Arts of Transformation

 

In the middle of doing interviews and research for our cover story on Penn’s east-campus development, “New Campus Dawning,” I realized I was having trouble visualizing some of the spaces I was trying to write about. There was something about the area that wouldn’t stay fixed in memory: the result, I think, of its being so obviously meant to be ignored—not seen, merely used.

One morning on my way to work I drove over there, turning right off Chestnut at 31st Street and proceeding under the Walnut Street overpass to the surface parking lots—14 acres of them—that the post office maintained. Their equipment is mostly gone now, and even in the heat and sun of a summer morning, it was a little creepy; at night, it would be ideal for a TV show crime-scene or clandestine “meet.”

Like the highway and train tracks that hug the Schuylkill River, the space seemed emblematic of generations of shortsighted decisions that have made cities far less pleasant places to live than they might be. Aside from the many specific benefits that will come as a result of the “postal lands” purchase, reclaiming this land for public use—by members of the Penn community and city residents in general—strikes a significant blow for the cause of true urban renewal.

(In this combination of doing well for oneself and good for society, the University once again emulates its Founder. To symbolize the sense of a fresh beginning with this campus, the photo of “Ben” on our cover is meant to echo the statue of the young Franklin that forever strides forward outside Weightman Hall. )

According to Karen Rile C’80, the music of Osvaldo Golijov Gr’91 also partakes of transformations. The Argentinean-Jewish composer often builds on existing forms to make his “earthy, eclectic—and uncharacteristically popular—classical music.” Golijov’s adolescence in Argentina coincided with that country’s “dirty war,” and he suffered a fairly extreme case of graduate-student poverty during his years at Penn, but he seems to have enjoyed something of a charmed artistic existence ever since. But Golijov, far from the egotistical stereotype of the “genius” classical composer, seems on the whole bemused by his fame.

Over the summer, the long debate over federal funding for research on embryonic stem cells—capable of transforming into any type of cell in the body—flared into prominence again. In “Promise and Politics,” Joan Capuzzi Giresi C’86 V’98 lays out the progress Penn scientists are making, in research on animal stem cells in the veterinary school and elsewhere and in studies using human adult stem cells, as well as the constraints the researchers must labor under. These include, besides the lack of meaningful federal funding, working in a state that is decidedly not among those vying to take over a leadership role in promoting and supporting research in this area.

Fond farewell. For nine-and-a-half years, associate editor Susan Frith has been an extraordinarily productive and valuable member of the Gazette’s editorial staff, writing with economy, insight, and clarity about everything from the Morris Arboretum’s gardens to Penn research on neutrinos and neuroscience to Kelly Writers House—all while being a model colleague. This past summer, she relocated to Florida with her husband and daughter. Susan has promised to work for us as a freelancer, so Gazette readers will continue to enjoy her writing, but we will dearly miss her good heart and good sense in the office.

—John Prendergast C’80

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