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Philadelphia Museum of Art, Art After 5

Art After 5 truly is a three-part experience.  First, the Philadelphia Museum of Art creates the atmosphere for its patrons.  Then, the musicians that perform seek to create a unique encounter between art and music for their audiences.  Finally, these visitors enjoy the ambiance and the performance that have been specially created for them.

The Museum’s Perspective

By Jann Simmons

Art After 5 began in 2004, and we started it because we listened when our patrons—Philadelphia—asked for longer hours and more accessibility to their museum.  Philly residents want a place to come after work to unwind, especially on Fridays, where they can bring their families, too.  At the same time, we want the museum to be a hang-out, a lively, social, neighborhood fun scene,” said Sara Moyn, Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Manager of Evening Programs.  “We want everyone to feel like they can enjoy art, that they can build their appreciation for it.”

Art can be intimidating for the average person who feels like he or she should know about art before enjoying a museum.  Many may feel as though, because they don’t have a degree in art or knowledge about specific genres, styles, media, or artists, that they have no business wandering through a museum, especially one as prestigious as the Philadelphia Museum of Art.  But visiting a museum is exactly the method one should use to learn about art.  Perusing galleries and collections and exhibits offers the opportunities for people to decide what they like and dislike, and then they can revisit the pieces they enjoy most.

Art After 5 is the perfect reason to have an excuse to come to the Museum and gain exposure to art along the way.  These Friday night events bring crowds who want to hear various styles of music.  At the same time, they also allow people to enjoy art in a more relaxed environment.  To cover their unease about art, visitors can invite their friends and family to the museum for the music. Once they arrive, they can sneak down the adjacent wings to find treasures among the collection of paintings and sculptures, jewelry and pottery, installations and special exhibitions.  Visitors can even take advantage of special guided tours hosted by knowledgeable docents who can help them further enjoy what they view.

Art After 5 is meant to present living art in the presence of collected art.  Enter the Great Stair Hall and be affected by the music; enter the wings and experience the collections in the afterglow.  In order to appeal to all ages and backgrounds, Moyn works to recruit musicians from a plethora of musical backgrounds.  While many of the acts on Friday nights are jazz, there are world musicians as well as niche artists who are perfect for one-night gigs.  Many musicians travel from New York, simply because of the proximity to Philadelphia.  Furthermore, visiting artists from overseas tour the U.S. and often seek to include the Museum as a stop.  The Museum also is fortunate to invite big name acts due to grants.  “For example,” Moyn said, “The Israeli consulate is helping fund a number of musicians from Israel this summer.”

“Sometimes, we do mini-series for local artists as well,” said Moyn, who screens all the artists herself, listening to CDs or watching videos the artists send.  She’s always on the lookout for eclectic artists, first-time artists, anyone whose music seems to blend with art and the neighborhood.

“We do present a lot of jazz, because Philly has fewer jazz clubs open now.  It’s dying here.  We offer the alternative to that club feel, though.  We’re kid-friendly, family-friendly, gay-friendly.  Bring everyone!”

Visit www.philamuseum.org/artafter5 for the line-up of Art After 5, which operates every Friday night from 5:00-8:45pm.

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The Artist’s Perspective

Kevin Valentine Jazzes with Philadelphia Museum of Art After 5 Audience

By Advait Ubhayakar

“You are improvising it; you are interpreting it.” Kevin Valentine on art, audience, jazz.  Since he turned full-time jazz vocalist in 2000, Kevin Valentine has played in churches, cafés, clubs, schools, corporate shows, senior citizen centers… and museums. I meet him at the base of the Great Stair Hall in the Philadelphia Museum of Art. He sits at a small table, going over song sheets in paper folders. Next to him, a four-instrument swing setup — organ, bass, drums, trumpet — is tuning up for Art After 5. It is 4:30 PM. We stand, riffing on different lines. He says, “you lob, I’ll hit you back.”

Lob:Jazz in a museum
Hit: I played here twice. I notice, around the country, in New York and Chicago, they have this — it brings different clientele, more people. But what I like is this:  the space is gorgeous and the people who come here listen. If we play at a club, it’s hit or miss; they might listen, they might not… People drink, talk, laugh, smoke. But these guests really listen to the music.

Lob:Audience and ambiance as factors
Hit: I want to feel like I give something. There are plenty of places where I am just in the background — and that’s OK too. But every now and then, I want to connect with the audience. I am sharing with them.It’s [also] an active piece on the audience side. They have to open up… I look for audiences that are willing to receive, not make any judgments, be open to what they have not heard before… The audience definitely influences what I choose, what I think they might appreciate.

Lob:On his taste in art and parallels to his music
Hit: I am a member here [the Philadelphia Museum of Art]. I remember running after my son, when he was little, in the Arms and Armor gallery. My artistic taste is more Impressionistic.  I see the most creativity in that. I look at an apple or a table. But this is how I see the apple or the table. The same happens with jazz. I improvise it; I interpret what it means. Everybody sees an apple or a table. They hear jazz.  But what does that mean to them? If I can get across to an audience what I feel about a certain tune, then I have done my job.

