?

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt

Illustration by Chris Bernhardt

Insider Art

interview by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

Museum activist Nina Simon is an electrical engineer by training who hails from Los Angeles—she now runs the Santa Cruz Museum of Art & History in California. Her own outsider status when it came to the hallowed halls of an art gallery is one of the reasons she is full of  hard questions about who these institutions really belong to, and what they are capable of.

In her book “The Art of Relevance,” she challenges her colleagues—whether they’re from a small community group or a large institution—to ask themselves: Who can see your front door? Who feels comfortable walking through? Do they see themselves reflected in what’s inside? What is lost when people are kept out by the people already inside?

Many people have written extensively on why the humanities matter to democracy. What role do you think the humanities play?
NS:
I’d say we are only as relevant as people say we are. People in the humanities or the arts or history, we can’t proclaim by fiat, “Hey, people need us more than ever right now.” We can say it, but people decide for themselves what they think is relevant, what they think they need, what they think they want.

So I think it behooves us right now not to rest on making arguments for the value or the importance of the humanities or of arts, but to demonstrate the value and to demonstrate the relevance and meaning to people who are looking for connection, who are looking to belong, who are looking to be part of building a stronger and more resilient community and more resilient society—then people will tell us that we have been meaningful to them.

You talk in the book about former first lady Michelle Obama’s address at the reopening of New York’s Whitney Museum of Art in 2014. She said, “There are so many kids in this country who look at places like museums and concert halls and other cultural centers, and they think to themselves, ‘Well, that’s not a place for me, for someone who looks like me, for someone who comes from my neighborhood.’” How does our country change when those institutions are made relevant and open to those young people? What does it look like?
NS:
It looks like institutions of elitism, privilege and oppression becoming institutions that are owned, used and loved by a greater diversity of people. That’s not to say that any particular institution that currently exists is oppressive, but that traditionally these institutions—and obviously, I work for museums, but this is also true for theaters and symphony halls—are and were instruments of elitism and instruments of the separation of classes in our country. If we open those up, we help break down some of those divisions that are so prevalent in our society today.

You use yourself as an example of the ultimate user and insider when it comes to the National Park Service—you write that you feel welcome to the point of being self-critically entitled to the experiences you want. How can insiders at organizations actually keep others out?
NS:
Well, we do it all the time, because any place where you’re an insider, the reason you’re an insider is because you feel so comfortable there. And so, the things that make you feel comfortable might make other people feel uncomfortable—but you are completely unwilling for them to change… [Imagine preferring] a gym where they play heavy metal, and, “Ugh, if they went to techno, the place would be ruined.”

We’re insiders because we feel that that place is for us. We feel that it connects to our identity and who we are. So we expect that other people—if they choose to come into that place—should come in the same way we did, and on our terms.

This happens all the time in museums and in arts institutions, that well-meaning insiders will say, “Yeah, we want different kinds of people to come in, but we want them to come in for the reasons we came in. We don’t want them to come in for something else.” That argument gets used to do things like, say, “Video games aren’t appropriate in libraries because we come to libraries for books.” Or, “Tweeting isn’t appropriate at the symphony because I come to the symphony to have an experience that is just me and the music.” I think there are things that insiders like and become accustomed to—and then they make them into rules that make other people feel uncomfortable.

What are some organizations that you think are doing a particularly good job of opening up?
NS:
The International Coalition of Sites of Conscience, which is a consortium of many historic sites and museums—places like Tenement Museum in New York or the Eastern State Penitentiary [in Philadelphia]. The fact that [Eastern State Penitentiary decided to shift from] an educational entertainment venue [to hosting] opportunities for real dialog about the impact of mass incarceration—that’s extraordinary and courageous. The Barnes is opening up conversations about, “How do we shift from a very insider-branded organization to one that is for this whole city?” I think that’s powerful.

And then there are organizations that are rooted in communities of color that are saying, “Hey, we’ve been doing this work all along,” and I just can’t say enough about organizations like Laundromat Project in New York, or the [Wing Luke Museum of the Asian Pacific American Experience] in Seattle—organizations that are rooted in communities that have been trying to bridge and to connect insiders and outsiders. I think their work is incredibly important, and I think any organization that takes this moment as a moment to go there and to say, “We’re not just relevant because we have great art or because we tell important stories or because we have historical objects that matter, but we’re using those things to invite people into a conversation, into a roomful of meaning that is going to change the conversation in our city.” I think anybody who’s doing that, hats off to them.

Philadelphia is a city with sustainability baked into its design and current culture. But more and more we talk about that in regard to resilient communities and neighborhoods where people know and care for each other. In what ways are places with vibrant cultural organizations that foster community more resilient than others?
NS:
I work with other professionals in my community who are working with people transitioning out of the prison system, or homeless adults with health issues. And they are dealing so much every day with life-or-death situations at their front door. Art is not going to solve this problem—it’s not going to end homelessness, it’s not going to fix the prison system—but it can open a side door into that conversation for a lot more people to care, connect and to take action around these issues. So I think there’s a huge role for arts organizations to play, not just in being welcoming, but really in being part of action and conversation that make our communities more resilient and more sustainable, more equitable.

[We can’t start with the idea that], “We in arts organizations have something to sell you or something to bring to you or something to give you.” Instead [we should be] saying, “Let’s talk with people in the communities we care about. What are the issues and questions? The dreams?” And then, “How can we commission, connect, bring, create art that is responsive and invites more around that?”

In Philadelphia, Temple Contemporary, which is an arts organization that really works with people to create art projects that open up new conversations about intractable issues, they were working with community members around issues of gentrification and dislocation and created “Funeral for a Home.”

At our museum in Santa Cruz, we’re doing a lot of projects that start with community conversations. We feel like our job is not to be the institution that has the art and delivers it up, but instead to be the institution that invites people to go further around those issues, dreams, ideas that are already urgent and compelling in their world.

Given the current state of our country, what are you most hopeful about?
NS:
People are using this term “woke”—which came out of the world of African-American activism but has become more broad—I think there is this sense of people having an activated desire to engage themselves. I think we watched the national election happen as theater for so long, and then when that play did not end the way some people expected—many people expected—we realized, “Wow, we were passive consumers of this story. Let’s become agents of the next chapter of the story instead.”

I’m excited about people’s energy for action, and I’m really excited about the unique role—I believe—that arts organizations can play in building those bridges and being locusses that invite creative action at a time when people are hungry to do that.

