Pastcasts

Philadelphia’s Museum without Walls

In Philadelphia, the Association for Public Art has developed a “museum without walls” program to interpret its public art, and it is one of the best “street” tours in the country. The self-guided tours are available in several multiple platforms: You can call phone numbers listed with each sculpture, use a free smart phone app, download the audio to an MP3 player, or scan a QR code (known as a QR or quick response code) on the free “Museum Without Walls” map at locations around the city.

The tour stops are very well-done, with interesting content provided by historians, curators, sometimes the artist or a living relative. For the linked video, for example, they enlist author Kirk Savage, who wrote Standing Soldiers, Kneeling Slaves: Race, War, and Monument in 19th Century America, historian Harold Holzer, and Millard F. Rogers, Jr., author of Randolph Rogers: American Sculptor in Rome. All knowledgeable, entertaining, and passionate about the subject. Visual content is simple — photographs of the work of art itself.

As with our pastcasts, the three-to-five minute length seems optimal. What Philadelphia does well is provide a place on their website where you can upload your own pictures and add your own thoughts about the sculptures. There is also a set of lesson plans for 4th and 5th grade students. This project was funded by The Pew Center for Arts & Heritage through the Heritage Philadelphia Program, and the National Endowment for the Humanities.

Roger Ebert and the Princess Theater

Yesterday brought the news of Roger Ebert’s passing. It also brought to a close more than forty years of turning to his reviews on the movies of the day. It began with train commutes to summer jobs in Chicago. The Sun-Times was the right size to hold while sitting next to other passengers,  and slightly more liberal than the Chicago Tribune.

Two years ago I completed a walking tour pastcast for Urbana, Illinois, entitled, “In Lincoln’s Shadow.” The challenge was to connect the city with the presence of our greatest president, who practiced law here while on the circuit. However, no buildings — except possibly one house — remained from the 1840s and 1850s. Instead, the scripts reflect themes about Lincoln’s association with Urbana — he, for example, signed legislation establishing land grant colleges, leading to the founding of the University of Illinois.

One theme brings us back to Roger Ebert. Lincoln had friends in town, and in the evenings when the court had adjourned, enjoyed lively local entertainments. In much the same way, Roger Ebert, an Urbana boy, fondly recalled his visits to the historic Princess Theatre where he gained an early love of movies.

City of Gold

In this 1957 classic film, Pierre Berton talks about his hometown of Dawson City. A recollection of the Klondike gold rush at its height, City of Gold used still photographs to compare Dawson City of the gold rush era with the town in the 1950s. It is, in essence, the “Ken Burns” technique years before that filmmaker’s breakthrough documentary, Brooklyn Bridge.

The documentary began when Colin Low visited the Public Archives in Whitehorse, Canada, and found 200 photographs taken by A. E. Hegg during the Gold Rush in 1898-99. These 8 × 10 glass plate negatives had been found in wooden boxes in a sod-roofed log house, but were fortunately saved and restored. The plates provided incredibly sharp images; photographer Hegg brought an eye for faces and context to his work. This is a real gem, lasting around twenty-one minutes.