On December 16, 2001, when crowds first surged into the Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts, Philadelphia’s cultural life exploded and launched a new era of artistic excellence, civic pride, and community connection. Its imposing presence intensified Philadelphia’s awareness of the arts, and immediately became a magnet for international artists and local audiences alike. More than a million people attend 750 events each year, fulfilling the promise of presenting the world’s brightest talent in virtually every performance genre.
Even after ten years, I still sense a palpable excitement upon entering the Plaza, noticing the first-timers as they gaze at the glass-domed ceiling, the vast scope of Rafael Viñoly’s architectural design, and the artworks on permanent display.
Having regularly attended performances by each of the Kimmel Center’s resident companies in its three venues, I have been constantly enthralled and enriched by the astonishing level of talent in our midst. The Philadelphia Orchestra and Peter Nero and the Philly Pops in Verizon Hall; the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia, the Philadelphia Chamber Music Society, Philadanco, and American Theater Arts for Youth in Perelman Theater; and the Opera Company of Philadelphia and Pennsylvania Ballet at the Academy of Music are now all nationally recognized as proud symbols of our city.
Embracing the city’s other major cultural entities remains an important initiative, as the Curtis Institute of Music, Temple University’s Boyer College of Music, the Academy of Vocal Arts, Orchestra 2001, Taller Puertorriqueño, Center City Opera Company, and many more local organizations regularly perform in the Kimmel’s halls.
One imaginative annual highlight that has brought me personal satisfaction is the Kimmel’s annual collaboration with the Opera Company of Philadelphia and the Curtis Opera Theatre. This enterprising alliance has led to outstanding productions of Golijov’s Ainadamar, Berg’s Wozzeck, and Janáček’s The Cunning Little Vixen, with this season’s Elegy for Young Lovers by Hans Werner Henze another example of operas Philadelphia would never otherwise experience.
Throughout this decade, I have noticed a gradual increase in younger attendees, a reassuring sign that any exposure to the arts leads to deeper exploration. The Kimmel Center’s promise of excellence, diversity, and accessibility has enabled this expanding artistic curiosity, presenting the world’s talent in celebration of Philadelphia’s cultural identity.
This commitment to community outreach has always formed a vital component of the Center’s stated mission. Through the Creative Music Program and the tuition-free Teen Summer Arts Camps, young artists (and surely future audience members) have the opportunity to immerse themselves in the arts and to present their work in the Kimmel Center’s venerable performance spaces.
Many education initiatives are geared to inspire young talents, most of whom are not offered music in their schools. The Merck Arts Education Center, which involves curriculum-based classes involving students, teachers, and even administrators, encourages community-based partnerships and initiatives.
I have also watched the Kimmel Center become an urban center of activity—a year-round destination for the community. The Free at the Kimmel series, its New Year’s Day celebrations (with the Mummers Parade marching just outside the door), and dance parties have brought many thousands of visitors to the city, eager to sample the astonishing diversity of our local arts community. It has become a personal tradition to bring visitors to the annual Summer Solstice celebration, where a dizzying schedule of varied performances goes on all day—and into the dawn.
Beyond programming and education, the Kimmel Center has leapt forward in recent years dabbling in new territories with some spectacular results…The Merriam Theater and the Academy of Music slipped quietly into the fold—expanding the Kimmel Center’s campus and enriching artistic experiences for patrons of all ages. Only a few seasons old, touring Broadway’s presence on the Academy of Music stage is as natural as if it had always been that way. And we delighted when the grandeur of the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts dazzled us with a dynamic mix of world-premiere works, intimate theatrical productions, innovative art exhibitions, and a finale Street Fair that saw hundreds of thousands of people flood Broad Street for a distinct Philly-cum-Paris blend.
To celebrate this tenth anniversary year, an exciting kaleidoscope of offerings will appeal to every interest and persuasion. The season’s “Lights Up on Home” theme shines the spotlight on Philadelphia legends, from the Jazz Up Close series which honors Philly natives the Heath Brothers, Benny Golson, Lee Morgan, and McCoy Tyner, to a world-premiere work by hip-hop choreographer Rennie Harris, Pulitzer Prize-winning composer Jennifer Higdon, renowned operatic bass Eric Owens, timeless radio personality Jerry Blavat, and the Broadway show FELA!, produced by Philadelphians Will Smith and ?uestlove.
But The Kimmel Center will not stop there. Constantly striving to expand and redefine the ways in which they accomplish their mission of “enriching lives daily through the arts,” they have recently taken on several exciting, new projects, ranging from more enhancements to the facilities that make up their campus (including a grand structure to enhance the Hamilton Rooftop Garden) and the grand opening of a signature Wolfgang Puck restaurant to new education initiatives and community outreach programs. It is a great juxtaposition to celebrate the past by leaping into the future. I cannot wait to follow where the Kimmel Center goes next.
—Tom Di Nardo is a Philadelphia arts writer