Nina Simon is the executive director of the Santa Cruz Museum of Art and History, and the author of “The Art of Relevance.”

FACTS Charter and Philadelphia Folklore Project collaborate to cultivate traditional arts, justice

Photo courtesy of Toni Shapiro-Phim

Photo courtesy of Toni Shapiro-Phim

Ephemeral Beauty, Lasting Lessons

by Alex Jones

The Philadelphia Folklore Project has been supporting and documenting folk arts and artists in the city’s diverse communities to create social change since 1987.

“We have these long-term collaborations, long-term commitments to [communities] that develop into things depending on what’s needed at the moment,” says Selina Morales, the organization’s director.

One of those longtime community partners, Asian Americans United, collaborated with the Folklore Project to develop its Chinatown Mid-Autumn Festival. When AAU identified the need for a charter school in the Chinatown area, the Folklore Project was there—and 11 years ago, the two groups created Folk Arts-Cultural Treasures Charter School.

FACTS teaches an intentionally multi-ethnic, multi-racial student body drawn from a variety of class backgrounds and areas the city. The school strives to serve immigrant and refugee populations through programs like English language learning as a part of the regular school day.

“The school prioritizes teaching those students in a mixed environment, so [their experience] is not siloed or isolated,” says Morales. “It’s a lesson for everybody. Working with people who speak other languages is a part of our everyday life.”

Students at FACTS also have the opportunity to take lessons in folk and traditional art forms like African diaspora drumming, the Vietnamese zither-type instrument àn tranh, African-American step and Indonesian dance. Morales emphasizes that these arts aren’t necessarily taught for the specific purpose of mastery, but for the lessons inherent in what those art forms have meant for the communities practicing them.

“The first steps of learning about traditional arts are sometimes learning about respect, about ethics, learning [how to] be with other people,” Morales says. “It doesn’t necessarily start with, ‘What does perfection look like?’ It starts with, ‘How do you be with one another, and how do you work together to make something beautiful?’”

Early in the collaboration, the Folklore Project worked with FACTS to develop school-specific rituals. For example, the students say a pledge each morning that includes honoring elders and acknowledging that students have a lot to learn from them.  

“We know as folklorists that ritual helps to reinforce community,” Morales says. “How might we take some of those things that are part of community life and put them directly into the school intentionally?”  

More recently, the organization and the school have worked together to develop innovative lesson plans around the school’s emphasis on folk arts and its roster of teaching artists and performers.

Each year for about a decade, Philadelphia-based sand mandala artist and lama Losang Samten spends a weeklong residency working with FACTS students. The National Heritage fellow creates an intricate, brilliantly colored design out of sand that represents the cosmos in the Tibetan Buddhist tradition; once it’s completed, the mandala is ritually destroyed to emphasize the transitory nature of life.

“The theme of his presence is really about peace and talking about peace,” Morales said.  She asks, “How can we engage the teachers in a discussion about what peace means to their students, from kindergarteners to second-graders to fourth-graders to eighth-graders?”

To ensure that the lessons of Samten’s annual residency grow in value as students progress through grades, the two organizations developed a teacher’s guide to incorporating the sand mandala into lesson plans. The curriculum also includes mini-unit plans specific to each grade taught at FACTS, kindergarten through eighth, so that students are primed to build on last year’s lessons, and there’s always something fresh to be taught and learned when Samten visits each year.

It’s all encapsulated into the K-8 Sand Mandala Curriculum, which was awarded the Dorothy Howard Prize from the American Folklore Society in 2015. The lesson plans are scaffolded so that each grade’s lesson builds on the previous year—examining the artist, his work and the context in which he makes his art. The materials that guide teachers, students and administrative staff are available for free to other schools on the Folklore Project’s website.

“Our hope is that teachers anywhere could bring Losang to their school, and instead of having a school assembly where everyone goes and watches, they’re engaged,” says Morales. “They host him for a week, he does the mandala, and here’s the instructions for every single classroom, including all the resources.”

In addition to supporting teachers and students through this curricula, the aim of these shared materials includes supporting artists like Samten by connecting them with more work; the artist can even provide materials to educator clients himself.

Above and beyond the benefits for educators, students and artists, the Folklore Project  works with FACTS on another lofty goal: creating a better Philadelphia by creating better citizens.

“One of the things we say about the school is that our aim is to create citizens in a just world, and that includes having the expectation of justice and having the expectation of fairness,” Morales says. “AAU is this phenomenal social justice organization [that] has spent so much time and fought too many fights with the purpose of continuing to pursue dignity and self-determination in their own communities and others."

Our kids are aching for us to nourish their minds and souls

Freedom from Want

by Heather Shayne Blakeslee

During elementary school, the bedroom that I shared with my little sister could not have been more ideal. It was light and airy, and our matching set of tiny brass beds each had wooden shelves above them that my father had made himself. In between the beds, under the window, an old-fashioned library table held the day’s treasures—a favorite book, perhaps, or a notebook filled with charcoal sketches.

My microscope—we had a microscope!—sat on that table, and I still remember the spider’s egg sac collected at the bus stop that hatched in a little plastic collection vial one day. As I watched them emerge, I was torn among competing instincts: a fear of their escape, a desire to understand them and the emotional tug of wanting to set free those tiny baby arachnids, some of whom eventually found their way between two tiny glass plates. (A child who one day reads “Charlotte’s Web” and the next is collecting field specimens will always have some reckoning to do.) My parents probably had similar sentiments watching us.

As we settled in to sleep off the day’s adventures, my sister and I talked across the darkening room and stared at a colorful wall fading into shadows: My mother had wallpapered it floor to ceiling with favorite paintings from school, the forms of thick tempera on crinkled pages a reminder that someone cared about what we created.

When it was rainy or cold we had Legos. Lincoln Logs. Erector Sets, paint sets and records. When the weather was fine, we spent enormous amounts of time marauding around the woods—my sister, my little brother and another young boy who lived on our safe little street—and, happily, we had each other. We didn’t go to summer camp. We were summer camp.

The thread that ties my memories together is that our bodies and our minds were in a state of perpetual motion and perceived freedom within a world that was, of course, lovingly crafted and exactingly monitored by our parents. We had no idea of our charmed existence, how much we were made to feel as though we mattered. We probably still don’t understand how much we carry that feeling with us every day.

