Without Peer: The Cherry Street Pier opening is an unqualified success


Studios on the Cherry Street Pier. Photo by Chuck Holdeman.
Studios on the Cherry Street Pier. Photo by Chuck Holdeman.

Philadelphia is a city large enough to have major art museums and a world class orchestra, but small enough to have a unifying identity which incorporates the elegance of the Art Museum’s silhouette in the evening sun and the trash-lined streets of my beloved Chinatown. The wide-ranging mix of people who attend lectures and discussions at the Library Company, the Free Library, the African American Museum, the crowds of strollers and yoga participants, lovers, and picnickers who sit down together on the Race Street Pier on a sunny evening, the Spruce Street Harbor Park where families enjoy the freedom of outdoors and three-year-olds spontaneously clamber around grizzled old people, to the Urban Farm, where youths gather and try to look tough as they arrive for their poetry session— this is a town which encourages a mix, a conversation, and an exchange.

On Friday, October 12, the Delaware River Waterfront opened a breathtaking setting for more of this cultural commingling – the Cherry Street Pier. In what may appear to be a financial adventure, the DRWC spent $5 million dollars to rehabilitate a 99-year-old shipping pier which houses 55,000 square feet of space. If you consider the knock-on economic stimulus this could create for the city, it may not be such a crazy investment after all.


Bill Kerrigan on the xylophone. Photo by Chuck Holdeman
Bill Kerrigan on the xylophone. Photo by Chuck Holdeman

The delightful garden which has plantings and is open to the sky, providing an incredible view of the riverfront on Friday when Philadelphia celebrated its first bright and crisp autumn weather of the season. When winter comes, the glass doors to the open garden will come down to provide some protection from the weather, and, hopefully, keep a comfortable space in which to hold large events.

There are fourteen artists who have studios in the new digs have signed up for a year and have been given reasonable rates for their studios. They are visual artists, spoken word, mixed media, musicians, and more.

Of those, Carla J Fisher, who creates art from fabric, was thronged with visitors of all ages, and still holding the fort at 9:30 p.m., surrounded by a table full of people of all ages listening raptly.  Ms. Fisher first learned to use a sewing machine at age 4, but waited several decades to become an artist – and she did so as therapy to tend her grief after her husband died.

Felise Luchansky, a visual artist, was delighted by the number of visitors to her studio. She felt that she may have had more visitors to her studio in one night than she had had in an entire year at her previous studio.

Under the banner Artists First Records, lawyer Melody Forrester is ready to discuss any legal issues artists may have. She is sharing a studio with Stacey ‘Flygirrl’ Wilson, a graphic art and web designer.

For opening night, Jaylene Clark Owens, a member of the Wilma Theater Hothouse program, playwright, and Barrymore award-winning actress, provided a captivating spoken word performance.

Orchestra 2001, another ‘artist’ with a home on the Cherry Street Pier, promotes vibrant people-oriented performances, such as the 24 French horn players who gathered all along the Race Street Pier in October 2017 to perform the US premiere of John Luther Adams’ Across the Distance. For opening night, they organized several mini-performances, including percussionist Bill Kerrigan playing the polka from the Golden Age Ballet by Stravinsky on the xylophone and a wild rendition of “Fly, Eagles, fly” by master trumpeter Paul Futer.

For those who missed the opening night, they can enjoy free events on the pier organized by Philadelphia Contemporary under the banner Festival for the People.

With the rampant development of overpriced condos in the city, this project seems to attract a more egalitarian mix of patrons and provides free access to events, art, music, and conversation.  In the process, the people who visit the Pier will also be providing an economic boost for the nearby restaurants and businesses in the area.

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