Lob: Today’s show
Hit: I dub this the Summer Breeze Jazz Party.  The sound is more swing, looser. That’s what I chose for this audience. Most are on vacation… they should have fun. It’s a party! The other aspect is story-telling. One way I know I am getting through to people is if they are listening to my story. I talk about what the songs [in the set list] mean to me. Summer is my favorite season ever since I was a little kid. We’re not in school; we’re running around. These songs have meanings based on that.

Lob:On how jazz changes with spaces
Hit: I choose different instrumentation.  I will be doing a jazz vesper for a church next weekend, just me and a guitar. The music is going to be stripped down — the beauty of the guitar, the beauty of the voice. And that’s it. It’s still jazz. But it’s in a different setting. I won’t swing as hard there because they are trying to contemplate, go inside their heads. And in that sense, it pushes me in a different direction so I can give them what they want.

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Art After 5 starts a little before 6 and WRTI 90.1 introduces “The Kevin Valentine Quintet.” As they play, it is clearly his show — and not. The mid-song banter feels like an extension of our conversation. Valentine shares personal stories.

He invites laughter.  “I can’t tell you how many classes I cut to go play this song.”

He appeals to the younger crowd.  “This is the first time I’ve played Justin Timberlake.”

He puts older audience members at ease.  “I’ve got everybody covered; you’re gonna hear what you know.”

He guides all out of their inhibitions.  “Yeah, you can clap.” “Dancing IS allowed.”

Yet, unlike a lead singer occupying center-stage, Valentine is equally at ease cheering his band from the sidelines. Standing at the far edge near the speakers, he points to Tony on trumpet and calls him out to lead. Valentine does not sing for long intervals, content to clap and dance. He does not lead; he anticipates. He is the keenest listener of the show.

There is a magical moment mid-way into the first hour: He is singing “So glad I have got you” and patrons across the chairs and stairs clap long and hard, no one’s hands full of food or drink.

Next week, Valentine will play at the Paris Bistro in Chestnut Hill. “That’s more of a straight-ahead jazz club,” he tells me. “I am going with piano, bass and drums — more of the traditional trio.” He will play with a different pianist, drummer and bass — and a different audience.

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The Patron’s Perspective

Art and Music Collide at Philadelphia Museum of Art After 5

by Gerard Breitenbeck

It’s Friday evening, early for dinner but the right time for cheese plates, cocktails, and jazz in the marble atrium of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Find a table by the stage or take a spot on the wide stone staircase with plenty of legroom and a fine view of the band and the crowd.

Museums and jazz have this common: they make us feel sophisticated, more cultured than we are. They are the New Year’s-Day gym memberships of weekend outings, the kind that come with the bonus of sitting back and thinking: this is how I should be spending my time.

Voila!  A guy in a glittering, purple backwards baseball cap transforms into a man holding a glass of wine, offering his date an Artisanal Cheese Board, while onstage a melancholy trumpet speaks of things we can only grope for in the dark. “Can I get an Amen?” singer, Kevin Valentine, asks the crowd. The crowd gives it.

That audience is an eclectic mix—from five to ninety-five—with enough 20-somethings to satisfy those who look for the presence of others like them to christen the event as accessible. People are relaxed and friendly. Kick back; it’s good to be here: the general feeling of the room broadcasts.  And when trumpeter Tony “Big Cat” Smith lays it down—leaving one hand hanging free as though the instrument were just an extension of his right arm—he has everyone’s attention.  We witness the distinctive. The band are practiced and assured, and Valentine belts sweet and deep.

Art After 5 is perfect for a Friday night precisely because the music doesn’t insist upon every bit of our attentions. Rather, it creates a space where one can have conversation with companions. This is not staring at each other across the tables of coffee shops or fancy restaurants. For every person texting, chatting, or meditating, there’s an eight-year-old boy being twirled by his mother, a father and daughter doing a jazzy shuffle along the upstairs balcony. It’s jazz—ours in which to participate in whatever manner we wish.

Art5_0589-11JUL14Art After 5: the musicianship is accomplished, the food (catered by Steven Starr restaurants) is delicious and varied, the service is stellar, the venue, comfortable. But most of all, my suspicion is that the people who keep coming back value this as a place where they are welcome to wander through the museum to enjoy the art, to talk, just watch the band, the crowd, or simply meditate on the colliding forms of art. For an entertaining, low-pressure destination that doubles as an effortless way to feel that much classier, attend Art After 5 every Friday for the price of admission.

 

Art After 5 is from 5:00–8:45 p.m, every Friday at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Visit www.philamuseum.org/artafter5 for the line-up.

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