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Drexel Arts, Culture and Campus Recommendations

November 11, 2021

Mandell Theater.

Please visit the ‘Drexel’s Response to Coronavirus’ website for the latest public health advisories.  

With the return to in-person learning, teaching and working this fall term at Drexel University, there’s been a lot to do. Previously, DrexelNow published guides about where to sit and eat on University City Campus and where to find Drexel’s art exhibits and galleries to help ease the transition to being back on campus.

Now, to promote arts and culture offerings that can be enjoyed both at Drexel and in Philadelphia (and at home, too), DrexelNow asked some of the new faculty and professional staff from the Westphal College of Media Arts & Design to share what music, theater, books and other media they’ve been consuming, in addition to what pandemic innovations they’ve seen in their professional fields and what they’re excited to explore on campus.

Their lightly edited responses are included below:

Tony Dofat

Tony Dofat.

Associate teaching professor, music industry

Q: What new arts and cultural events or offerings have you been excited to see in Philly?

A: To be honest, I haven’t done much in Philadelphia, so I am excited about everything, although my interests are heavy on the live music scene. There are many spots that I want to check out, including Chris’ Jazz Café, Relish and South Jazz Kitchen; a deep-rooted musician from Philadelphia recommended those to me.

I am from NYC, so I am ready to devour an authentic cheesesteak and do a cheesesteak tour and visit the main touristy attractions such as LOVE Park, the Liberty Bell and museums. Regarding the music scene here in Philly, I know about the legendary Sigma Sound Studios, Jay-Z’s “Made in America” Festival, and that this is also the home of The Roots, Pink, Meek Mill, Santigold, and Jill Scott.

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: In my field, music business, music technology and recording arts had a decline with live performances and shows. Revenue was down by billions of dollars. I was most impressed with how music production and songwriting did not halt whatsoever. We continued to collaborate and instruct classes via Zoom, Google Meet and Avid Cloud, so I was able to continue teaching and producing music. There are also much more sophisticated systems in place such as the “Dante System” which is a combination of software and hardware that delivers uncompressed, multi- channel, low-latency digital audio over a standard Ethernet network. 

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel? 

A: Some of my current reads are “America on Record: History of Recorded Sound” by Andre Millard, “Can’t Stop Won’t Stop: A History of the Hip-Hop Generation” by Jeff Chang, and “Modern Recording Techniques (Ninth Edition)” by David Miles Huber and Robert E. Runstein. I love hip-hop and technology, so these books are currently on my coffee table.

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?

A: I have not fully explored Drexel’s campus, but I am very excited about visiting the ExCITe Center (Expressive and Creative Interaction Technologies) and the MET-lab (Music Entertainment Technology Lab). These facilities are in alignment with my interests in music, software development and AI. I am looking to expand into implementing more AI-based music tools.

Josh Ford

Academic advisor for art history, graphic design, product design and urban strategy

Josh Ford.

[Editor’s note: Ford is new to Westphal, but he has been at Drexel since 2018.]

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: The biggest change to our advising practice over the past year and a half is definitely the advent of virtual appointments. When we had to shift to the remote environment suddenly last March, I had never met with a student over Zoom before, and now some students actually prefer this method! Zoom appointments have helped some students fit in meetings around a busy class schedule, their co-op jobs, or family obligations that would otherwise make it difficult to find time to meet. I’ve been so grateful for the adaptability of our students during pandemic, and the willingness to switch to Zoom appointments is just one small example of this.

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel?

A: Like everyone else, I found myself have a LOT more time to soak in new media over the past year and a half. My wife and I have been working through the AFI’s Top 100 movie list during the pandemic, and I’ve seen so many classics that are new to me! Before last spring, I’d never seen “Citizen Kane,” “North by Northwest,” “Singin’ in the Rain” and many other classics that I’m too embarrassed to say I missed in the past. It’s been great to revisit old favorites and be inspired by new ones that I’ve missed out on over the years.

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?