It’s difficult, but not impossible, to imagine a different world in which we did not have the parents we did, or the resources we did. Just start by taking away one of those doting guardians. Now subtract not only the wooden library table, but the library as well. Then erase the notebook and put away the microscope. Cancel art class, and take away the teachers who cared. Disband the merry group of supportive siblings and friends, and ban them all from the woods.

Who are those kids? What do they become? Who do they become?

Those kids are legion. Some of them lived in the same town that I did, but they were everywhere, in every town and every city. They are still everywhere in America—and despite their circumstances, every single one of them matters. The ones who were born here and the ones who came from faraway places. The ones whose stories we understand, and the ones who sing in unfamiliar tongues. They are all bundles of potential, and community arts, culture and science programs can be lifesavers for some of them, especially those in struggling families and schools.

In Philadelphia, those programs include Al-Bustan, which fills rooms with music and laughter as it celebrates diverse Arab culture, or One Art Community Center, which is building a resilient neighborhood through community-led arts and wellness programs.

This issue of Grid is for all those programs and people who help our youth find their voice—and then listen.

The period of ‘American greatness’ is gone. Let’s focus on thriving instead.

Illustration by Kailey Whitman

Illustration by Kailey Whitman

Getting Over Being Great

by Jerry Silberman

Question: Can America ever be great again?

The Right Question: Why would we want to?

Two months ago in this column I pointed out why Donald Trump, like every president since Reagan, will be unable to reverse the decline of the United States economy or the relative power of this country in the world. I noted that this was based on the limits of resources available, particularly oil, and that we have blown through the most phenomenal endowment of natural resources of any comparable area of land on the planet.  

If we are to maintain the current level of consumption, our economy will continue to depend on imports of oil and many other critical resources: While we pride ourselves on having an “information economy,” our entire computer industry—as well as the renewable electricity industry—are utterly dependent on raw materials and manufacturing outside of our borders. Even our food production, despite the fact that we are still a food exporter, depends on imports from across the oceans.

Trump’s rhetoric suggests we can restore our greatness by changing the terms of the “deal” in our favor. His talk of trade wars, exclusion of immigrants and elimination of all types of regulations that restrict business all make sense in this framework. As a man who achieved a huge fortune by manipulating deals (and violating laws) to his personal financial advantage, this is an approach we should expect. But it is as delusional as the view that there will always be enough cheap oil to put an SUV in every garage. Unfortunately, that delusion is shared by the majority of the wealthy elite in this country.

Here’s why: The greatness that Trump pines for—the ’50s and ’60s, when the American dream of unlimited growth in consumption actually appeared to be happening—was based on circumstances that simply don’t exist anymore.

First, when the United States economy dominated the rest of the world, it was thanks to its natural resource base coupled with the massive industrial development spurred by World War II, an event that simultaneously devastated the industrial base of all of our competitors. Related to that condition, the United States was by magnitudes the most powerful military establishment in the world, and, until Vietnam, it was able to impose its will on most of the planet.

Second, by establishing its currency as the reserve currency of world finance, it enhanced the unfair advantage in trade that our military and economic power provided, which enabled the U.S. to isolate and limit participation in the world economy on the part of its enemies—at that time primarily the Soviet Union and its allies.

In short, America became the great country Trump remembers and envisions when it was in a position to drive the strongest deals in its favor, based on objective sources of power.

What Trump and other “America Firsters” have failed to see is that all of those sources of power have been in decline for nearly four decades and are now significantly diminished. American workers will feel that decline reflected in the decline of their real income.

The truth is that our government can no longer strong-arm countries without very severe blowback. Take a look at the labels on the last 10 trinkets, electronics or clothes you bought, and then imagine a trade war with China. Think about the last 13 years of our military adventures in the Middle East and Afghanistan.

When you’ve got those images in your mind, you may be ready for the next step: letting go of the idea of being great.  

Instead, focus on the goal of having a future that your children and grandchildren would enjoy, which can only happen with some radical changes in expectations, and in the behavior that might make those expectations a reality.

I concluded January’s column by recommending that we lighten our footprint on the earth, build community and not worry about who’s in the White House.

However, not worrying about who sits in the Oval Office doesn’t mean that we can afford to ignore politics. It means that we cannot expect political decisions from the top to solve big problems, and that we need to engage in political action on the local and state levels where we can make a difference. For example, if we know that drastic reductions in fossil fuel consumption are critical to limiting climate change, why do we accept a building code in Philadelphia that fosters car ownership in the city, privileges new building over rehabilitation, allows skyscrapers that use magnitudes more energy than more human-scale buildings, and does not require state-of-the-art energy efficiency in either rehabilitation or new construction?

Philadelphia schools need vastly better funding and local control. But how much thought is the education reform movement giving to a major overhaul of curriculum priorities? To educating our youth about the limits of growth, community values and the practical skills they will need in a shrinking economy, rather than for white collar jobs supported by imports and focused on computer screens?

The challenge is indeed great. The challenge is not to regain some misunderstood past glory, but to adapt and thrive in the changed conditions that we know are coming.

Jerry Silberman is a cranky environmentalist and union negotiator who likes to ask the right question and is no stranger to compromise.

March: Comings & Goings

Pipeline Granted Clean Water Certification, Environmentalists Dub it ‘Premature’
The Pennsylvania Department of Environmental Protection (PA DEP) granted 401 Clean Water Act certification to the PennEast Pipeline project on Feb. 13, an action criticized by some environmentalists because PA DEP has not fully reviewed the regulations to determine if PennEast is entitled to the certification. The pipeline’s final Environmental Impact Statement has not been released yet.

“It is a total sellout of the community, an abdication of responsibility and a giveaway of the little bit of power the state has over fracked gas pipeline projects and is clearly being done at the direction of, and under the watchful and approving eye, of Gov. Wolf,” said Maya van Rossum, head of the Delaware Riverkeeper Network, in a statement. Gov. Wolf’s office could not be reached for comment.

Pat Kornick, PennEast spokesperson, told NPR’s StateImpact, “The department’s yearlong review and conclusion provides additional assurance that PennEast can protect the environment—specifically water resources. PennEast has reviewed hundreds of route options and made dozens of modifications to the pipeline to minimize impact on the environment.”

SEPTA Dismisses Complaint from 350 Philadelphia, Nicetown Residents
350 Philadelphia and three Nicetown-Tioga residents have filed a lawsuit against SEPTA in response to the transit agency’s failure to provide public notice before approving a contract to build a fracked-gas power plant in Nicetown-Tioga.

