Saturday, April 26, 2008

Spontaneous Combustion

Last night's gathering of artists and culture mavens at House of Chen, organized by Mrs. Dottie (see Lehigh Valley Somebody) was pure joy. It was inspiring to meet and listen to so many intelligent, creative people, from so many diverse backgrounds, who are eager to move Allentown's arts scene to the next level.

As Nolan LeBlanc commented over at Mrs. Dottie's blog, this is how community happens--by spontaneous combustion. It jives with the feeling I've had over the last several months that a new wave of creative energy is about to break over Allentown. For many years, Allentown was exporting much of its creative talent to other places; now it seems the tide has turned, talent is gravitating back to the city. Last night I met people who have moved here from New York, Jersey City, Miami--even Bethlehem! And of course some people who never left physically are "returning" in another way: returning to their creative vocations after careers spent teaching, parenting, working in business. This growing pool of creative energy is going to be our most valuable resource in the coming years, as we transform Allentown into a vibrant, friendly, arts-rich, sustainable 21st-century urban center.

After dinner some of us walked down Hamilton St. to the Arts Park. It was a beautiful spring even, and on the way we passed people sitting at outdoor cafe tables in front of the Federal Grill and Crocodile Rock--this is Allentown?!! At the Arts Park, we stood around and gabbed, not wanting the evening to end. Listening to Alfonso Todd, I could feel the future blossoming with the cherry trees in the park. A hospital administrator's job brought Alfonso to the Lehigh Valley from Miami. "I told myself I'd stay two years," he said. "That was six years ago." After three years with hospitals in the area, he decided to become a full-time community organizer. Single-handedly, he's putting together a multi-cultural community event on Hamilton St.--"Upward Bound in Allentown"--scheduled for July 12 (gotta get this guy on the arts commission!).

Alfonso sees the future here--he's already living it. It will take only a slight cognitive shift, a different slant on things, for others to see it. It's the job of artists to produce that cognitive shift for the wider community who don't yet "get it." When that happens, the spontaneous combustion will take over. Imagine!

Thanks to everyone involved for a wonderful evening. It's Saturday morning and I'm still high (hey, I only had one beer!)

Let's do it again!


Mrs. Dottie said...

Hi Joe, Thanks for writing about Fri. night's get-together. I posted some pics at my blog and I am working on compiling all the ideas for a group e-mail on Mon. or Tues. Thanks for your help. It was a fun night downtown!

Anonymous said...

Friday really was inspiring. I'm looking forward to the next gathering. Hopefully we can find a location and develop a theme for the first "new arts" show in Allentown!

Frank said...

Hello! The Old Allentown Preservation Association (OAPA) has recently started a blog (, and we were wondering if you would like to do a link exchange. Let me know! Thanks!

j black said...

I didn't make the last Vision meeting due to fatigue. (Still tired from my Upward Bound A-town event on Saturday and for some reason I was confused and thought it was today) Anyway, I was glad to read that Mike Fegley said the obvious. (Look in Queen City Blog entitled A Safe Clean and Green Downtown District) Unsure what the Vision Meetings are hoping to accomplish, but even with goals, deadlines, and regulations, it still holds true ACTIONS speak louder than WORDS. I just had a multicultural event that had over 20 vendors/organizations and, although, it wasn't Musikfest, it proved to me that we, as citizens, can make a difference and make things happen even while others tend to be moving in slow motion. I know the Vision Meetings have good intentions but we need leaders, like myself, who are willing to put themselves out there and, if needed, circumvent politics, the status quo, and even the City and just DO SOMETHING to make things happen. We need more events to bring people back downtown. We need more information placed into ALL of the Allentown communities to educate residents about up and coming meetings and the NEED to get involved and participate ! We need to cultivate and initiate the young and older creative and artistic minds in Allentown and help them achieve viable businesses and movements that will create interest and cause those who live outside of A-town to come and see what's happening in A-town. We need to face the facts that Allentown is an urban, gritty, multicultural and diverse City that has leaders that need to stop trying to build a time machine and create a landscape that resembles Hess' days of old. They need to market Allentown as it is and PEOPLE will come. Many WANT the urban, gritty, multi-cultural scene; especially the young, creative minds who are now more entrepenurial than ever. This may NOT be the plan many want to hear or envision, but unless Allentown makes some quick changes, all I can say is "Will the last person leaving please turn off the lights ?"