The Da Vinci Art Alliance and gallery in South Philly’s Italian Market has always found its footing in all things innovative, and with a wry sense of play and humor, to go with its adventurous inventiveness. Blame, in part, its namesake in Leonardo Da Vinci for the Alliance’s (DVVA) reach into all aspects of discovery, the arts and, now, the sciences.
This week, the nearly 90-year-old DVAA is bottling all of that spiritedness – or is it uncorking – with the October 22 start of the Da Vinci Fest Live: an indoor, outdoor, mural-unveiling, derby racing, partly virtual and fully engrossing festival that celebrates how creativity in the arts and the sciences flourish “at the intersection of disciplines, featuring exhibits, murals, and virtual and in-person experiences,” noted Jarrod Markman, Da Vinci Art Alliance’s Executive Director. “Leonardo da Vinci challenged people to ask big questions, ponder complex ideas and experiment. Often described as a polymath, Da Vinci was an individual whose knowledge spanned a significant number of subjects, drawing on complex bodies of knowledge to better solve specific problems. Da Vinci Fest Live embodies this multidisciplinary and multicultural spirit by creating a platform for diverse ideas, subjects, and people to mingle. We believe the process of art-making is an accessible unifier, when paired with the sciences, creates an environment of unbridled possibility.”
Featuring over 25 digital and in-person events celebrating that intersection of art and science in Philadelphia, and kick-offing with a live-stream broadcast at 6:30 pm on October 22 (davincifest.org), Markman and I spoke about all possibilities and probabilities of the Da Vinci Fest Live.
A.D. Amorosi: So you are turning our shared neck of the woods into an art and science fair – fun. How, when and why did you decide to morph the gallery/installation experience into something indoor/outdoor interactive with the fest?
Jarrod Markman: We have been planning the festival for 18 months, but the one thing we did not plan for was a global pandemic. In the spring of 2020, we looked at our options amidst the uncertainty of the health crisis and we had to decide if we would postpone for a year or reinvent our programming. We looked at what we were trying to create and felt as though it was too easy to just pause what we were working towards. If we were really going to build a festival inspired by the curiosity of our polymath namesake, then we certainly had to consider ourselves up for a huge challenge. We examined the programming we had already committed to and started reimagining it to be experienced virtually. We knew that virtual content would take a lot of time and resources to do well, so we made a full pivot in the spring. It was a risk to make that decision because we didn’t know how the pandemic would play out, but we thought it was important to create something of quality, whether it was in-person or online. Necessity really is the mother of invention, because, in light of the pandemic, we have created our own virtual gallery space called Gallery X. This programming was successful early on in the pandemic so we were confident we could shift some of our other festival programmings in a meaningful and interesting way. For the festival this year, we have three art exhibitions open to the public in person and we are limiting access to five people at a time. Our exhibitions are always free and open to anyone that would like to experience them, but now we make you sign up in advance through an easy system on our website. We have five exhibitions in the festival total, all of which can be experienced virtually between October 22nd through the 29th.
A.D. Amorosi: I certainly know of Leonardo’s interest and work within science. What are Da Vinci Gallery and your interest in and the history of science?
Jarrod Markan: For 89 years, Da Vinci Art Alliance has primarily served its artist members through exhibitions and educational programs. Over the last several years, our programming for artists has professionalized and grown immensely. We created Da Vinci Fest as a way to give back to the community and share more of our artist-driven work with more people. Our namesake, Leonardo da Vinci has been described as a polymath, an individual whose knowledge spans a significant number of subjects, known to draw on complex bodies of knowledge to better solve problems. Da Vinci Fest embodies this multidisciplinary approach to programming by creating a platform for diverse ideas, subjects, and communities. This festival also provides the organization with an opportunity to explore science through an artistic lens. Is science an art? Is art a science? Where are the commonalities between these sectors? More importantly, how does science programming and artistic programming bring people together?
A.D. Amorosi: Explain in full your relationship to South Philadelphia and your particular neighborhood. Between you and Fleischer, the Italian Market has forever had this aesthetically minded cul de sac of sorts.