SEPTA has rejected the lawsuit, citing “lack of capacity to sue” under Pennsylvania Rule of Civil Procedure 1028(a)(5)—among other objections.

The complaint was filed in December and invokes the Pennsylvania Sunshine Act—which requires that government agencies give public notice before they take a vote—as well as Pennsylvania’s Guaranteed Energy Savings Act, which states that these agencies must also give at least 10 days notice before voting on a contract.

“We believe that SEPTA’s refusal to provide adequate notice before voting on the gas plant is part of a larger pattern,” said Mitch Chanin of 350 Philadelphia.

SEPTA declined to comment for this story, and plaintiffs are reviewing SEPTA’s objection to the lawsuit and will respond with an amended complaint.

Leadership Changes Among Area Nonprofits
Philadelphia Area Cooperative Alliance announced in February that PACA co-founder and board member Jamila Medley is its new executive director. The organization’s former executive director, Peter Frank, will remain with PACA in a part-time role so he can spend more time with his family.

Women’s Way, a nonprofit organization for the advancement of women, girls and gender equality, named Diane Cornman-Levy as its new executive director.

At the William Penn Foundation, long-time program director and Interim Executive Director Shawn McCaney will now officially fill the organization’s top post. He’ll oversee a $112 million annual grantmaking budget focused on increasing high-quality educational opportunities for economically disadvantaged children; protecting the Delaware River watershed; and supporting arts, culture and the development of public spaces.

Mussel Hatchery Opens in Fairmount Park
Fairmount Water Works opened the Mussel Hatchery on Feb. 17, described as “part science lab for breeding mussel babies—part art, film, video, technology and hands-on exhibit.”

Visitors can watch educational animated shorts, take a personality quiz, take part in environmental art projects, explore an interactive digital exhibit and learn how mussels positively impact the environment.

Public Outcry Puts Hold on Law Requiring Permits for Sidewalk Planters
Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell introduced a bill in February that would have, in effect, required a permit from Licenses and Inspections and a sign-off from a council member to place a “bench, planter, fixture or other street furniture” on the sidewalk in front of a home. Blackwell said she’s putting the brakes on the bill due to blowback (urbanist PAC 5th Square collected more than 1,000 signatures in a matter of days, and many Philadelphia news outlets have covered the story), but critics remain wary that Bill No. 170087 could be reintroduced.

Protesters Rally in Response to Trump Admin’s Approval of Dakota Access Pipeline
Protesters gathered Valentine’s Day morning at Thomas Paine Plaza to call for an end to construction of the Dakota Access Pipeline. The Army Corps of Engineers approved the final permit needed to complete the 1,172-mile pipeline—as instructed by the Trump administration—in early February.

Philly #NoDAPL Solidarity was joined by members of the Red Warrior Society and Mothers Against Meth Alliance.

West Philly Community Mourns Loss of Advocate
Winnie Harris, a longtime and beloved civic activist, was shot and killed Feb. 3 in her home in the Powelton section of Philadelphia; no arrests have been made. She was 65.

Harris, the programming director and acting executive director at UC Green, managed biannual street tree plantings, a weekly summer tree pruning club and many other projects. She was also involved with Drexel University alumni, the nonprofit food program Share, and worked with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society’s Philadelphia Green program and Philadelphia Flower Show.

At Harris’ funeral, it was announced that Holly Street Garden, which Harris built, decorated and maintained on a vacant lot, would be preserved from development. Among many comments from civic leaders honoring Harris’ work—including Mayor Jim Kenney—Councilwoman Blondell Reynolds Brown included a quotation from Maya Angelou’s poem “When Great Trees Fall.”

Gluten-free crust for a pizza night everyone can enjoy

Potato and Pesto Perfection

by Anna Herman

While I like wheat and the wonderful way its protein gluten can transform into crispy bread and chewy seitan, I also like to host all comers on pizza night. Gluten-free baking skills now seem essential in one’s culinary arsenal, and with alternative ingredients now sold almost everywhere, it’s easier than ever.

Much gluten-free baking relies on mimicking the matrices that form between liquid and the protein and starches that naturally occur in wheat. By combining a variety of ground grains and beans such as rice, barley and garbanzos with various starches (tapioca or potato) and emulsifiers—such as xanthan gum and psyllium husk—bakers can elicit textures and flavors that rival wheat. King Arthur Flour and Bob’s Red Mill both make quality “basic bread” and “basic baking” gluten-free flour blends. They can be substituted one-for-one for wheat flour in many recipes. There are special challenges to getting a crispy chew—essential for pizza—but it is possible to get close.

After trying multiple versions of gluten-free pizza recipes I have devised, this is the one that both tasted good and didn’t use many ingredients uncommon to the average larder. The dough is soft, so it must be spread, rather than rolled. The subtle potato flavor is a perfect combo with pesto and mozzarella, but is equally at home with an assertive tomato-based pizza sauce.    

Pesto Mozzarella Potato Pizza
Yields two 9- to 10-inch pies

Dough Ingredients

  • 2  pounds large all-purpose potatoes (Idaho or Yukon Gold)
  • 2 teaspoons salt, divided
  • 1/4 cup warm water  (105-115 F)
  • 2 teaspoons honey (sugar or agave)
  • 1 ½ teaspoon (one package) active dry yeast
  • 1 cup white rice or brown rice flour
  • 1/2 cup tapioca starch
  • 1 large egg white
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil

To assemble:

  • 1/2 to 2/3  cup basil pesto or tomato pizza sauce
  • 1 to 2 balls fresh mozzarella, halved and sliced (or up to 1 cup grated mozzarella)
  • 2 to 3 tablespoons olive oil
  • 6 to 12 pitted black olives, optional

Directions

  1. Fill a large saucepan halfway with water, add one teaspoon salt, cover and bring to a boil. Add the potatoes and cook, uncovered, until fork tender. Drain.   
  2. While potatoes are cooling, add the water, honey and yeast to a small mixing bowl and stir to combine. After 3 to 5 minutes the yeast should be foaming. If not, start again with fresh yeast.
  3. Once potatoes are cool enough to handle, peel. Put peeled potatoes through a ricer, or grate them on a box grater into shards. Put them into the bowl of a stand mixer with a paddle attachment.  
  4. Add the yeast mixture, rice flour and tapioca starch, as well as the remaining teaspoon of salt, to the potatoes in a bowl. Mix until you have well-incorporated, crumbly dough.  
  5. Add the egg white and oil and mix until you have a somewhat sticky, but cohesive, dough. Remove the paddle, scrape the dough into a ball and cover the bowl with a towel and let rise for 1 ½ to 2 ½  hours. The dough should have swelled noticeably.     
  6. When you’re ready to cook, heat the oven to 450 F.  Spread olive oil on a baking sheet. Place 1/2 of the dough in the center of the pan and, using a wet finger, press the dough to the thickness you like. Let sit to rise for 1/2 hour.   
  7. Cook for 6 to 8 minutes until the top no longer looks raw and remove from oven.  Spread pesto or tomato sauce gently to cover and top with mozzarella and olives or choice toppings. Return to the oven and bake another 5 to 8 minutes until the crust is well browned and the cheese is melted.  
  8. Remove from pan to cutting board with a spatula or two.  Slice and enjoy.

