This year I had the pleasure of working with Tom Burns of Urban Ventures Group, Paul Brophy, and the talented folks at NeighborhoodsNow on a unique report. They were making the case to Philadelphia City Council that now’s the time to invest in the city’s “backbone”: its vital neighborhoods—those middle-income areas that don’t always get the attention (or the resources) they deserve. And yet they constitute the city’s tax base, and are filled with devoted residents who choose to stay, send their kids to local schools, and know the people on their block.
It turns out there’s a precedent for smart city planning that, rather than just throwing money at the blight, invests modestly in neighborhoods that are currently stable, but right on the edge of being at risk. This sures up these areas, insulates them from the possibility of deterioration and decay in future decades. Don’t we wish we’d made a small investment years ago that could have helped stabilize the neighborhoods in Philly that now most need our help?
Mayor Nutter spoke at the Girard College event when the report was presented back in March, and on the way there I was struck by that beautiful campus and all that surrounded it. What will the decisions made now, in the wake of the financial crisis, mean for how the city looks in 10, 20, 50 years? This report, which I edited, takes a good hard look. It was an honor to help get the message out.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) has been a client for several years, and whenever I’m there I swoon over the collection but also find myself envying the arts students who are talented and passionate enough to attend this prestigious art school.
I just finished work on a brochure about one of PAFA’s most unique programs: the Post Baccalaureate, which provides an intensive year with four dedicated faculty members. The testimonials speak to what it means to come to a place like PAFA to devote one’s self to the hard work of being doggedly creative. And also how transformative even one year can be. I, for one, was inspired.
This summer I had the pleasure of interviewing a world-renowned classical composer who is working on a way to kill cancer cells using sound waves. (Think opera singer who can shatter glass with her voice.) He did a mini-sabbatical at Jefferson’s Department of Surgery in July, and got some promising results. Imagine a side-effect-free treatment that can be dispensed to a room full of patients for just a few pennies’ worth of electricity.
A documentarian has been following Dr. Holland for months, and collecting video diary entries, in the hopes that this research will cross over from promising into ground-breaking. (My sources tell me that he’s also pitching the story to This American Life.) Be one of the first to read about this true Renaissance man. Read the full article here or the PDF version here.
A little backstory: Dr. Holland came to Jefferson because of happenstance. Dr. Jonathan Brody, of Jefferson’s Division of Surgical Research, gave a talk last year at Skidmore, his alma mater, where Dr. Holland has taught for 27 years. (Turns out Dr. Brody is quite the Renaissance man himself, and a classically trained percussionist.) Dr. Holland attended Dr. Brody’s talk, and approached his former student about what he’d been “playing around with” in the biology labs. And a research partnership was born. Stories of how great partnerships come about have always intrigued me, and I love the role of classical music in this one.
NeighborhoodsNow is a Philadelphia non-profit that strives to ensure that all of the city’s neighborhoods remain vital and economically competitive. They needed a brochure that provided an overview of their three primary initiatives, including outcomes to date. They started with a draft, but needed the information to be readily accessible to prospective partners and funders, so that their goals, priorities, and successes would make an impact. And they didn’t have a lot of time.
ARC started with feedback from the executive director, Beverly Coleman, about what she liked and didn’t like about the current draft. We then did a rewrite to break down the considerable amount of information into digestible chunks that would work with the evolving design. We incorporated strong headlines, bulleted lists, and lots of action words to reflect the high level of energy that is inherent to these programs. The manuscript was 1,250 words (about 7 pages), and ARC turned around the rewrite in a matter of days.
A few years ago I researched and wrote a script for an exhibition for the Eagles Mere Museum, in a small town near Williamsport, PA. It was settled by a glassmaker in the late 18th century, and became a famous resort destination during the Victorian era. Today it’s as unspoiled as ever, with the beautiful “cottages” (many of them 8+ bedrooms) surrounding the perfectly preserved lake. I went back to take a look at the museum now that it’s open, and was pleased to run into the husband-and-wife team of historians who advised me on the project (Barbara and Bush James, longtime Eagles Mere summer residents and authors of Mere Reflections: A Unique Journey through Historic Eagles Mere, 1988). I was thrilled to learn that the exhibition we created had over 11,000 visitors in 2008—up from 400 per year in its previous location—a former chapel.
The location is much better, for sure, at the center of the small village, alongside new retail space. But the exhibition itself is also far superior—it tells the story of this place and shows off the highlights of the extensive collection. Whereas before there were dozens of objects filling cases from floor to ceiling, with very few labels and almost no interpretation, we strived to organize and prioritize the images and objects in order to tell a compelling story. Without the funds for expensive computer interactives, the exhibition relies on historic photography, objects, and traditional text panels to educate and engage its visitors. It goes to show it’s not a big budget that makes for a satisfying museum experience. You can learn a lot, even just from reading the headlines and a few captions. Well worth a visit.
Here’s what Therese Boyd, writer for the Harrisburg Patriot-News, had to say:
“The [Eagles Mere] museum does justice [to the town’s] rich history . . . natural areas and historic architecture. . . . This is one of the best small museums I’ve ever seen. In materials and presentation, in choice of artifacts and interactive displays, the entire museum experience is outstanding.”
A glimpse of a facial expression conveys volumes. This is one of my favorite photographs. It’s William Faulkner in 1962, with Eudora Welty in the background, when she presented him with the Gold Medal for Fiction at the National Institute of Arts and Letters, in New York.
I came across this photograph and dozens like it when I was doing research on Faulkner for a master planning project for the University of Mississippi (Ole Miss) in Oxford. The museum wanted to find a way to honor one of its most distinguished alumni and longtime Oxford resident, and we devised a thematic approach to make his life, his writings, and his genius accessible to museumgoers.
(The museum also oversees Rowan Oak, the historic site that was Faulkner’s home for many decades, which happens to be a short walk through the woods from the museum. Read more about this amazing site in this New York Times article, or more about my involvement with the related landscape planning project.)
The prestigious Cardiac Program of Penn Presbyterian Hospital in Philadelphia wanted to take advantage of a wall in the lobby of its new building to showcase the pioneering achievements and technological advances that were unique to the hospital. Alison started from scratch by reviewing historic documents and photography at the University of Pennsylvania Archives and devised an interpretive approach based on the strengths and highlights of this archival collection. Interpretive scripting and layout followed, to play up the research, clinical, as well as educational aspects of this cutting-edge program.
It was a fun to help the Philadelphia Zoo develop an exhibit commemorating its 150th anniversary. I worked with curators and other zoo staff members on panels for a special exhibition about how America’s first zoo paved the way and contributes research as well as opportunities for entertainment and engagement with these glorious animals of all stripes.
The design team created a series of markers around the zoo provided opportunities to interpret historic buildings as well as fun facts about its role in the community as well as the animals who have lived there.
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) needed a general information brochure that straddled its dual identity as a prestigious art school and a museum housing one of the world’s finest collections of American art. ARC devised the brochure’s organization and wrote all copy. The piece was designed to compete with other rack brochures at the Visitors Center and is also mailed out to the media and other interested parties. The third panel folds in under the three call-to-action headings: “visit,” attend,” and “create.”