No, not really. But his presence sure is. Recently, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (Academy) and Philadelphia Museum of Art jointly purchased Thomas Eakins’ The Gross Clinic for a price tag of $68 million. The move ensured the painting’s safe keeping in Philadelphia and prompted a renewed interest in the local fine arts. And it’s not just about the painting anymore, either.
The campaign to keep the beloved 1875 painting in Philadelphia has re-engaged our community. It has motivated Philadelphians to rededicate our efforts to the appreciation, preservation and education of music, art and architecture in our beloved city. Just yesterday, the Academy hosted ’Eakins Idol,’ an open call audition emceed by yours truly to select an actor for the role of Thomas Eakins. Six experienced actors competed for the spot – vying for the opportunity to bring Eakins to life in a series of Academy-sponsored events. A panel of judges, including Ralph Archbold who plays Philadelphia celeb Ben Franklin, rated the actors on their appearance, stage presence, and ability to stay in character.
The event – put together mind you in little more than a week – was a media grand slam: every local television station and daily newspaper covered the event. (I’d like to think it was me they wanted to see). Though the winner will not be announced until Friday morning, the media frenzy points to an encouraging fact – our culture isn’t so Paris Hilton/Britney Spears/Anna Nicole obsessed as we often feel.
Moreover, we’ve learned that there’s much more to Philadelphia culture and society than Will Smith (though my kids still love The Fresh Prince of Bel Air) and unscrupulous politicians (no need to get into names, people). Philadelphia has Ben Franklin, the Liberty Bell, the Betsy Ross House, and now…Thomas Eakins.
So, welcome back, Tommy Boy. Philadelphia is privileged to add another learning experience to our thriving cultured city.