To thaw frozen crusts:
Par-baked plain pizza crust freezes well if cooled and wrapped well before freezing. To use, remove from freezer, unwrap, place on baking sheet and add toppings. Cook in a 450 degree oven for 8 to 10 minutes.

Anna Herman is a garden educator who grows fruits and veggies and raises chickens, ducks and bees in her Mount Airy backyard.

Skip the lines and get cozy with brunch at home

Stay-In Brunch Pizza

by Peggy Paul Casella

I developed this recipe for those mornings when I wake up craving brunch food, but the thought of getting out of my pajamas, piling on woolly layers and schlepping through the snow makes me want to hide under the covers till spring. With bubbly cheese, eggs, thick-cut bacon and a zippy chimichurri sauce, it’s a comfort-food flavor bomb that you can make at home.

Bacon, Egg and Cheese Pizza with Chimichurri Sauce
Makes one 12-inch pizza

Ingredients
For the chimichurri sauce:

  • 1 ½ packed cups roughly chopped flat-leaf parsley leaves and stems
  • 2 small to medium garlic cloves
  • 1 tablespoon red wine vinegar
  • 1/2 teaspoon fine sea salt
  • 1/8 teaspoon red pepper flakes
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil

For the pizza:

  • 4 slices thick-cut bacon, chopped
  • 1 pound ball pizza dough, homemade or store-bought
  • 3/4 cup shredded sharp cheddar cheese
  • 1/4 cup heavy cream
  • 4 large eggs
  • Fine sea salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 tablespoon finely chopped fresh chives or scallions

Directions
Preheat the oven to 500 F with a rack in the middle position. Lightly coat a heavy-duty, rimmed baking sheet or pizza pan with olive oil.

To make the chimichurri:
Combine the parsley, garlic, vinegar, salt, red pepper flakes and a grind or two of black pepper in a food processor. Pulse until everything is finely chopped. Then, with the motor running, gradually pour the olive oil through the feed tube until it is completely incorporated. Scrape the chimichurri into a small bowl or ramekin and set it aside to marinate at room temperature.

To assemble and bake the pizza:

  1. Place the bacon in a medium skillet over medium heat and cook until it just begins to crisp, 5 to 7 minutes. Remove the skillet from the heat and transfer the bacon to a paper-towel-lined plate.
  2. Stretch or roll the dough into a 12-inch disk and place it on the prepared baking sheet or pizza pan.
  3. Crack the eggs into separate, small prep bowls or ramekins. Scatter the cheese over the dough, followed by the bacon. Drizzle the cream evenly over top, then carefully slide the eggs onto the pizza, an inch or two inside each corner. Season lightly with salt and pepper (remember that you’ll also be seasoning the pizza with the salty, garlicky chimichurri sauce just before serving).
  4. Transfer the baking sheet to the oven and bake until the crust is golden, the egg whites are set and the yolks are still a little squishy, 10 to 15 minutes.
  5. Remove the pizza from the oven. Let it rest for 5 minutes, then drizzle with the chimichurri sauce; slice and serve. (Or, if you like, slice up the pizza and serve the chimichurri on the side.)

Peggy Paul Casella is a cookbook editor, urban vegetable gardener and the author of the blog Thursday Night Pizza and the forthcoming “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles Pizza Cookbook.”

Pizza crust: A cast iron skillet is your secret ingredient

Perfect Pizza Crust at Home?

by Brian Ricci

Making a satisfying pizza crust can be difficult at home. For one, our ovens don’t get hot enough to bake high-hydration doughs, and if they did, most likely we would be setting our sensitive smoke detectors off whenever we tried. Let me suggest an alternative: cooking with cast iron.

Cast iron pans are inexpensive, durable and versatile. The recipe that follows is for a flatbread pizza and can easily be adapted into a naan or scallion pancake recipe.

Ricotta-and-Salad Topped Homemade Flatbread
Serves: 2

Ingredients
For the flatbread:

  • 1/4 teaspoon active dry yeast
  • 2 cloves garlic, grated/microplaned
  • 1 tablespoon thyme
  • 1 pinch sea salt
  • 1 pinch sugar
  • 2 cups all-purpose flour
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil, plus more for coating the bowl
  • 3/4 cup warm water—about 110 F—not too hot or it will kill the yeast

For the topping:

  • 1/2 cup ricotta cheese
  • 6 leaves lacinato kale (also known as dinosaur kale), shredded
  • 1/2 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, shaved (with a peeler)
  • 1 lemon’s worth of zest
  • 3 tablespoons capers
  • 1 shallot, thinly sliced
  • 4 strips cooked bacon or four slices of prosciutto
  • 1/4 cup sherry vinegar
  • 3/4 cup olive oil
  • Salt and pepper to taste

