A Philadelphia story 30 years in the making: Avenue of the Arts marks three decades with week-long celebration

The area just south of City Hall was transformed as a hub for people who sought cultural programs 30 years ago.

A view of the Kimmel Center on Broad Street

The Kimmel Center for the Performance Arts is seen, Tuesday, Aug. 13, 2019, in Philadelphia. (AP Photo/Matt Slocum)

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Philadelphia’s Avenue of the Arts has developed into a major epicenter for the arts and residential properties since its inception 30 years ago. City leaders gathered at City Hall Tuesday morning to celebrate that success over the past three decades, even cutting a birthday cake in the avenue’s honor.

Then-Mayor and future Governor Ed Rendell first proposed using arts and culture to revive the end of South Broad Street near City Hall in 1993.

Now Chief Cultural Officer Kelly Lee said that vision has been a success. “It’s also a reminder that the arts are not only an economic generator but a force that connects our communities,” Lee said.

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Kelly Lee speaks at a podium.
Kelly Lee, director of the Office of Arts Culture and the Creative Economy. (Tom MacDonald/WHYY)

City Representative Sheila Hess added the arts are also a major source of employment for a diverse group of people.

“It is now bustling with theater and dance performance and incredible hotels and amazing nightlife and so many walks of life of people and families, not to mention the towers of apartment buildings now with 25,000 residents that call the Avenue of the Arts home.”

Hess added that the area is well-known as a highlight of the arts scene on a national level.

“South Broad Street has become a critically important neighbor. It’s drawn both residents and visitors on a daily basis. Now, we have Chicago’s Michigan Avenue, right? And then there’s Miami’s Miracle Avenue, but Philadelphia has our own Avenue of the Arts and that has become the world-class destination,” said Hess.

While celebrating success over the past 30 years, Diane Semingson, who heads up the board for the Avenue of the Arts, looked to a bright future for the area.

“We want to continue to grow the Avenue of the Arts still more, expanding its public spaces, where more people want to be, where they will come for performances, eat in restaurants, stay in hotels, and show up for classes,” Semingson said.

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She adds there is a push to improve the area even further to be greener, more aesthetically pleasing, and more pedestrian friendly. The upgrades would include more opportunities for live performances.

The 30th anniversary celebration will culminate Friday night with a gala featuring a multicultural performing arts showcase at the W Hotel in Center City.

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