annual events art creativity fall events holiday outdoors parks special events

Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia

pumpkin glowThis was our second annual family outing to experience Jack’s Pumpkin Glow Philadelphia.

pumpkin glow5,000 Carved Pumpkins/Fumpkins

This 3rd annual Halloween spectacle in Fairmount Park (near the Mann Center) features 5,000 carved, lighted pumpkins. We were blown away last year by the dazzling pumpkin displays and prefer family-friendly Halloween celebrations. We’ve done our share of creepy haunted houses, ghost tours, and insane asylums.

Thanks to an article in the Philadelphia Inquirer, we discovered that most of the pumpkins are actually fumpkins: made of synthetic material, colored and molded to resemble organic pumpkins. We were not overly upset by this revelation (unlike those crying Scam! on Google reviews). When you see the intricate designs they create, and calculate that the display is up for weeks in all-weather, it’s the only viable approach.

Amazing Artistry

The carved pumpkin displays grew progressively more elaborate and mind-blowing as we strolled the trail. The entrance featured a field of jack o lanterns, glowing in shades of purple, green or gold. Each was unique. We admire a snow scene shimmering with white-lit pumpkins. Next was a haunted ship with pumpkin clusters intricately carved into sea creatures. As we rounded the bend, we were surrounded by trees encircled with hundreds of shimmering carved pumpkin globes.

pumpkin glowEven more impressive were the huge dinosaur sculptures. they presented famous works of art by Dali and Frida Kahlo recreated in a 3-D canvas of hundreds of carved, joined pumpkin shapes.
For the special Philadelphia version of The Glow, there were carved pumpkins celebrating local PA icons like Rocky, Ben Franklin and Beetlejuice (Michael Keaton.)

Phillycentric Displays

pumpkin glowThe finale was a tribute to Philly Sports teams, featuring Gritty and the Fly Eagles Fly soundtrack for the Eagles. There was also a fitting resting place for the New England Patriots: a graveyard with tombstones for Tom Brady and Gronk.

Tips and Event Details

The Glow runs evenings until Sunday November 3, 2019. It is located in Fairmount Park near the Mann Center. You have to purchase timed tickets in advance on their website. Search online for 20-30% discount coupon codes. Allow at least an hour to stroll the 1-mile paved trail. You can purchase a limited selection of pricey food and beverages on site. For 2019, they have added a $5 parking fee. Park instead in the NW Shopping Center a few blocks away and walk over.  Parents beware: every child who was leaving had scored a lighted globe or necklace from the gift shop.

art dog friendly outdoors parks

Pavillion in the Trees

pavillion in the treesPavillion in the Trees, an official Hidden Gem of Fairmount Park, is an immersive outdoor art installation created by Martin Puryear in 1993. It was commissioned by the Association for Public Art, and was inspired by the artist’s longing for a secluded treehouse. The latticed wood pavillion rises 24 feet above the woodland floor and is reached by walking up a 60′ sloping ramp.

How to Find It

Part of the artwork’s allure is how challenging it is to find. Its address–Landsdowne Drive and Horticultural Drive–seems straightforward, but we learned otherwise. We were hosting out-of-town relatives and first-time Philly visitors. They decided Fairmount Park was the one attraction they wanted to explore here with their young children. Armed with both paper map and a map app, we headed out from the Shofuso Japanese House confidently, turned right, then wandered around 2 deadend paths. Scanning the horizon, we saw closed metal gates, deer fencing and caution tape.

We were about to abandon our search, when we spotted a brown wooden structure in the distance, beyond the barricades. “We’ll just go around then”, we agreed. We headed up the road by the Please Touch Museum, but the area was totally fenced in. On a hunch, I yanked at a yellow panel in the fence and it lifted up (see photo). We hefted the children over, avoiding the barbed wire, and we were in! We trooped into the woods following a partially cleared footpath and past a snake. Five minutes later, we found concrete steps and a legitimate path leading to the artwork’s plaque and ramp. Afterwards, we discovered that there are videos online to guide seekers, starting from behind the Horticulture Center.

pavillion in the trees

Repair and Restoration

The Pavillion experience was as solitary, serene and uplifting as promised. Google reviews had forewarned that the “In the trees” aspect was more a memory than a reality in 2019. A marker onsite explains that hundreds of invasive trees in Fairmount Park had to be cut down. The trees and deer were killing the longterm vitality of the forest. The obstacles we encountered were, in part, the protective deer fencing they installed in 2018.

The Pavillion in the Trees, like its owner (the City of Philadelphia), has faced hardship and decline, but is resilient. In 2017, a massive tree fell on the Pavillion. The tree shattered portions of the walkway and the installation had to be closed to visitors. The Association for Public Art rallied a repair crew and the Pavillion reopened in fall 2018.   

We enjoyed our outing and hope to return once the forest has time to reclaim its space.

Pavillion in the Trees

art holiday outdoors parks special events spring events

Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival

This year will mark our family’s third annual visit to the spectacular Philadelphia Chinese Lantern Festival in Franklin Square Park.