Directions

  1. In a large mixing bowl, add yeast, garlic, herbs, sugar and all-purpose flour and whisk.
  2. Make a well in the dry ingredients and add olive oil and 1/2 cup of warm water to start. Stir with a wooden spoon. Add more water as needed until a dough forms. Wait 10 minutes and add sea salt. Mix for another minute.
  3. Transfer to a clean, well-floured surface and knead until smooth and elastic—about 2 minutes—adding more flour as needed to prevent sticking.
  4. Allow dough to rest, covered with a towel for 15 minutes.
  5. Resume hand kneading of dough—gently pulling and turning dough over to develop elasticity. This will take about 5 minutes.
  6. To round the dough, make a cage with your hands with the dough inside it. Move your hands clockwise, tugging slightly at the dough—this will develop tension in the dough and help to shape it.
  7. Move the dough into a lightly oiled bowl and cover with plastic wrap or a damp towel. Place in a warm area to rise for 1 hour.
  8. The dough should now be double in size. Cut dough into 6 even pieces, arrange on a clean surface and lay a damp towel on top. Let rest again while you prepare your pan and toppings.
  9. Heat your cast iron pan to medium-high heat.
  10. Toppings: In a large mixing bowl, add kale, Parmigiano, lemon zest, capers, bacon/prosciutto, sherry vinegar and olive oil and mix.
  11. Taste and lightly season with salt and pepper as needed.
  12. Roll your doughs out thinly to about 1/8-inch thick and lightly coat the pan in olive oil.
  13. Place one dough at a time in the pan and cook until the bottom begins to blister slightly—about 2 minutes. Then flip, place a dollop of ricotta cheese on top and spread around with the back of a spoon. Place into a 375 F oven for 2 minutes.
  14. When each flatbread is done, remove from the pan and top with salad mix.

Brian Ricci is a chef living and working in Philadelphia.

March: To-Do List

Illustration by Corey Schumann

Illustration by Corey Schumann

1. Be on the lookout for magnolia blooms
In the middle of the month, those spectacular Southern blooms will be out for a short time. You can see a particularly large specimen in West Philadelphia’s Clark Park.

2. Prune your woody plants
Now is the time to cut back your roses and certain kinds of hydrangeas to bring out better spring and summer blooms. And whatever you do, don’t prune in the fall! It may ruin your plants.

3. Break out the patio furniture cushions
Your cushions may be musty from living down in the basement or the back of the closet. Get them out in the sun if you can, so you’re ready to relax on that first warm day.

4. Plant a tree
Early spring is a great time to get a street tree into the ground if you’ve been meaning to do it. The temperate weather and high moisture will give it time to establish roots before summertime heat hits. TreePhilly started its spring season of yard tree giveaways on Feb. 27 and, in combination with the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society, provides demonstrations on planting and info on planting and care.

5. Do your taxes early
The tax man cometh on April 15, but do yourself a favor and file now. No one likes that panicky feeling on April 14 when you can’t find your paperwork. Take your time—and get your return early.

6. Celebrate spring
March 20 is this year’s spring equinox, so it’s time to officially welcome spring. If you want to start just a little bit early, you can celebrate on March 19 with the start of Philly Wine Week—the festivities run through March 26. And if you just can’t wait, the PHS Philadelphia Flower Show runs March 11 through 19. This year’s theme is Holland, so be prepared for a bounty of tulips that will bloom on their own next month.

7. Start your salad mix seeds
It will still be just a little while until you can get many plants in the ground safely (wait until after the first week of April when the last frost is over), but you can still start more seeds inside this month. Peppers, tomatoes, broccoli, cabbage and cauliflower are good to start now, as are eggplant and Brussels sprouts.

8. Gardens, go!
In mid-March, our friends at Penn State Extension say you’ve got the go-ahead to start planting your garden with early spring veggies: peas, fava beans, onions, leeks, garlic, greens, turnips, white potatoes and cabbage.

9. Clean out your closets
When April rolls around, you’re going to want everything to feel breezy and light, just like spring. Dig through your closets now to collect unwanted items, and find a place who will get your stash into the hands of another family.

10. Clean up your block
Why wait for someone else to organize a spring cleanup? Gather a few brown paper garden waste bags, grab a trash bag or two, knock on a few doors and start sweeping. Just think of how much nicer those spring flowers will look if you and your neighbors have pitched in to clean up.

The humanities aren’t just practical. They are critical to our democracy.

Illustration by Abayomi Louard-Moore

Illustration by Abayomi Louard-Moore

The Open Mind

by Laurie Zierer

Last spring, a group of teenagers gathered regularly at the Philadelphia City Institute branch of the Free Library. They came from different neighborhoods and attended schools that spanned the local spectrum, from traditional public schools and magnets to charters, private schools and home-school settings. Nonetheless, the group connected at an intense level through Teen Reading Lounge, a statewide after-school program that librarians have described as “a book club on steroids.”

During a particularly lively session in March, the teens talked about Renée Watson’s novel “This Side of Home,” which follows two young sisters as they watch their urban neighborhood shift from rough-and-tumble to up-and-coming. Some of the teens had directly experienced this type of transition, and all had seen it happen in the neighborhoods of friends or family.

To nudge the conversation further that day, the group invited a Philadelphia city planner to join them. The planner split the group into smaller teams charged with allocating funds to municipal services such as energy and water supply, affordable subsidized housing and parks and recreation centers. As each team struggled to disseminate funds equally among services, the teens began to see the challenges city planners face. And, near the end of the activity, when it was revealed that some teams had more money in their budgets than others, the conversation moved to inequities in community funding and the importance of civic participation.

The discussion around “This Side of Home”—and related activities—may not resonate in less urban parts of Pennsylvania, but it was meaningful for Philadelphia teens who are experiencing enormous changes in their city.

“We have so many quiet readers who come into the library,” said the librarian leading the session, “but we don’t always get the opportunity to engage with them on such a deep level.”

That deep engagement is a key goal of Teen Reading Lounge, which encourages participants to help choose books and design creative projects that bring them to life. My staff at the Pennsylvania Humanities Council (PHC) created Teen Reading Lounge in 2010 in response to a statewide survey that identified a gap in quality after-school services for this age group.

We at PHC provide the program framework, funding and training to local sites, and site leaders work with local teens to offer sessions that reflect their interests and needs.

To date, Teen Reading Lounge has launched in 78 public libraries across Pennsylvania and reached more than 600 teens. Participants show gains in interpersonal skills, communication, critical thinking and literacy, as well as creativity and confidence—essential skills for a successful workforce and a civically engaged society.

Ask someone to talk about the humanities, and they’ll likely mention such subjects as history, literature and philosophy, and more often than not they’ll imagine a university setting. But the humanities—and a solid humanities education—are much more than just knowledge in these areas, and more than just classes at elite colleges.

The humanities and the skills they teach provide a path to collaboration and action toward positive change. The current state of our nation—divided politically, economically and culturally—reinforces the urgent and continuing need for the humanities in our everyday lives: ways of thinking, learning and coming together that identify and respect differences, nourish a sense of shared humanity and provide context as we work together to shape the future.

