Museum Mile: Philadelphia's Parkway Museums
Paperback, 180 Pages
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'Museum Mile' takes a behind-the-scenes look at the arts and culural treasures that line Philadelphia's Benjamin Franklin Parkway. The Parkway hosts more than a dozen major cultural institutions, including two, the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art, that are without peer. Others like the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts; and the Rodin Museum and Garden, a PMA subsidiary, have a much-heralded presence in the nation's arts world.
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Mar 13, 2012From the Introduction THERE is no official 'Museum Mile.' Nor is that monumental stretch of pavement and garden paths (including, even, a baseball diamond), encompassing the length of Benjamin Franklin Parkway in Center City, Philadelphia, actually a linear mile. More like two thirds of a mile, according to my reckoning. In writing this collection, I adapted the name (a length of Fifth Avenue near the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York also has the same informal appellation) to embrace a landscape populated by Philadelphia's most storied museums and learned institutions. The location is fitting; the Parkway is incontrovertibly the city's most beautiful and majestic street-scape. The Parkway hosts more than half dozen major cultural institutions, including two, the Barnes Foundation and the Philadelphia Museum of Art that are without peer. Others like the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, America's first art museum; and the Rodin Museum and Garden, a PMA subsidiary, have... More > much-heralded presence in the national arts firmament. The University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archeology & Anthropology, far from the Parkway, on the Penn campus in University City, might be for some a curious addition to the 'Parkway list.' This, but for the little-known fact that the Penn Museum and the PMA are actually 'sister' institutions, attributable to a 1941 pact that recognized what had been previously a de facto agreement – how and what each institution would collect. The PMA, according Evan H. Turner, the museum's director in the 1970s, 'would collect and exhibit only Western post-Christian art and Oriental art after A.D. 500...; ancient art and the art of other cultures being reserved for the University Museum....' Items were loaned and exchanged. Turner, in an explanation in a 1973 museum catalog, one of the few such public acknowledgments of the arrangement, turned a bit coy. The division between the two collections, the director said, was 'partly due to the erratic pattern of growth characteristic of a museum owing much to the generosity of private collectors.' In other words, each museum had its own stable of loyal donors. The Penn Museum and the Philadelphia Museum were founded about the same time as Victorian mission-minded institutions. The university's museum debuted in 1887; the PMA, in 1876 in an embryonic form as the part of the American Centennial held that year in Fairmount Park. With its move to the Parkway, the PMA got its real start as one of America's great art museums. (Nicknamed the 'Parthenon on the Parkway,' the museum building opened in 1928). Despite their symbiosis, the Penn Museum and the PMA are administratively and financially independent. (Physically, perhaps too much. A shuttle bus service between the two, a low-cost service, would benefit both museums). Thanks to the 1941 pact, as well, the PMA can claim to be an encyclopedic museum, along the lines established by the Metropolitan Museum of Art. Even before the agreement, the Penn Museum already had well established its mission in anthropology and archeology, second only, at the time, to the American Museum of Natural History in New York. Here, too, are essays about some other great Philadelphia art venues and places of public learning. Missing, because they fall outside the Parkway sphere, are such notables as the Woodmere Museum of Art, the Institute of Contemporary Art at Penn, and the LaSalle University Museum of Art. And many others. The institutions that are included, all fortuitously nesting nearby the other on the Parkway, also happen to be the most ambitious, comprehensive, and richly endowed in Philadelphia. In a word, among the best in the city; indeed, the nation. How they all wound up near or on the Parkway, from the late 19th to the early 20th century, to form what has become a 21st century phenomenon -- 'Museum Mile,' if you will -- has everything to do with the visionaries who in 1917 cut out a swath in residential housing in Fairmount to create the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. With the construction of that monumental expanse, dubbed at the time as the city's 'Main Street,' Philadelphia had created a European-like boulevard that cried for equally imposing architecture. It was only a matter of time before the Parkway's magnetism attracted the main branch the Free Library of Philadelphia (1927) and the Franklin Institute (1934). Thus they joined the Academy of Natural Sciences, already in the neighborhood since 1876. Out-door art works also flourished, transforming the Parkway into a spectacular sculpture garden. These forty or so essays roughly embrace an almost two-year period, from late 2009 through late 2011, in the cultural life of Parkway. Some of them, such as those reviewing specific exhibits, are temporal in nature. Others speak to institutional, financial, and administrative 'cultures' that have another kind of lasting relevance. I attempted to write my essays on the Barnes as a narrative of its transformative move to the Parkway. Many of the essays first appeared in The Philadelphia Junto; the BroadStreetReview.com; Examiner.com; and in the Weekly Press. In almost all cases, the versions herein have been heavily revised. I've emphasized themes such as fiscal responsibility; financial transparency; and full, unfettered public access. The late Paul Mellon, an outspoken champion of free museum access, helped inform and guide me in these and other matters. These underpinning issues are further elucidated in several essays that involve museums far afield from the Parkway.< Less
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- Richard Carreno (Standard Copyright License)
- First Edition
- November 10, 2011
- Perfect-bound Paperback
- Interior Ink
- Black & white
- 0.43 lbs.
- Dimensions (inches)
- 4.25 wide x 6.88 tall
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