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Wednesday, April 30, 2014

People in the Street, not Historians and Politcans, Saved DREAM GARDEN

Maxfield Parrish and Dream Garden: Art, Curses, Love and Politics
Edward Bok
Weekly Press
• Wed, Apr 23, 2014
By Thom Nickels
Contributing Writer

Recently, I gave a talk at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Arts on the history of Philadelphia’s famous mural, Dream Garden, located in the lobby of the Curtis Building on Washington Square. The story is a fascinating one.

The story begins with a man named Edward Bok. In 1887, Bok became an advertising manager at Scribner’s Magazine. Two years later, he was at the Curtis Building on Philadelphia’s Washington Square as editor of the Ladies’ Home Journal. Bok transformed the magazine from a fluffy woman’s magazine into a best-selling publication that campaigned for women’s suffrage, pacifism, and the protection of the environment.

Because Bok believed that good art should find a place in public buildings, he asked Cyrus Curtis of Curtis Publishing if he would include a mural in what was then the new Curtis building.
Bok wasn’t thinking of the lobby, at least not yet, but of the large public dining room on the building’s top floor. He hired Fred Maxfield Parrish to paint a series of seventeen panels between the windows there.

The five year long project resulted in panels depicting a series of gardens with youths and maidens frolicking in colorful costumes.

Bok then turned his attention to a large blank white wall in the lobby of the Curtis Building. The wall measured over one thousand square feet. The space seemed to call for a mural, much the same way that many outdoor spaces today call to Jane Golden and the Mural Arts Project. Bok wanted to find another artist, and rather than re-employ Parrish, which would have been the logical thing to do, he looked elsewhere, as if trying to find someone better. He traveled to London and visited with English artist Edwin A. Abbey. Although Abbey was working on a project for the capitol building in Harrisburg, the two men struck a deal. Abbey was given the okay to paint anything he wanted to paint for the Curtis Center. Abbey’s idea was a theme based on “The Grove of Academe,” with Plato and his disciples lounging around in philosophical ecstasy.

Bok returned to America, but the very day that Abbey started the project in London, he fell over dead, as if cursed by a competing artist’s voodoo spell.

Bok then went on a talent scout hunt and found a Wilmington artist named Howard Pyle. Pyle was a good choice because he also happened to know a lot about Plato. But the hoped for connection never came about because when Bok tried to telephone the artist at his Wilmington home, he was told that Pyle had just died an hour earlier while traveling in Italy.

Sometimes life is like that, unpredictable, cruel and only sometimes fair.

When a third artist, Boutet de Monvel, a famous decorative master, agreed to do the project, Bok invited Monvel to Philadelphia to inspect the space at the Curtis building but almost immediately after arrangements were made, Monvel died in Paris.

Now it was time for Bok, who was beginning to feel cursed, to take stock. He started to think collectively. He asked six of the leading mural artists in the county to submit a full color mural proposal on any subject of their choosing. The six anonymous submissions were then submitted and analyzed by a panel of judges. But this time the curse manifested itself in the form of six blatant rejections.

He then remembered a glass mosaic curtain by Louis C. Tiffany he’d once seen in Mexico City’s Municipal Theatre. He recalled the look of favrile glass set in cement and how that produced a marvelous luminosity. Bok contacted Tiffany and got him to agree to a partnership but they still needed an artist to provide the preliminary sketch.
Bok went back to Parrish and asked him to come up with a sketch for Tiffany despite the fact that Parrish had never worked with glass or mosaics. Parrish’s preliminary drawing was approved.

Six months of planning and thirty skilled artisans and over one million pieces of glass later, Dream Garden was given a New York exhibition where it was viewed by over seven thousand people. Art critics at the time were thrilled: they said the mural went way beyond the limited expression of a painted canvass.

It took six months for the mural to be disassembled in New York and then reassembled in Philadelphia.

Parrish was born in 1870 in Maryland into a family of Quaker physicians. He went to Haverford College but then transferred to PAFA in 1892. In 1894, he got his first commission to paint the Old King Cole mural in the new Mask and Whig Club. After that, success came to him easily. Once he became a seasoned artist he called himself “a mechanic who loved to paint.”

