A century ago, most of the 1,300 or so buildings standing in the way of Philadelphia's grand boulevard-to-be had been demolished, their workers and residents scattered, and construction of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway had begun in earnest.

Since that great Parkway Diaspora, a lot of earnest thought has been devoted to seeking ways to bring workers and residents back to the area in an effort to repopulate and reanimate the district with anything other than fast-moving cars.

Such are the ironies of history.

That said, there are going to be many exceptional reasons to visit the Parkway over the next year, as Parkway 100, the centennial celebration of Philadelphia's boulevard, gets underway.

Party on the Parkway

It will all kick off at 4 p.m. Sept. 8 with the "Parkway 100 We are Connected Festival" and the unveiling of a mural at Park Towne Place.

The parkway's cultural institutions will offer extended hours, free or pay-what-you-wish admissions, and more than 100 family-friendly activities. Indoor and outdoor entertainment, a Dino Dance Party at the Academy of Natural Sciences, a Ceremonial Centennial Science Demonstration at the Franklin Institute, and "100 Years in Philly Music" at the Philadelphia Museum of Art will mark the occasion.

Numerous musical performances will take place at spots up and down the Parkway. Friends Select School will unveil a photograph and archival exhibition, "Parkway as Civic Space."

Free Library history exhibit

At 5 p.m. that day, the Free Library of Philadelphia will open a special centennial exhibit, "Corridor of Culture: 100 Years of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway." The exhibition will run until Nov. 16, 2018.

Summer ‘Fireflies’ and ‘Winter Fountains’

Katie Low of Atelier Art Services installs the wiring for the Chinese lanterns on pedicabs for Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Fireflies,” a public art project and performance celebrating the centennial of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.
DAVID MAIALETTI / Staff Photographer
Katie Low of Atelier Art Services installs the wiring for the Chinese lanterns on pedicabs for Cai Guo-Qiang’s “Fireflies,” a public art project and performance celebrating the centennial of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway.

The Association for Public Art is shepherding two projects for the centennial.

First, from Sept. 15 through Oct. 8, a fleet of 27 pedicabs outfitted with fanciful lanterns will transport riders up and down the parkway in Cai Guo-Qiang's participatory performance-celebration "Fireflies." Rides will be free, by reservation, Thursdays through Sunday from 6 to 10 p.m. each evening

Then, from December through March, the Parkway will feature Jennifer Steinkamp's Winter Fountains for the Parkway, five large fountains installed by the artist along the Parkway. When night falls, the fountains will illuminate with animated video projections that relate to the collections at the Parkway museums and educational institutions.

Exhibits galore

In addition to the Free Library and Friends Select, other Parkway institutions will present centennial-related exhibitions throughout the year.

  • "A Peek at the Past, A Look Toward the Future " debuts at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in October for a run through November 2018.
  • "Old Masters Now: Rediscovering the John G. Johnson Collection" runs at the Philadelphia Museum of Art from Nov. 3 through Feb. 19. The museum became steward of the great collection in 1917, the same year Parkway construction began.
  • "Paul Philippe Crét and the Barnes Foundation," an exhibition drawn from the Barnes archives, opens at the Barnes Foundation Oct. 18 and runs through March 12. Crét (who designed the Albert C. Barnes' gallery and residence in Merion), along with architects Horace Trumbauer and Clarence Zantzinger, drew up the first comprehensive plan for the Parkway in 1907. They were commissioned by the Fairmount Park Art Association — the forerunner of the Association for Public Art — to do so.

Basilica concerts and more

There will also be concerts at the Cathedral Basilica of SS Peter and Paul throughout this year and next, and many, many other events, exhibits, talks, and performances. For the conclusion, more than a year from now, the museums, institutions, and attractions on the Parkway will open their doors on Friday night, Nov. 16, 2018, for the "Parkway 100 Finale," offering installations, performances and concerts, premieres, tours, talks, and educational programs.

For more information, visit the events page of the Parkway centennial: www.parkway100.org.