This spring event features 29 towering illuminated lantern sculptures. There are animated and color-changing lantern designs ranging from whimsical to jaw-dropping in their intricacy. The sculptures are constructed onsite by 100+ amazingly skilled artisans from China. The specific designs and themes change each year. Many offer audience interaction (such as walking inside giant shimmering blue whale). Each year, they feature new takes on perennial favorites such as the red welcome gate and frolicking pandas.

Evening Cultural Performances

Time your visit so you can catch the cultural artists’ performances at 7:30 or 9:30 pm. There are acrobats, a lightning fast mask-changer, dancers with spinning plates and more. Our family also enjoyed watching artists create spun sugar Chinese zodiac symbols on a stick or paint designs on grains of rice.

Event Details

For 2019, the event runs from May 1-June 30, with free park admission up to 6pm.  Entry from 6pm-10pm is by paid ticket, when the lanterns are lit up. There is a beer garden plus multiple global and American food choices with fountain-side seating. If your children get antsy, treat them to onsite Philly mini golf or the classic carousel. On good weather weekends, it is advisable to book your tickets online in advance, or face a wait.



art creativity neighborhoods outdoors shopping

Cherry Street Pier

cherry street pierOn a blustery October weekend, we trekked from the 2 street station to explore  Cherry Street Pier.  This latest Delaware River waterfront renovation  is next to Race Street Pier and Fringe Arts. The Pier offers close-up, wraparound views of Ben Franklin Bridge.  The $5 million transformation of the 55,000 sq. foot Pier has much to offer. There are walk-in artist studios, sustainable plantings, shopping and food trucks for quick bites and drinks. We saw flyers about music and live entertainment as coming attractions.


cherry street pierA 3-weekend-long free Festival for the People hosted by Philadelphia Contemporary launched the Pier. This eclectic celebration of visual arts (tattoos to technology) encouraged visitor engagement.  We spun fluorescent sculptures and watched others pecking out verse on old-school manual typewriters. However, we gave a pass to riding industrial tubing seesaws and joining drop-in yoga.


What we enjoyed most was chatting with the artists and exploring their work. We learned that there was a lot of “hurry up and wait” for the artist tenants here. For example, an artist confided she had only 3 days notice to get her space ready! That explains why many studio spaces were still in progress and closed to visitors. It’s described as a gallery shopping experience. So, cherry street pierit would be helpful to see prices for the artworks.


Also, we are curious to discover what the huge wood structures (shown in the yoga photo) are for. They looked like they’re for sitting and eating. But the chairs were too short and tables too massive for us to move. After strolling the Pier, we recommend heading to nearby United by Blue for instagram-worthy french toast and salads.




art creativity holiday outdoors special events summer events

Last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

last bastille day at eastern state penitentiaryOn July 14, 2018, I ambled behind hundreds of sweaty revelers down Fairmount to celebrate the last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary. For the past 24 years, the historic prison has co-hosted a Bastille Day show and after-party with their neighbor, the London Grill.  It began as a lively intimate restaurant party each July 14. But the event soon exploded in size and pageantry into an elaborate music and drag cabaret extravaganza. The 2018 publicity claimed it is Philadelphia’s largest free theatrical performance.

The Guillotine and Edith Piaf last bastille day at eastern state penitentiary

The pre-show featured multiple beheadings of juicy watermelons, based on thumbs down votes from the crowd. The annual executioner this and every year was  Sean Kelley Senior VP and ESP’s first employee. The main attraction, the Bearded Ladies Cabaret, made a dramatic entrance on the main tower parapet.  John Jarboe was a winged Edith Piaf in gold lame, crooning and rappelling down the stone fortress. When he reached the entry door, he unfurled a huge banner proclaiming RESISTEZ!

Joan of Arc, Ben and Cautionary Tales

What followed was a rapping and dancing procession of famous heroes who fought for freedom and justice. Joan of Arc made a live phone call to Senator Pat Toomey’s office, encouraging the crowd to shout out their protest messages.  The Handmaids appeared as a harbinger of worse disasters to come, and Marc Zuckerberg sang You Belong to Me (courtesy of the Police.)

Marie Antoinette and Tastykakes

last Bastille Day at Eastern State Penitentiary

The eagerly-awaited annual climax was the appearance of Marie Antoinette. She was enacted with gusto and a frightful pink wig by Terry McNally, co-owner of The London Grill. She swigged Chardonnay and mocked the complaining masses below. Finally, she uttered her famous line, for the last time: Let them eat Tastykakes!
The crowd below was pelted with a rush of  Tastykake butterscotch krimpets –2,000 packages were flung down from the balcony. The lucky bourgeoisie in the receiving area checked their wrappers to see if they were a lucky winner of a large Tastykake stash. I took that as my cue to head out as Def Leppard’s Pour Some Sugar on Me boomed down.


art creativity

Theater Skam’s Fashion Machine

fashionmachineOn a brutally cold January evening, we trekked out to Fringe Arts  by Penns Landing to join a unique audience participation event: Theater SKAM’s Fashion Machine. As devoted Project Runway fans, we were intrigued to see how kids could create a whole new outfit in just an hour. It always took 1-2 days and maximum drama for adult Runway contestants to accomplish the same task.