His first magazine cover illustration commission was in 1895, and from then on it was a roller coaster ride.
A passion for gardening caused Parrish to insist that a reflecting pool be placed in front of Dream Garden when it was installed in the Curtis Center. His idolization of youth in Italianate landscape settings seemed to reflect aspects of his romantic life.

He had two love affairs of note, both with much younger women, while maintaining his status of a married man. Sue Lewin was a 16 year old farm girl when Parrish and his wife employed her to look after their two children. Parrish was 32 or 33 at the time, an age difference that in today’s world would almost certainly catapult his name into a scandalous breaking news headline. Lewin became Parrish’s model, but she was no random castaway. A journalist once asked Lewin if there was something to her association with the artist and she said, “I’ll have you know that Mr. Parrish has never seen my bare knee.” Sometimes political white lies are necessary, because the exact opposite of this proved to be true when, sometime after both their deaths, workers in Parrish’s Plainfield, New Hampshire home found revealing photos Parrish had taken of Lewin. Lewin remained with Parrish until his 90th birthday when she asked him to marry her. When he refused to do that, Lewin went off and married somebody else.

Another love, Nancy Roelker, was just 21 years old when she met the 66 year old Parrish in 1936. Parrish’s letters to Roelker survive, but Parrish destroyed Nancy’s letters to him, fearing a scandal.

In the early 20th century, almost every home in America had a Maxfield Parrish print. Parrish’s work saturated the market. He was Andy Warhol before there was an Andy Warhol. He did covers for Life, Collier’s, and Harper’s Weekly Magazines, posters and ads for Hires Root Beer and General Electric. He was commissioned to do murals for office buildings and hotels. In a way, his work—canvasses depicting eternal blue skies—reflected the Age of Innocence, although his popularity began to decline in the 1930s. And it really sunk after WW II.

In the beginning of the 20th century, he was as popular as Van Gogh is today. After WW II, American art began to be noticed on the world stage, and Parrish became known as mainly an illustrator, banished by art critics to second fiddle status. Norman Rockwell, who once had a sustained artistic legacy and even a museum near Washington Square, suffered a similar fate—Rockwell, in fact, considered Parrish to be an artistic mentor.

Until the summer of 1998, Dream Garden rested comfortably in the lobby of the Curtis Building, attracting tens of thousands of visitors who would view it without fanfare and then shuffle off to view Independence Hall or the Liberty Bell. It was just one more nice Philly attraction. Dream Garden was still attracting visitors despite the fact that Parrish’s artistic reputation had been demoted by those “art scholar squirrels”. Dream Garden in the 40s, 50s, and beyond was pretty much taken for granted in a city already filled with a lot of art.

In the late 1990s, before the proposed sale of the mural was announced in the press, I worked in the Curtis Building and can say that many people who worked there at that time knew next to nothing about Dream Garden. The Dream Garden lobby was mostly regarded as a pretty walk-through area where one might only occasionally glance at the body contours of a blue mosaic nymph or naughty satyr. There were no adoring crowds, no multiple clicks of cameras. Before the 1998-Steve Wynn controversy, Dream Garden was another “taken-for-granted Philly treasure,” another addition to a list that ranged from historic houses to personalities.

Dream Garden moved to center stage in July of 1998 when it was announced that an anonymous buyer wanted to remove it from the lobby of the Curtis Building. This was breaking news, and attracted considerably more attention than what passes as breaking news today. The impending sale was the result of the actions of Elizabeth C. Merriam, of Wynnewood, wife of real estate developer John W. Merriam, an early Gerry Lenfest-like figure who gave millions to area institutions like the University of Pennsylvania, University of the Arts, PAFA and Bryn Mawr College. Mr. and Mrs. Merriam lived in a Victorian mansion worth upwards of 119 million called ‘Maybrook,’ Mr. Merriam, who died in 1994, left a will specifying the sale. Later, Elizabeth would tell the press, “All I wanted to do was carry out his [Mr. Merriam’s} intentions.”
When a friend who worked with me in the Curtis Building suggested that we do something about the sale, we tried to decide what that something would be. We were sitting in a café near the Warwick Hotel and came up with the idea of a 1960s style protest with hand made placards. We would walk back and forth on the sidewalk in front of the Curtis Building from noon to 1 p.m. every Monday, Wednesday and Friday until the crisis was resolved.