Across the nation, communities benefit from programs like Teen Reading Lounge, which are produced by state humanities councils. Councils receive core funding from the National Endowment for the Humanities; their collective power and reach make NEH a small agency with an enormous impact.

State humanities councils work in more than 5,300 communities—rural, suburban and urban—in nearly every congressional district. They partner with more than 9,200 organizations annually, including libraries, K-12 schools and universities, veterans’ organizations and local governments, just to name a few categories. Through this extensive web of partnerships, councils served more than 44 million people through in-person events and almost 120 million people through virtual events in 2015.

When NEH provides funds to state humanities councils, which in turn produce programs and provide grants in individual communities, federal dollars can effectively address specific local needs. To continue producing and supporting meaningful local education programs, state humanities councils depend on a strong NEH and the core funding allocated to councils through the agency.

Recent media reports have suggested that the Trump administration may propose severe cuts to NEH funding or elimination of the agency. While these reports are concerning, we at PHC are heartened by the considerable bipartisan support we’ve seen for the work of state councils in recent years.

As federal budget requests take shape later this spring, we urge you to take action to advocate for the humanities. Especially now—when critical thinking is imperative to process fast-paced change at the national level, and when collaboration is key to shaping the future of our local communities—the humanities are essential to our democracy and our daily lives.

Laurie Zierer is executive director of the Pennsylvania Humanities Council. Learn how you can advocate for the humanities in public life at pahumanities.org.

Farm shares of flowers and herbs are sure signs of spring

Petal Power

by Emily Kovach

It’s been a long, dark winter. It’s time to freshen things up around the home and office with flora and vegetation, revive the senses with color and fragrance, and replenish the body and spirit with healing oils and herbs. These two CSA shares ensure regular deliveries of potent plants to help usher in spring.

Tooth of the Lion brings its farm and apothecary to your door
Mountain mint, calendula, nettles, lemon verbena... Imagine gorgeous bouquets of fresh herbs, redolent with country air, arriving at your doorstep each month. It’s exactly what you’ll get from Tooth of the Lion’s 2017 herb CSA program. The herbs are carefully grown in Orwigsburg, Pennsylvania (about 40 miles west of Allentown), on a 14-acre farm that has been using organic practices for over a decade. Owner Katelyn Melvin is pursuing a USDA Organic Certification that she hopes to secure by this summer. The farm’s mission is to empower communities through herbal medicine while honoring the ecology of its farmland.

In addition to the bundle of fresh herbs, the herb-obsessed team also crafts teas, tinctures, syrups and elixirs to enhance the experience for members who want to delve deep into the medicinal and therapeutic qualities of herbs. Intended to spark curiosity about the power and pleasure of herbs and roots, each share will come with recipes and information about each herb to help facilitate experimentation in members’ kitchens.

For just a few dollars each month, Tooth of the Lion will deliver shares to members’ homes, but during summer months, pickups are also available at Bryn Mawr Farmers Market on Saturdays and at Headhouse Square on Sundays, as well as at the farm on Wednesdays. This herb CSA can also be added onto the produce CSAs sold by Red Earth Farm, located in nearby Kempton, Pennsylvania (see page 26 for more info). A full share consists of a pickup every other week for 10 weeks from June to October and costs $180, with half shares also available. Need more color in your life? Add on a flower share for an extra $120 to receive a lovely bouquet of seasonal blooms from the Tooth of the Lion gardens.

Kensington’s Terra Luna Herbals is here for what ails you
Though Elise Hanks originally came from her home state of Colorado to Philadelphia to study fashion, she currently pursues a different kind of design: growing herbs and botanicals in her tiny Kensington backyard and turning them into herbal wellness products, including dried herb blends for brewing, healing skin salves, infused oils and fresh herbs. Inspired by her experience working on farms through the program World Wide Opportunities on Organic Farms, she also took classes at Philadelphia’s Herbiary and in 2012 began using space in her urban abode to cultivate a diverse array of herbs. While working by day as a florist, she utilized funds raised via an Indiegogo campaign to increase her herb harvests by building raised beds on top of her cement patio. Under the name Terra Luna Herbals, she mixes her homegrown plants with plants from other sustainable growers into all sorts of delicious-smelling and holistic products.   

Hanks sells her wares—try the blackberry and lemon thyme cocktail shrub or the calendula and angelica skin salve—through Etsy, at flea markets and at boutiques such as Ritual Ritual in Old City. This year, she’s also pursuing a CSA model to expand her reach: monthly packages of carefully curated products to provide herbal support tailored to each season. Terra Luna will offer three-, six- and 12-month shares, with pickups on the third Thursday of every month at various locations across town. Prices range from $120 for a three-month share to $480 for a yearlong subscription. The Terra Luna website offers a page to accompany each month’s share with bountiful information on the included items, suggested uses, links to further reading and easy sign-up for interested customers.

In addition to gaining more customers, Hanks says the CSA model affords her a greater level of creativity in her work.

“Instead of having my products be consistent throughout the year, I can give people more awareness of how much products have to do with the seasons,” she says. “I can explore a different topic or theme and base that month’s box off of that.”

Buying clubs that focus on animal welfare and sustainable practices

The Right Stuff

by Emily Kovach

For many conscientious omnivores, labels or stickers touting “organic” or “grassfed” on packages of grocery store meat and dairy simply aren’t enough anymore. More than ever, savvy shoppers want to know exactly where their poultry, beef, eggs and cheese are raised or produced, with the airtight assurance that humane practices have been used. These three CSAs are here to help.

Collective Creamery will help you craft the perfect cheese plate
A collaboration between two of our region’s finest cheesemakers—Sue Miller of Birchrun Hills Farm and Stefanie Angstadt of Valley MilkhouseCollective Creamery is a dream for serious cheese aficionados and anyone who wants expertly crafted cheese made from the milk of grassfed cows.

Collective Creamery CSA subscribers receive special-edition cheeses that are collaboratively made by the two cheesemakers, such as their dry, savory, English-style Pennsylvania cheddar. Shares also include—and here’s where serious cheese heads should pay attention—occasional guest cheeses from food artisans throughout the region: That means dairy devotees can get a taste of local products that may be impossible to find in even the best cheese shops in the city. Collective Creamery began offering cheese CSAs just last year and immediately gained a dedicated customer base. This year, it’s offering eight pickups every other week for its summer program, which will be open for memberships in April. The shares come in two sizes: the Artisan (three cheeses per share) for $264, and Petite (two per share) for $192, and both will be prorated if new members want to jump in once the season is already underway.