Jarrod Markman: Da Vinci Art Alliance was founded by a group of Italian immigrant artists in 1931. Among the founders were Emidio D’Angelo, painter and cartoonist; Severo Antonelli, photographer; Giacomo Colombo, architect; Henry Coscia, architect; Nicolo D’Ascenzo, stained glass artist and first President of the Da Vinci Alliance; Giuseppe Donato, sculptor; Domenico D’Imperio, sculptor; Earnest Lapatino, illustrator; Luigi Maraffi, sculptor; Frank and Anthony Martino, painters, Alex Papale, framemaker; Painter; Justin Pardi, Joseph Primavera, violin maker; Armando Ricci, interior architect; Cesare Ricciardi, portrait artist; and Jules Scalella, commercial artist. This impressive gathering selected a name to honor the famed genius Leonardo of Vinci. Between the beginning of World War II and 1996 there was little activity at Da Vinci Art Alliance. In 1997 artist, Kathryn Pannepacker breathed new life into the organization by taking up residency in the building, renovating the gallery space, and establishing a web presence for the institution. Under her leadership Da Vinci Art Alliance was reborn. Since 2015, DVAA has grown to new heights as an organization and as a community. DVAA transitioned to full-time staff, launched a full schedule of new membership programming, piloted the first grant-funded Fellowship Program, and announced our new community arts festival, Da Vinci Fest. Da Vinci Art Alliance was founded during a time in our history where immigrants were barred from major artistic, academic, and scientific institutions. Today, our neighborhood reflects the arrival of newer waves of immigrants from other parts of the world, most notably Mexico, Cambodia, and Vietnam. We are proud of the Festival that we have built so far, but we think we can do even better at representing the many communities that call our city home. PEW research also indicates that South Philadelphia has grown in disparate directions, facing many issues related to growing gentrification in this historically immigrant region of the city. This paradigm allows for a unique blending of neighborhood identities, perfectly situated to facilitate cross-cultural exchange. However, these interactions don’t always occur easily. We want our festival to provide a much-needed opportunity for diverse communities to share ideas, collaborate, and have fun. The process of art-making is an accessible unifier, when paired with the sciences, creates an environment of unbridled possibility!
A.D. Amorosi: Discuss please how you think that your answer to that last question shows how DVVA will take advantage of the great outdoors to its fullest advantage with everything from a derby race, the exquisite corpse and such.
Jarrod Markman: Our programming brings people of all ages and backgrounds together under one virtual platform. We have programs for youth where you can make a paper lantern at home or for adults to learn about technology that allows deaf people to experience music. Through the Da Vinci Derby we connected with community organizations like The Caring People Alliance where 75 of their youth got to participate in our art and engineering program — even amidst the pandemic. Philadelphia also has a large visual arts community encompassing a network of local universities, museums, galleries, and community centers. DVAA and Fleisher Art Memorial foster a block with thousands of artists coming to our community campus each year. One of the most popular aspects of our festival so far has been our collaboration with Philadelphia Sculptors in Palumbo Park, right next to Fleisher. We have filled the park with fantastical and whimsical sculptural pieces that have brought joy to our neighborhood.
A.D. Amorosi: What can you say of the collaboration with Mural Arts for Innovation Lights the Way? Your artists, their artists, how it is beneficial and illuminating to and for the immediate area?
Jarrod Markman: “Innovation Lights the Way” celebrates what brings communities together: food, meeting places, and the common textural landscape. This is represented with the botanical illustrations of Thai basil and the poblano pepper, the bark from one of the incredible trees on the block, as well as a segment of stained glass, both common sights around the neighborhood. One of my favorite parts of the mural is the hanging tissue paper flags, Papel Picado. The artists chose to incorporate imagery within each of the 4 pieces strung together: one with the pepper on it symbolizing food, another with symbols of the Mexican popsicle paleta’s (which you can get in the Italian Market) and the John’s Water Ice cup, a third has a hand painting to nod to the DVAA’s work to highlight artists, and the final one has imagery of the sun as well as candles, to reiterate the tradition of honoring the past while looking to the future for new ideas and opportunities.
A.D. Amorosi: What was it like working with Jane Golden and Mural Arts Jarrod Markman: Working with Mural Arts and lead artists Sammy and Maria was a wonderful experience. It may seem like an easy task to put a mural on a wall, but I can vouch that it is complicated work that needs to be done carefully, purposefully and with a lot of passion. The whole mural process was done during the pandemic which added an extra layer of challenges. The entire design was done over google hangouts and zoom and we had to work with Mural Arts to imagine what a community voting process and meeting would look like when we were not allowed to gather. This created an opportunity for us to connect with hundreds of more people. When we started this process, we imagined we would get about 100 community votes for the final design. Since the process was entirely online, we were able to hear from nearly 1,000 people about which mural design they wanted us to select.
A.D. Amorosi: What is the signature of the DVAA artist, and how will it flower, culminate, best reveal itself during the Da Vince Fest Live and works such as The Endless Urban Portrait that exists collectively among its membership?
Jarrod Markman: DVAA’s artist members come from all types of backgrounds. They work in almost every medium, so it is hard to identify a common “signature.” Artists in our membership range in age from 18 to 80 and have training from all over the world. This is what is so crucial to the project Philadelphia Forthcoming, it emphasizes the differences that each artist member brings to the table, and captures it in a coordinated effort. Imagine what our city, country, the world would look like if each person had an equal say in constructing our collective future. Unfortunately, even perfect democracy does not allow us to predict the future, nor will our outcomes ever perfectly reflect our intentions. However, Philadelphia Forthcoming is an experiment on collaboration, where no one artist’s work is definite. It must rely on the work adjacent to it for its story to be told. This may be the signature of the DVAA artist member. That they are so willing to be a part of a community-oriented narrative, that they want to be a member at an organization like ours.