The next day we bought flagpoles and duct tape, printed flyers and designed the protest signs. Our first day of protest was to be July 27. We told some people about the demonstration but not too many because we didn’t want to be talked out of it. Several people we told spoke up and told us, “It’s a done deal. The situation is hopeless.”

In some ways it seemed like a ludicrous idea; two people do not a demonstration make. Or do they? On the afternoon of the first protest, we were driven to the site by a friend, who did not stick around to see what would happen. As I wrote in ‘Coming together to keep a ‘Dream’ alive,’ for The Inquirer, “…Our two person protest attracted immediate attention. Cars honked; tourists in horse-drawn carriages asked for fliers; Curtis Center office workers, couples, artists, students, kids of bicycles, elderly couples, parking meter attendants and others told us how shocked they were at the sale.”
Many asked what they could do. We told them to come to the protests on Wednesday or Friday. By the end of the first protest, scores of people had promised to come Wednesday with friends. During that first two-person protest, we attracted the attention of Inquirer photographer Peter Tobia. The next day the picture of the demo appeared on page one of The Inquirer.

I’d given Tobia my phone number as the contact number for the Arts Defense League, the name we decided to call our group. That Tuesday, July 28th was a watershed moment. My phone did not stop ringing. Many callers were from outside the city, and nearly every caller wanted to know what they could do to help.

The second protest attracted nearly 70 people, plus a large chunk of the news media and the city’s civil disobedience squad. People helped with the petitions and promised to bring more friends to Friday’s demonstration. Suddenly the idea of keeping Dream Garden in the city seemed a very real possibility. We expected over 200 at Friday’s demonstration, but then Mayor Rendell suddenly announced at a news conference that Steve Wynn had backed out of the deal. Dream Garden would not be broken up into pieces or sections and shipped to a casino.

We collected almost 700 signatures during that 3-day span. My friend and I were shuffled in and out of TV studios—Fox News, Channel 48, NBC 10, Channel 6 and 35. It was through the roof even if there was no WHYY or Marty Moss-Coane. A few television interviews were conducted in front of my apartment on Pine Street, and with each broadcast more people wanted to help solidify the Arts Defense League. There were other art works in the city that needed saving, we felt. Some of the people who joined us envisioned a new organization along the lines of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia with a Board of Directors, a President, Secretary and Treasurer. They asked to be given something to do while taking it upon themselves to write politicians and city agencies as ADL representatives. Get your photo and phone number published on page one of The Inquirer as the co-founder of a new organization, and see how quickly people flock to you with their own ideas about how the organization should be run. What was once so manageable—a simple two-person consensus—was slowly morphing into a large committee where dissenting views always threaten to hamper progress or bring about schism.

A reporter from People Magazine telephoned me one night at my job in the Curtis Center, and said he wanted to interview me for the magazine. This created an exciting opportunity but in the end proved to be a disaster, because his wish to interview only me made it necessary for me to tell him that my friend and I were in this together. So while he did eventually interview both of us in an Old City restaurant, when I told my friend about the initial request of a single interview this set off a chain reaction of suspicion and distrust that in the end got this marvelous opportunity---a full feature in People —canned.

As a result of the protest and the mayor’s action, on July 29, 1998 the Historical Commission notified the Merriam estate its intention to designate Dream Garden as an historic object under the City of Philadelphia’s historic Preservation ordinance.

The Merriam estate appealed the historic designation, and so began three years of very costly litigation. In 2001, the Pew Charitable Trusts agreed to provide 3.5 million for purchase of the mural, as three of the 4 beneficiaries of the Merriam estate transferred their respective interests to PAFA.