While plenty of farm CSAs include some kind of cheese add-on option, Collective Creamery offers not only serious quality, but education and expertise, as well. With each share, it sends out an email newsletter packed with information about the style of cheese and its history, along with tips on how to pair the cheeses or incorporate them into seasonal dishes. The team also makes an effort to engage with their members, sometimes in person at cheese tastings hosted at pickup sites, or via email, where they are quick to respond to inquiries. With cultured butter and pairing add-ons, this CSA will ensure members are never without a supremely well-stocked cheese drawer.

From pasture to butcher’s block, Primal Supply is vetting the supply chain
There is a common adage in the locavore community to “know your farmer.” As noble an idea as it is, creating relationships with producers and growers is time consuming and not always feasible for many consumers who, nevertheless, genuinely do care about where their food comes from.

Primal Supply Meats acts as the bridge between farmers raising animals in a humane and sustainable way and the customers who want their products. Founders Heather Thomason and Cecilie May have created relationships across a network of farmers, spending time getting to know their land, animals and practices.

They’ve leveraged these connections in the creation of the Butcher’s Club, a pay-as-you-go meat-buying club that enables Thomason and May to build a sustainable supply chain in the region, to support more responsible livestock farmers and supply Philadelphia with high-quality, custom cuts of meat. It also gives them the space to hone their craft of whole-animal butchery. Thomason defines their protocols: “We source directly from local farmers who raise animals on pasture, where they are free to roam, root and graze. They are never given hormones, antibiotics or fed GMOs. Each animal is treated humanely and processed respectfully.”

The Butcher’s Club, which began in August 2016, is going strong in 2017. “We have gotten an overwhelmingly positive response from the local food community,” Thomason says. “We’ve experienced steady membership growth since our launch, with nearly a 100 percent retention rate.”

Along with their eight current pickup locations—including Crime & Punishment Brewing Co. in Brewerytown, CrossFit Rittenhouse and Malvern Buttery on the Main Line—they plan to secure additional spots in the near future to serve more customers in more neighborhoods. Starting this spring, they’ll also vend their expertly butchered cuts of grassfed beef, pastured chicken and pork—as well as sausages and stocks—at a number of farmers markets and via partnerships with other sustainably minded local businesses.

Grow and Behold offers local, humanely raised kosher meat
In 2010, Anna Hanau and her husband Naftali founded Grow and Behold, a buying club that provides the kosher community with high-quality, pastured meats, which can often be difficult for consumers to find. In their seventh year of business, their team remains committed to working with producers to ensure that the highest standards of care for animals and people are upheld along the supply chain. Working closely with farmers, Grow and Behold only accepts product that has been procured using the practices that support the natural environment, respect the natural instincts of the animals and ensure the highest kosher rates.

All of the animals are raised outdoors on pasture and have never been fed or administered hormones or antibiotics. To ensure that these standards are being followed, they visit farms and slaughterhouses regularly, many of which are located in Pennsylvania and Maryland.

Grow and Behold products are strictly “glatt kosher,” under the supervision of the Orthodox Union.

The range of meats includes poultry, beef, lamb and veal, as well as specialty items such as hot dogs, lunch meats and sausages. They host pickup sites throughout Pennsylvania, South and Central New Jersey, and in the New York City metro area. Locally, they make biweekly Wednesday deliveries to Elkins Park, Mount Airy, Merion Station, Center City and Voorhees/Cherry Hill, New Jersey, for a $5 delivery fee. There are no standing commitments; members may order every two weeks or once in a while, and shopping the easily navigable website is a breeze.

With these CSA shares, you’ll be eating a lot more than your veggies

Stay Stocked

by Emily Kovach

No one is going to say no to the coming parade of farm-fresh summer vegetables: Bring on those sweet peas and crispy carrots. But partnerships are popping up all over the place that will help you share in the full bounty of our local farms by adding staples like eggs and cheese or bread baked in small batches.

Prepare your pantry with the Green Aisle CSA
Perhaps you’ve been to one of Green Aisle Grocery’s three locations in Philadelphia to pick up an artisanal product, like a jar of lavender honey, bags of locally roasted coffee or a hunk of bean-to-bar chocolate. The pleasure of shopping at Green Aisle for fine, small-batch goods can now be experienced on the regular with its biweekly CSA program. It’s now taking reservations for the spring session runs, which cost $300 and include a total of six pickups on the first and 15th days of April, May and June.

Much like shopping in the store, every share includes an array of specialty items, ranging from the practical to the fabulous. Owner Adam Erace notes, “We’re like a hybrid CSA and BirchBox [a boutiquey cosmetics subscription service].” Each pickup will include a dozen pastured eggs from Roundtop Farm (located in Honey Brook, Pennsylvania); two cups of supremely creamy yogurt from Pequea Valley; local, organic produce; and then, the extra fun stuff. Selections may include preserves, pickles, meat, cheese, coffee and chocolate. Among these “value added” items are things you almost certainly won’t find in other CSAs, such as Stargazy broccoli cheddar pot pies, hummus from Dizengoff, Green Meadow Farm roasted peanuts, and D’Artagnan cherry-and-venison sausage. Are you hungry yet?

Red Earth Farm partners up to give you the whole package
In some ways, Red Earth Farm’s CSA appears to be pretty conventional. Once a week or every other week, members receive a box of seasonal produce grown on their lovely farm in Kempton, Pennsylvania. But that’s really just the beginning. In addition to fruits and veggies, Red Earth has partnered with many other purveyors to offer a wide variety of options to stock your kitchen with an abundance of locally sourced groceries.

Love fruit? The fruit share adds succulent seasonal tree fruit (apricots, peaches, pears and apples) to each box. Want to make tasty egg-and-cheese sandwiches for brunch every weekend? A dozen eggs from the egg share and the Hillacres Pride or Farm Fromage cheese shares have got you covered. The artisan bread share, compliments of partner Daily Loaf in Hamburg, Pennsylvania, keeps members flush with beautiful fresh loaves including specialty flavors such as sweet potato wheat, onion rye, beet wheat and sesame kale. Yogurt and kefir shares from Wholesome Dairy Farms are another tasty add-on.

Red Earth’s CSA runs for a generous 22-week season from June to November. Pickup locations are thoughtfully peppered across town, including in Queen Village, University City and Fairmount.