Launch party for Leonardo da Vinci- themed festival takes over Palumbo Park

The event was a sneak peek into the month-long art event set for October 2020.

The Philly Moon Men were on-site with a telescope to guide attendees as they viewed Saturn, as well as, Jupiter’s moons in the clear Southern Sky. (Grace Maiorano/SPR)

From balloon modeling of the Mona Lisa to a robotic arm sketching the “David” sculpture, local artists gathered at Palumbo Park, 723 Catharine St., on Thursday night to reinterpret the work of timeless Renaissance pieces.

Emulating a cross-section of disciplines practiced by Renaissance-era artists, the evening of arts and sciences served as the official launch party for the upcoming inaugural Da Vinci Fest set for October 2020.

The month-long, citywide event is the brainchild of the Bella Vista-based Da Vinci Art Alliance, 704 Catharine St., in partnership with PNC Arts Alive and several other regional creative entities. 

More than a year in the making, Da Vinci Art Alliance, an 88-year-old nonprofit working to build community through art, will combine a series of interactive programming, engaging exhibitions and community partnerships – all in memory of its namesake, Leonardo da Vinci. 

“As any good festival should, it’s really about bringing people together, and the mission of our organization is to build community through art and this is our art offering to the community,” said Jarrod Markman, executive director of DVAA. “There are a ton of art festivals throughout the city, and we wanted to find a way to offer something unique – as unique as you could get.”

Throughout the month of October next year, the festival itself will encompass satellite events across the area through collaborations with The Franklin Institute, Fleisher Art Memorial and Mural Arts Philadelphia, to name a few.

As part of the festival, Mural Arts will open a call-to-artists in January 2020  for the proposed “Creativity Is Just Connecting Things” public artwork that will take over a bare outdoor wall of DVAA.

However, the festival’s main component is set for Oct. 11, 2020, which will take over the Bella Vista neighborhood. 

“The whole festival and idea is to highlight the intersection of various disciplines – usually under an artistic context,” said DVAA’s director of exhibitions and programming, Bryant Girsch, who programmed a robotic arm to draw Michelangelo’s “David.”  “…It’s our belief and our hope that people are convinced that creativity happens at the intersection of disciplines. So, we are promoting that as an educational tool, as a way to spark artistic influences from all over – not just art history books, which are great but, perhaps, just half the story.”

DVAA’s director of exhibitions and programming Bryant Girsch programs a robotic arm to recreate Michelangelo’s “David.” (Grace Maiorano)

Last Thursday’s celebration gave audiences a taste of what to expect during the festival, including astronomy activities and a sneak peek of the Da Vinci Derby track, which is custom made by The Bresslergroup, a Philadelphia-based product design and development firm.

Do-it-yourself derby starter kits were available for attendees to create their own racing cars, as the interactive project fostered children’s engineering skills.

A major element of Da Vinci Fest includes helping children unearth their inner genius through “STEAM Plus” programming, mirroring the multifaceted pursuits of polymath  Leonardo da Vinci. 

“I think that Leonardo da Vinci is someone that should be taught and studied as a person and as a force of nature,” said mixed-media artist Gregory Laut, who made a balloon art rendition of the Mona Lisa. “So, (DVAA) choosing that as their name and just using that as a springboard for all of these applications that they have here involving technology and the arts – and really blending the two, which is what Leonardo da Vinci did so well.” 

Leonardo da Vinci’s contributions to astronomy have also been interwoven into the festival’s tapestry. 

During last week’s event, the Philly Moon Men were on-site with a telescope to guide attendees as they viewed Saturn as well as Jupiter’s moons in the clear Southern Sky. 

Philly Moon Men, an astronomy outreach program based at 4th and South streets, will contribute a star party and other interactive art projects to the colossal festival 

“The main reason why we do this – is to raise awareness about the universe,” said Philly Moon Men co-founder Brendan Happe. “The night sky has been guiding humanity for millennia. Before we had anything, we used the stars to navigate…But living in a light-polluted city, we’re losing touch with the night sky. All the bright lights coming from our city makes us hard to see all the bright lights coming from the universe. So, I find that this work is actually quite important, because we have a very special opportunity to reconnect people to the night sky who have been living in a light-polluted city.” 

Markman says DVAA plans to host the festival annually, growing larger in scale and length each year.

In memory of the Renaissance luminary, the Da Vinci Fest hopes to inspire individuals of all ages to feel inspired and enlightened by new concepts and connections.   

“I hope that, as the very base, someone learns something that they didn’t know and that could be something from a different field,” Markman said. “It could be meeting someone that they didn’t know lived around the corner but that connecting with a new idea, I think, is the heart of what we’re doing. And, it doesn’t have to be super academic. What we’re trying to do is very accessible but still challenging and still trying to get people at every level to learn something.” 

Twitter: @gracemaiorano