PAFA then agreed to keep Dream Garden in the city, promising to use its “best efforts” to keep it in its site in the Curtis Building.

Until 2001, our group attended numerous hearings and testified at Historical Commission meetings, although as time went on-- and as heavier organizations with a board of directors weighed in--references to the Coalition for Philadelphia Art seemed to diminish. CPA eventually folded, a victim of the passage of time. Today, of course, I’m less than amused when I read references to that early grassroots effort to safeguard Dream Garden. I’m thinking about minimalist references to our efforts like—petition gatherers, a group of demonstrators or even time-warp phrases like, “the public also protested the sale of Dream Garden.”

It is important to remember that the public did not also oppose the sale of Dream Garden, but that they were the first to protest the sale, and as such, were the ones to draw in the… politicians, who came later.

Where Do Dead Philly Journalists Go?

The Local Lens
• Wed, Apr 30, 2014
By Thom Nickels

Where do dead journalists go? Presumably they go where everyone else goes, but in the tightfisted, competitive fishbowl world of Philly journalism, once they disappear they are gone without a trace. Of course, there is the obituary, and/or the accompanying news story surrounding the event, but after that there seems to be a great silence. As a working journalist myself, why should I expect more? The answer to that is that I really don’t know.

I’m thinking of Philadelphia Inquirer art critic Edward J. Sozanski, who died suddenly in his home in Gladwyne, Pennsylvania, a couple of weeks ago. Sozanski wrote art criticism for The Inquirer for three long decades, and was a familiar face among Philly writers and reporters at press events at the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Pennsylvania Academy of Art, and other institutions. I saw Sozanski often at PMA, beginning in the early 1990s when opening press events for exhibitions were a bigger deal than they are today. In those days, press events for major PMA exhibitions included a 3 course lunch (with wine) in the museum dinning room while journalists listened to an array of speakers. At the conclusion of the luncheon, everyone went home with the official exhibition catalogue, which was often an expensive art book costing upwards of 35 dollars in the museum gift shop.

Philly journalists do not constitute one, big happy family; it is more like a disconnected, dysfunctional hierarchical family, which is to say that at those old time press events, you had Inquirer writers hanging with Inquirer or Daily News writers, while the scribes for the city’s alternative weeklies grouped together in lower cast huddles. Occasionally, writers who wrote for both publications would mix with both groups in a kind of cross pollination bliss. Magazine writers constituted their own special hierarchy, oblivious of newsprint’s "who’s who." But press event seating arrangements changed radically whenever a writer from The New York Times, or a foreign publication, visited. Suddenly the Inquirer writers would be seated off to the side, as if they wrote for supermarket tabloids. It was, in general, a good lesson in humility for all.

After Sozanski’s death, Stephan Salisbury wrote an Inquirer piece about Sozanski in which he stated that the critic was "not distracted by institutional marketing efforts or the city’s cultural boosterism." This is no small accomplishment, given the pressures to produce good reviews. Salisbury quoted Joseph J. Rishel, PMA’s senior curator of European painting before 1900. Rishel described Sozanski as being "very thoughtful and very shy." He also stated that Sozanski was "wary of institutional pressure on his critical writing."

During these press events I don’t think Sozanski and I exchanged any words beyond a cursory hello. Originally I interpreted this as an Inquirer "attitude" but that later changed. The art critic was indeed a shy person.
Going to press events and observing the habits of fellow journalists is like going to the zoo and familiarizing yourself with the habits of different animals. You learn to embrace the weirdness. At some of those early press events, I’d see Sozanski with Inquirer food critic Rick Nichols, never suspecting that years down the line people would confuse my name with his.

"You’re Rick Nichols, right?"

"Not exactly—I am an N-i-c-k-e-l-s, spelled like the Buffalo nickel. And it is Thom, not Rick."

