Many large cities in the United States are described as groups of neighborhoods joined together, as in a series of small towns. Philadelphia could be the case study for that brand of sociological factoid; identification with neighborhood is stronger here than in most other parts of the country.
It goes so far in Philadelphia that sometimes just the mention of being from South Philly requires further documentation, easily provided by naming your parish.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art is hosting a national touring show that explores the ties that bind Americans to their communities. The show, "Indivisible: Stories of American Community," runs through Oct. 6 and features a dozen places across the country where people are leading projects of community involvement.
The exhibition, more of a documentary project than strictly an art show, is the work of photographers, historians, folklorists and multimedia artists. Philadelphia’s Village of Arts and Humanities, founded by artist Lily Yeh as a park building project, is included in the show.
A photographer and an interviewer who have worked independently to produce visual and audio representations portray each of the 12 locations. The photographers chosen are Dawoud Bey, Bill Burke, Lucy Capehart, Lynn Davis, Terry Evans, Debbie Fleming Caffery, Lauren Greenfield, Joan Liftin, Reagan Louie, Danny Lyon, Sylvia Plachy and Eli Reed. Their work differs in format, size, color and montage.
The interviewers, many of whom are radio producers and oral historians, include Merle Augustin, Dan Collison, Barry Dornfeld, George King, Jack Loeffler, Jens Lund, Karen Michel, Daniel Rothenberg, Jeff Whetstone and Joe Wood.
The Philadelphia project, cited as a cultural organization working to "rebuild community through creativity and education," was put together by Louie and Dornfeld. Louie is a Guggenheim and Fulbright fellow and professor of photography at the San Francisco Art Institute. Dornfeld is a documentary producer and director and associate professor of the communication program at the University of the Arts in Philadelphia.
According to the museum notes, "together, they captured the spirit behind the remarkable turreted stucco architecture, recycled-tire flower pots and vegetable gardens — mosaics, murals and sculpture — that combine the efforts of artist Lily Yeh, James ‘Big Man’ Maxton, guest artists and the community, especially children."
The exhibition, which originated with the Center for Documentary Studies at Duke University and the Center for Creative Photography at the University of Arizona in Tucson, was funded by the Pew Charitable Trusts, and will be seen at a dozen or so venues across the country during a two-year span.
This show not only has a number of public programs accompanying it; it also has other exhibitions. One part of this national project will distribute more than 3 million free postcards. This display will be at the Fleisher Art Memorial from Sept. 16 to Oct. 5.
Another exhibition is at the museum itself. Titled "Community Celebration: Museum Collaborations," this show runs through Oct. 6 and features photography, scrapbooks, written reflection and paper murals produced by children involved in museum community-outreach programs at the Village of Arts and Humanities and also at the Mural Arts Program of the city’s Parks and Recreation Department.
The village project involves 30 children and features a recreation of the village made by the children in a quilt of sorts that used all types of media and disposable cameras. The Mural Arts project included some 125 children at citywide locations, including the Starr Garden Recreation Center at Sixth and Lombard streets and Vare Middle School at 24th Street and Snyder Avenue.
The museum also is offering a variety of public programs of music, storytelling, gallery talks, lectures and art. All of the programs seek to tie together people and their communities. Other locations nationally featured in the show are Alaskan fishing communities; an Ithaca, N.Y., federal credit union; a peer group for kids in crisis in San Francisco; a Haitian and Delray Beach, Fla., street patrol; a traditional Navajo program in Arizona; an historical preservation effort in South Carolina; a North Carolina mountain project; a Stony Brook, N.Y., midwife service; a Texas housing initiative; a Chicago community group; and a forest protection effort in rural Montana.
For more information on the subject, the exhibition has a Web site, www.indivisible.org; a major book, sets of photographs and tapes, booklets and research archives at Duke and the University of Arizona.
Indivisible: Stories of American Community
Philadelphia Museum of Art
Benjamin Franklin Parkway at 26th Street
Through Oct. 6
Museum admission: $10 general; $7 seniors, students and ages 5-18; pay what you wish on Sundays