I’m in!

Attendees were warned to come dressed in clothes they didn’t mind having destroyed (my word).–The theater greeters preferred the word reimagined. They did promise to leave one item unscathed from each outfit chosen. We had to declare our intentions by slapping either  “I’m in!” or “I’m Chicken” stickers on our chest. The photo at right shows attendees who are fessing up to being chickens. I was a little nervous volunteering to be in, thinking they’d go for the blank slate potential of my old black pullover sweater and leggings. However, they had plenty of willing souls. I also suspect “the fix” may have been in. The designers seemed pretty chummy and comfy with the”volunteers” chosen from the get-go. But it was all in fun since there were no valuable prizes at stake.

fashion machineIt was reassuring (after 1 year in Trumpworld)  to see such a diverse group of boy and girl designers ages 9-13. The kids broke into 4-person teams to consult with their clients.

There was the obligatory sketch, then “run and snatch as much fabric as you can in 2 mifashion machinenutes” step. Then clients handed over their clothing and padded around in terrycloth robes for rest of the hour.


Skam is a Canadian theater troupe based in Vancouver, BC. They were inspired to do this project after their high-stakes theater experience in which kids cut adult volunteers’ hair. For the Fashion Machine Phillies crew, they offered 12 hours of training. They not only taught sewing machine use, but also covered the history of fashion styles, how to chat up clients and weaving techniques. The 4-person team did video interviews with the students which they shared during the nerve-wracking 30 minute countdown to the runway show.

Before & After Designs

fashion machine

Here’s an example of how the young designers transformed a before outfit into an original creation with limited resources.
The groups worked amazingly well together and didn’t ask much for adult help.

The main stress was that the sewing machines kept jamming. Yet, unlike Project Runway contestants, they did not resort to the glue gun.





At the runway shfashion machineow, the clients got into the spirit, strutting and twirling with pride as the audience cheered everyone on. It was the perfect finish to an engaging and inspiring evening. Here’s the group photo of all the designers and their models.



art creativity special events

Fireflies Experience

On a balmy Saturday evening in early October, Wes and I headed to Philadelphia’s Sister Cities Park  in Center City see Cai Cuo-Quong’s Fireflies Experience. Cai is an internationally renowned artist who was commissioned by the Association for Public Art (aPA) to create an engaging public work to celebrate the 100th Anniversary of the Ben Franklin Parkway (Parkway 100). The Parkway is our city’s premiere hub for culture, history and major events –a tourist mecca that rivals Old City with Independence Hall.

Unique, Illuminated Lantern Artwork

The artist created a luminous, multisensory group experience that is a spectacular kickoff to the centennial celebration. Cai’s work features 27 pedicabs, each illuminated with colorful paper lanterns. The 2-seat cabs are pedalled by a driver who gives a one-way ride along the Parkway between Sister Cities Park and Iroquois Park (by the Art Museum).

Every cab was aglow with a unique constellation of fanciful shapes. Some cabs had a theme (stars, animals, outer space). Some were more of a hodge-podge. We enjoyed the parade of 1, 2 or  3 pedi-cabs all in motion  down the Parkway promenade.

Free Pedicab Rides

Fireflies experienceAmazingly, the rides are free and given with a smile by enthusiastic aPA volunteers. We found out too late, that ride reservations were required. The site promised that some walk-in spaces would be available. When we tried our luck however, we were warned to expect a 1 1/2 hour -2 hour wait. And there was no guarantee of a ride. The photo is the long line, an hour before the show closing.

The Fireflies Experience was blessed with dry, warm weather throughout the September 15-October 8 installation. In these days of stress and strife, it was a much needed lift to be surrounded by exuberant  riders and strollers. Even the folks on the long lines were in great spirits.Thank you aPA and Cai!

art museum neighborhoods

Magic Gardens

For a joyous way to celebrate a sunny day, I recommend a visit to Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens. The gallery is located at 1020 South Street. The “gardens” are an urban wonderland of everyday recycled stuff like bottles, plates or bicycle wheels.

Found Objects

These objects are embedded into organic floor-to-sky walls of mosaics. Imagine walking into a courtyard where every square inch is vibrating with color and energy. As you wander, you’ll discover poetry, quotes and even people’s names integrated into the murals.  Barcelona may have Gaudi, but Philadelphia has Isaiah Zagar! 

Neighborhood Saves Artist’s Vision

The Magic Gardens grew out of local artist Zagar’s vision. He and other activists worked hard to transform blighted vacant lots on South Street in the 1990’s. Over the years, the creations expanded to fill several city lots. In 2004, Isaiah’s visionary project was rescued from demolition. Local residents and organizations rallied to raise funds to purchase the property.

Hundreds of Murals

Isaiah has created more than 200 mosaic murals and the project is still going strong. Take a stroll around the Bella Vista neighborhood. You will discover dozens of smaller-scale mosaics peeking beneath a flower box or transforming an apartment wall.

The Magic Gardens are open year-round to visitors for a small fee. Admission includes rooms of changing indoor art exhibits plus the grounds. Finally, make sure your smartphone or camera is fully charged. I took more than 200 pictures on my first visit.