My mind is on Sozanski because I just attended another PMA press event. Sozanski’s absence was noticeable. I last saw him over a month ago at another museum event, his last one as it turned out, and I thought to myself then that he didn’t look so good. In fact, for several months whenever I’d see him at these affairs I would think the same thing: He does not look good. And yet, I noticed that he also seemed a bit friendlier, a far cry from his former 1990s self when he would barely surface from those press event Inquirer buddy huddles.

At the latest press event, which showcased the work of fashion designer Patrick Kelly, I looked at the assembled journalists and saw quite a few faces I had never seen before. There’s always a new wave of what some veterans call kid journalists, first timers with Staples-purchased pads and pencils. The majority of them you will never see again but there will always be one or two who will go for the long haul. Among the veterans was Carol Saline of Philadelphia Magazine, who showed me her own Patrick Kelly-like suit made from buttons purchased at the museum store, and Bobbi Booker from The Philadelphia Tribune, who talked up the Pen and Pencil Club.

As I listened to Museum CEO Timothy Rub talk about Patrick Kelly, I thought to myself how nice it would have been to have heard a word or two about Sozanski, who had probably chalked up more hours roaming the halls of PMA than even the guards who have been stationed in the exhibition rooms for years. Nobody did speak of Sozanski, of course, not even "we" journalists, which struck me as noticeable, though not necessarily bad or good. This was about fashion design, after all, although it was still a press event, and because of that…I couldn’t help but think that the Sozanski spirit was near and called out for some kind of acknowledgment, perhaps a moment of silence.

The world of dead journalists is a big world. But nobody remembers a dead journalist like a living journalist, and that’s because so much of the public really doesn’t even read bylines. Most people just go straight into a column or article without bothering to see who wrote it. That’s why I can be called Rick Nichols, when the only restaurant review I’ve written in my life was the time I ordered steak tartar not knowing what it was, or at least thinking it was an off shot of New York strip steak when it was really raw steak mixed with spices and horseradish.

Sometimes I wonder if people even pay attention to journalists. Not too long ago I attended an event and happened to speak with an official and was referred to as Thom Cardwell. Now, I happen to know Thom Cardwell, but I was using T-h-o-m in my work long before Cardwell came on the scene, and yet here was another Rick Nichols moment. Of course, the minute the ID mishap occurred, I realized I knew why: I had forgotten to take off my long winter scarf and was wearing it like Cardwell is known to wear his large scarves.

While it is certainly true that nobody has control over their legacy after death, a journalist can be alive and still be called dead.

I am sure that I am not the only writer who has heard, "Are you still writing?" What people mean when they say this is that they haven’t seen your stuff in print, and so they wrongly assume that you’ve gone on to another career, like selling shoes or driving a trolley car. My answer to this question is always, "Yes, I’m still writing… are you still reading?"
As for Sozanski, I guess what I’m saying is that I wish, in an ideal world, that journalists were a little more like a close knit family, and that when one member dies there would be a reverent gesture done in their memory-- a group hug, a dance, or maybe even a howl at the moon.

But that might be too much to ask in today’s dysfunctional world.

Wednesday, April 16, 2014

ICON City Beat Column April 2014: Dancing Buddhist Monks, Women in Yoga Pants, and Dreams of Anne d’Harnoncourt

 April City Beat 2014

A Buddhist wall tapestry hid PMA’s iconic top- of- the- stairs statue of Diana at the opening press event of Treasures of Korea (till May 26). We watched as Korean Buddhist monks danced to ceremonial bongs, our gaze transcendentally fixed on two monks in boxy headdresses holding bouquets of flowers. We assumed the “flower monks” were women but when they removed their head gear suddenly they became two men holding hands. The ritual dance reminded us of the Dalai Lama, even Thomas Merton’s Asian Journal, and set the tone for a more ‘home schooled event the following week: PMA’s homage to the Rocky Balboa cult. As museum president Gail Harrity told reporters about the museum’s first time ever screening of a Rocky film, we knew that the old “closed” museum world was over. We sensed some change coming about a month ago when we had a nighttime dream of a very happy  accepting our offer of a cherry pie baked years ago by Picasso but frozen after his death and now thawed so that Anne could use it as art distribution food. What is this if not modernist surrealism in the extreme? The “sensurround” museum experience seems to be taking hold everywhere, as our recent visit to the Penn Museum also indicated. At Penn we viewed over 200 objects at Native American Voices (till May 2014), ate Native food (mini buffalo burgers on crackers) and marveled at a long head-to-toe ceremonial headdress that had us thinking of the famous chiefs we knew in childhood—Sitting Bull, the Delaware Chief Tedusyscung, and of course Philly’s own Chief Halftown.

