Jonathan Storm: WHYY TV12 debuts local "Friday Arts"

Courtesy WHYY TV12
Members of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia, above, practice a dance routine that is featured on WHYY TV12's new "Friday Arts" program. Below, at Blackfish in Conshohocken, Alex Talbot, center, and chef Chip Roman, left, prepare a pistachio custard.
One of the beauties of the PBS science show Nova is that you learn as much about scientists as you do about science. WHYY TV12, in a rare local series produced in-house, takes the same tack with art. Or at least what the station defines as art, which also includes food and culture. Friday Arts, premiering Friday at 8:30 p.m., examines art in three segments: "Art," "Art of Life" and "Art of Food." It's as if a lot of people sat around trying to figure out how to cram segments about interesting people and stuff going on around town under one umbrella so they could make a series.
Maybe calling it all "art" helps with funding, too, but it doesn't matter. The show is like a good magazine, showcasing supposedly overlooked, and always interesting, people, places and activities, and playing to its individual producers' strengths.
"Monica Rogozinski has a strong interest in food and has produced several independent food segments," WHYY executive producer Trudi Brown said. "Michael O'Reilly is deeply involved in the art world."
Friday, O'Reilly introduces us to stained-glass artist Judith Schaechter. She seems a little depressed that some people think her art is depressing, explaining that the images are supposed to invoke ideas about empathy and transformation.
So when you see a pair of truncated legs standing on a pile of skulls, perhaps you can think about the endless possibilities created for us by the people who went before. Or maybe you'll just be depressed. Schaechter says that if you are, you may also be one of those folks who doesn't like to look at homeless people.
The segment and conversation tell you a lot more about Schaechter than they do about her art. And there's nothing wrong with that. Artists have to think differently than you and I (I usually look away from the homeless): That's what powers the good ones to spend such effort expressing themselves in such inspiring ways.
And if you don't think you can be depressed and inspired at the same time, look at some of Schaechter's work. It's fascinating to hear her talk about it, just as it is to hear curators and artists talk, in another segment, about the work at Penn's Institute of Contemporary Art.
"Art of Life" visits with Rorng Sorn, executive director of the Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia. There's a lesson about the Khmer Rouge, Cambodian refugees, and a classical Cambodian dance program for girls sponsored by the association: history, social consciousness and art in one package.
"I was, like, a teenager," says former participant Lanica Angpak. "We were always dealing with, 'What's my identity? Where do I fit in?' "
"Art of Food" examines the "slow food" movement, without precisely pinpointing what it is, except that it's all about local, seasonal, sustainable, yadda-yadda. That's a good yadda-yadda, not a bad one, because it's a revelation how passionate the folks featured are, even if two of them, Sean and Kelly Weinberg, own Malvern's established and well-known Restaurant Alba. There's also a small segment with Susanna Foo, not exactly an unknown voice crying in the culinary wilderness.
Friday Arts is more impressionistic than explicit, and that style works well in a breezy and informative half-hour. Too bad there's only one new installment a month, on the first Friday. That's also the time Old City art galleries schedule their open houses, perhaps the best time to experience the Philadelphia arts scene firsthand. Go figure, although the show does repeat several times after the premiere.
There's an online component, of course, but it's a little sloppy. It's at, not "friday arts" with a space, the no-man's land where the show directs you. If you click on the 'HYY link to Schaechter's home page, you wind up in the same dead zone because somebody wasn't careful with their slashes and periods. The actual site is
There's a time for art, but if it really wants to be the region's leading, or most-trusted, or whatever-it-calls-itself, multimedia provider, WHYY needs to pay attention to the technical details, too.

No comments: