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Diverse performances, crowds attend Art After 5

Sheila Jordan is draped in flashy red velvet. Her bangs are cropped just above her eyes and a silk flower adorns her dark hair. She croons, snaps and sways her way through two sets of jazz compositions.

The 76 year-old, award-winning vocalist is one of an eclectic array of jazz and international musicians who perform weekly at the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Art After 5, a Friday night event that highlights dancers, musicians and vocalists, seamlessly blends Rodin and Cezanne with everything from lush jazz to high-energy modern dance.

According to Sara Moyn, coordinator of the museum’s evening programs, Art After 5 has become popular, bringing an impressive variety of performers into a unique setting. Although the name is new, the museum’s tradition of evening performance art programs was born in 1991.

Moyn said Friday night performances have since developed into a form of community outreach, specifically designed to attract a diverse crowd by highlighting well-known artists from a variety of genres.

The museum’s current season has assembled a colorful mix of performers. Already this year, a capoeira troupe has performed a style of martial arts fused with traditional Brazilian music and dance. On April 15, jazz pianist Gerald Veasley payed tribute to Charles Mingus, and on May 27 legendary drummer Mickey Roker will fill the Great Stair Hall with immense jazz rhythm.

Similarly, the dress code is as varied and colorful as the performers, equally inclusive of jeans, t-shirts and three-piece suits. Dreadlocked teenagers commingle with suave executives. Moms and dads bounce children to the music and grandparents tap their fingers to complex jazz rhythms.

But perhaps the most alluring aspect of Art After 5 is the venue itself. The Great Stair Hall is a gigantic room with soaring ceilings and towering stone columns. Audience members crowd around small linen-covered tables (some only feet away from the artists themselves) and fill the expansive staircase, creating an amphitheatre-style feel. There is a sense of both intimacy and grandeur, a mix of big acoustics and cafĂ©-style nearness. “The couple hours I spend here every Friday night makes me feel more connected to the life of the city,” said Kathryun MacIvor, a recent Philadelphia transplant. “It’s a wonderful way to wrap up my work week.”

visit www.philamuseum.org or call 215-684-7860 for more info

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