At Treasures of Korea we chatted with Edie, an occasional “art forum” PAFA panelist, who suggested we check out a leggy female journalist in tight yoga pants (a current urban style), running sneakers, and a bulky knit sweater top—by no means an outfit that would warm the hearts of Parisians, at least according to author Edmund White, who writes in his latest Paris memoirs that when the women of Paris leave their homes they dress as if they’re going onstage. “Why do some Philadelphians dress like that?” Edie asked, to which we had no answers. The journalist in yoga pants reminded us of the men in bib overalls we used to see at play openings, and even the shirt-hanging-out-of-the-trousers crowd prevalent today among men trying to hide weight gain. The topic of How Philadelphians Dress resurfaced at a Curtis Institute fundraising event at 1600 Locust, where we accompanied Drexel University’s Vanessa Bender to mix with friendly music loving cultural high rollers, including Charles B. Finch, Director of Special Events at Curtis, and Gerry and Marguerite Lenfest.  While we didn’t spot a single woman in yoga pants, or a man with his shirt hanging outside his trousers, we did see one radical hot fashion trender:  a young male in a shrinking before your eyes petite suit that looked as though it had been painted on his body. It reminded us of the Barbra Streisand song, Sam You Made The Pants Too Long, only in this case the reverse was true. We first glimpsed the petite suit look about a year ago when we mistook it to be a Krass Brothers of South Street-style tailoring mistake.    

We celebrated Jewish kosher culture at a culinary food fest at Vie (600 N. Broad Street), where Kashrut-sanctioned hor d’oeuvres, chef samplings and specialty wine pairings brought us face to face with some of the best looking beards we’ve seen since our visit to an Orthodox Christian monastery. The event raised funds for two non-profits, Philadelphia North and Lubavitch of Bucks County. The music was all Middle Eastern, and reminded us of our first Jewish wedding and the excitement we felt then watching the groom being lifted up on a chair, Priapus style, and then passed over the heads of the crowd like a buoy at sea. In the crowd we spotted former television icon Marciarose Shestack (a judge in the sweet category), but couldn’t find Nancy Glass (also a judge), one-time co-host of KYW-TV’s Evening Magazine.  From kosher beards we went to (the closing of) Other Desert Cities at The Walnut, staring Krista Apple-Hodge (she’ll play Queen Elizabeth in Mary Stuart at the Broad Street Ministry in April) and Ann Crumb (daughter of composer George Crumb) who played, Silda, easily our favorite character in the play. This tale about a disaffected writer-daughter of a Palm Springs California family whose book about her dead brother promises to destroy the family name, had more Jewish references than the play Tribes at the Suzanne Roberts earlier last month. This got us thinking about family identity, and why both playwrights felt it necessary to have characters frequently identity themselves as Jewish. In real life, of course, families never refer to themselves as Irish, Italian, German, Greek or even Serbian, especially when sitting around talking about their dysfunctional selves...

 The acting profession is divided on whether to call female thespians actresses or female actors. Krista Apple-Hodge calls herself an “actor,” (as does Whoppi Goldberg and Gena Davis) but many women in the profession like the word actress because they don’t want the word to defer to men. ‘Female actor’ is somewhat in vogue, but to us it is as sloppily PC as calling a princess a prince or a duchess a duke. And, as so many have observed: Why not give women the dignity that that their separate identity deserves?  One UK Guardian writer put it this way:  “What’s next? Replacing mummy and daddy with male parent and female parent?”   

