Community groups, cultural organizations, city and state officials, ambassadors and representatives from eight foreign countries will join third and fourth graders from Philadelphia's Samuel Powell and Ellwood public schools in a spirited rendition of "Happy Birthday" at 11 am Thursday morning, May 10, at Memorial Hall in Fairmount Park, as the Philadelphia Museum of Art -- on the steps of its first home -- marks its 125th anniversary with fanfare recalling the historic Centennial Exhibition of 1876.
In addition to marking the Museum's first 125 years, the hour-long birthday ceremony will draw attention to a new drive by the Fairmount Park Commission to restore Memorial Hall, the majestic, copper-domed building that served as the Fine Arts Gallery during the Centennial Exhibition and one year later reopened as the Pennsylvania Museum and School of Industrial Art. The early collection of the Museum, later renamed the Philadelphia Museum of Art, was initiated with works that were displayed in the international exhibition that opened on May 10, 1876, filling 236 acres of Fairmount Park, and that drew some 10 million visitors during its six month run.
Next Thursday, all Philadelphians and citizens everywhere are invited to join the birthday ceremony that opens to trumpet fanfare, rain or shine. Pennsylvania First Lady Michele Ridge and the Honorable John F. Street, Mayor of Philadelphia, are scheduled to arrive at the Beaux Arts building in a late 19th century Park Phaeton carriage. They will be escorted to their places on a dais by the Valley Forge Military Academy and College Color Guard, Philadelphia Fife and Drum Corps, and the First Troop Philadelphia City Cavalry.
F. Eugene Dixon, President of Fairmount Park and a Trustee of the Museum for more than 50 years, will offer a greeting and welcome in recognition of the Museum's first 125 years, followed by remarks by Mayor Street. Mrs. Ridge will bring greetings from U.S. President George W. Bush and from Pennsylvania Governor Tom Ridge, both given in recognition of the Museum's first 125 years. Anne d'Harnoncourt, Director of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, will express the Museum's thanks to generations of civic leaders and supporters who contributed to the growth of one of the world's great museums, whose story began with the landmark Centennial Exhibition.
On view at the event will be a giant birthday cake, a creation currently underway by The School of Culinary Arts at The Art Institute of Philadelphia. It will be a 4 x 6 foot model of the 1928 Museum building and grounds located today at Benjamin Franklin Parkway and 26th Street. Everyone in attendance will be offered complimentary birthday cake and Hires Root Beer, the soft drink first introduced to the public at the Centennial Exhibition.
Looking forward to next Thursday's ceremony, Mayor Street said: "The Philadelphia Museum of Art contributes so much to our community, the region, and beyond. We are proud to call this major cultural icon our own. The Museum's 125th birthday celebration promises to be a magnificent event."
Ms. d'Harnoncourt added: "We are thrilled that we will be joined by ambassadors and representatives of countries which participated in the Centennial Exhibition. It's also deeply touching to have the blessings of the President, the Governor, Speaker of the House Matthew Ryan, Senator Vincent Fumo, Mayor Street, and so many friends and supporters. The Centennial Exhibition was a remarkable milestone for Philadelphia. It gave birth not only to the Museum, but also to the University of the Arts and Philadelphia University, and touched off an ongoing international dialogue in arts, industry, and ideas. If it embodied the promise of our first 125 years, then our hopes and dreams for the next 125 years can be found in the spirit of these wonderful third and fourth graders from the Samuel Powell and Ellwood schools, who I know are now eagerly rehearsing for next Thursday's event."
In recognition both of the Museum's important birthday and the international significance of the Centennial Exhibition, eight foreign nations will be represented by the following dignitaries: Their Excellencies Idriss Jazairy, Ambassador of the Republic of Algeria; Rubens Barbosa, Ambassador of Brazil; Luis Alberto Moreno, Ambassador of Colombia; Ivonne A-Baki, Ambassador of Ecuador; Geza Jeszenszky, Ambassador of the Republic of Hungary; William V.S. Bull, Ambassador of Liberia; Deputy Chief of Mission, Meg McDonald, Embassy of Australia; Deputy Chief of Mission, Lionel Maza, Embassy of Guatemala. These nations were among the 36 countries that participated at the Centennial Exhibition.
Other participants in next Thursday's ceremony include William Gipson, Chaplain, University of Pennsylvania, who will give the blessing and invocation; Stephen Costello, vocal student, University of the Arts, who will sing the National Anthem; the University of Pennsylvania Glee Club, to sing America the Beautiful; the Archdiocese All Catholic Jazz Band, and the 28th Pennsylvania Regimental Band, which will also perform.
Following the ceremony, guests will be invited inside Memorial Hall to view a large screen video presentation of images, drawn from the Free Library of Philadelphia's collection, that document the splendor of the Centennial Exhibition. Guests will also view the stunning large-scale model of the original fairgrounds.
The Philadelphia Museum of Art has delivered more than 12,000 invitations and flyers to community groups, cultural institutions, historical societies, and other organizations in hopes of extending, as broadly as possible, its invitation to the birthday event. In addition, the Museum is placing advertisements in The Philadelphia Inquirer, Art Museum Area Home News, and other media outlets to carry the message. Transportation to Memorial Hall will be provided via trolley beginning at 10 a.m. from the West Entrance of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. In addition, ample parking is available at Memorial Hall, located on North Concourse Drive.
Cindy Affleck, Co-chair, the Museum Associates, is the chair for the 125th anniversary birthday event at Memorial Hall. Organizational and administrative support was provided by the Fairmount Park Commission; The Free Library of Philadelphia; the Women's Committee of the Philadelphia Museum of Art; and the Philadelphia Museum of Art Park House Guides and Laurel Hill Volunteers.
The Museum extends its appreciation to all of the participating organizations and institutions who helped make this event possible, including the Archdiocese All Catholic Jazz Band, The School of Culinary Arts at the Art Institute of Philadelphia, First Troop Philadelphia City Calvary, Philadelphia Fife and Drum Corps, 28th Pennsylvania Regimental Band, University of the Arts, University of Pennsylvania Glee Club, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine for the loan of a late 19th century carriage; and the Valley Forge Military Academy and College.
Refreshments are provided by Tastykakes and Hires Root Beer.
Throughout its anniversary year, the Philadelphia Museum of Art has also organized a lively series of exhibitions that celebrate Philadelphia artists and collections. Opening on May 10 in the Asian Art Galleries of the Museum is West Meets East: China and Japan at the Centennial Exhibition, an exhibition of some 50 works of Asian art that were displayed at the Centennial Exhibition and were later bequeathed to the Museum; it will be on view through May 10, 2002. Other upcoming exhibitions include Out of the Ordinary: The Architecture and Design of Robert Venturi, Denise Scott Brown and Associates (June 10-August 5, 2001); Thomas Eakins: American Realist (October 4, 2001-January 6, 2002); Dox Thrash: An African American Master Printmaker Rediscovered (October 27, 2001-February 24, 2002); and Italian Renaissance Ceramics from the Howard I. and Janet H. Stein Collection (December 8, 2001-April 2002).
The Fairmount Park Commission, in celebration of Memorial Hall's 125th anniversary, is planning a three-day public celebration following next Thursday's Museum birthday ceremony. It will include a Centennial memorabilia exhibition and art show at Memorial Hall. For information about this free event sponsored by the Fairmount Park Commission, call: 215-685-0000.