Picasso (sans cherry pie) once said, I am only a public entertainer who has understood his times and exploited as best he could the imbecility, the vanity, the cupidity of his contemporaries.” At PAFA’s Open Studio Night, we kissed Heike Hass, helped ourselves to coffee and cupcakes, then went on to explore the open studios we did on a scale of one several years ago when PAFA grad Roman Sierra  (now a successful painter in Detroit), invited us into his cubicle. The many open studios covering several floors of the building made us think of a large Farmer’s Market. Some students attracted large crowds, while others waited for visitors the same way that boardwalk gypsy fortune tellers sneak longing looks at passers by. The popular studios were those exhibiting Bo Bartlett, Andrew and Jamie Wyeth-style realism, while the less crowded ones accented abstraction or the macabre. In one cubicle we spotted painted (decapitated) doll heads; in another, miniature penis wire sculptures placed on the wall like light fixtures. One enterprising student generated a circus atmosphere with a life sized transgender doll and its heart shaped red lips, Orphan Annie hair, Mae West bosom and large plug-on satyr’s ceramic erection. His charisma notwithstanding, we wondered who would ever buy such a thing. One visible change was the propensity of male nudes, something that was not the case at PAFA student shows just five years ago.     

For Women’s History Month, we headed to the Rosenbach Museum for a Pearl S. Buck Wine and Readings event. Sponsored by Pearl S. Buck International, we were one of four featured readers who entertained guests from a selection of the author’s books. The mini Bloomsday-like event gave guests plenty of space between readings to chat with Docent, Susie Woodland, a Pearl Buck impersonator, say hello to Rosenbach Director Derick Dreher or other guests like Lisa Heyman, Aaron Ron Hunter, and Philly artist Noel Miles. We were there to celebrate the life and writings of the 1938 Nobel Prize winner who experienced her fair share of critical derision at the hands of stuffy scholar squirrels and literary snobs. Despite these battles, Buck would prove to be ahead of her time: In 1966, she predicted the transformation of communism, was a staunch advocate for birth control and women’s rights, and was one of the first public figures to call people from Asia Asians, rather than Orientals. We have to wonder if Buck were alive today whether she’d be given a top slot in the politically tiered Philadelphia Book Festival, the city’s annual celebration of literacy featuring area authors with new books to promote. Would organizers (who seem connected to the scholar squirrel network) assign her to read at the library’s Central branch, or relegate her to a small branch like Torresdale or Tacony, where the audiences for the festival number in the low single digits?       .   

            The mayor wants to sell the Philadelphia Gas Works to a private corporation in Connecticut, the UIL Holding Corporation, for 1.86 billion dollars.
            What a bombshell. The New Deal style political grassroots Democrat had become an urban version of Governor Tom Corbett. Welcome to a Philly nightmare.
  If the mayor’s proposal materializes, the city will be giving up its 178-year ownership of PGW.
            He says the city needs to sell PGW to rescue “the city’s ailing pension fund,” and that sale of PGW would inject 424 million into the city’s pension fund. The pension fund, however, affects only a miniscule group, while the vast majority of Philadelphians have no connection to the fund because they do not work for the city. This tells us that PGW is good for Philly because, as a non profit public utility, it benefits the entire city with gas rates that, although still high, would be three times as high if a private corporation like HIL (which exists only to maximize shareholder value) gains control of PGW.
    Pension funds all over the country are dying out or being drastically reduced. In some cases, such as in Detroit, city pension funds have been radically cut. Philadelphia’s pension fund is, by comparison to other cities, extremely generous. There have been no cuts, although according to the mayor there is an 8 billion dollar pension fund deficit.

             UIL promises that it will not raise gas rates for customers for 3 years after the sale, and that it will keep discount programs for low income seniors and others. An additional promise was made that PGW employee retiree pensions will be respected. 
                         Will a private corporation be as benevolent or as generous as PGW when people are late or don’t pay their bills? Can a “for profit” company ever be as “benevolent” as a not for profit company?
            Can you name one large private corporation that has ever put people before profits?