A: My favorite lunchtime escape is walking over to the benches at Drexel Park. Being in the city, it can be hard to find open greenspace, but Drexel Park has a great view of the city skyline and plenty of trees too. Plus, the walk there from my office goes right through the Summer Winter Community Garden, which is also gorgeous. 

Grace Kim

Grace Kim.

Academic advisor for design & merchandising, interior design 

Q: What new arts and cultural events or offerings have you been excited to see in Philly?

A: I’ve been in the Philly area for a long while now, and something that I’ve seen slowly transform and become incredible has been Dilworth Park right by City Hall. When I was a student in the area, it really wasn’t that developed and just kind of had the bare minimum fountains and some seating, but nowadays, they offer a ton of seasonal events, performances, and sometimes even show movies or opera on a big outdoor screen. There’s also an outdoor art market set up almost every weekend. I would highly recommend stopping by or getting connected with the Center City newsletter to see what events they’re planning on holding in the future.

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: I’ve been really interested in general about seeing the field really adapt to a more remote environment and approach because pre-pandemic, many would have doubted that remote advising would work or be just as effective. There’s a very human and in-person element to what we do obviously, but seeing how advising over Zoom can be just as effective and sometimes even more efficient when students can just log in from anywhere to report for their appointment has been very fun in terms of future directions for this field. And in the field of higher education, we’ve been seeing an acceleration of moving everything to online; paper forms are now e-forms, scheduling is fully online, and a hybrid approach to this job is being more fully realized. 

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel?

A: I have been really loving “Crying in H Mart,” a memoir written by Michelle Zauner, the lead singer of the band Japanese Breakfast (which had its early starts in Philly actually!), about her dealing with her mother’s illness, her journey with navigating her Korean American identity and also her music career. It’s an amazing story that has personal meaning to me but also is a really great read for anyone to relate to in terms of just finding your way in life when everything seems to be too much or overwhelming. 

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?  

A: I haven’t been down to the Gateway Garden yet. I have been really loving working in the URBN Center. Believe it or not, I haven’t yet had much time to step outside my office, but I really want to browse the costume gallery here as well as just get acquainted with the rest of this very cool space.

Ben Runyan

Instructor of music technology

Ben Runyan.

[Editor’s note: Runyan formerly was an adjunct instructor at Drexel]

 Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: It’s not so much an innovation as much as it is an existing technology, but the use of it has been innovative. Using Zoom, Microsoft Teams and different web technologies to collaborate with other musicians has been extremely important to me during the pandemic. Not just with situations where I might meet up physically, but even with people states or countries away. This is what the Internet was intended for originally, and the pandemic has highlighted the power of the internet with regard to creative collaboration.

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel? 

A: I have been working as an adjunct for five years with Drexel, but this is my first experience as a full-time employee. I’ve been watching a lot of “Ted Lasso” and a lot of that is about teamwork and collaboration, so there are many tie-ins with my work at Drexel. 

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?

A: Cira Green! Amazing place to find some solitude. 

Jihyun Song

Jihyun Song.

Associate teaching professor, interior design

Q: What new arts and cultural events or offerings have you been excited to see in Philly? 

A: I am from Washington, D.C., where there is an exciting opportunity to enjoy the local art scene on first Fridays of the month. I have heard Philly also has a monthly open house on the first Friday evening of every month. I am looking forward to discovering Philly’s art community of interesting exhibits, live music and sometimes artists’ talks or performances in the following months.

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: My area of specialty in teaching has been focused on healthcare interior design and the impact of design on health and well-being. During the COVID-19 pandemic, I had virtual health visits with physicians that were as good as being in person. After those virtual experiences, I felt more comfortable during my recent in-person outpatient visit. The future of outpatient care is evolving, and we are rethinking where and how to receive better healthcare services as a result of the pandemic. I am intrigued by the new model of healthcare and quality experience through design.

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel?

A: Netflix has new series called “The Chair” that I have enjoyed so far since it was released in late summer when I was in the transition to join the faculty at Drexel. As a woman and a member of minority faculty in academia, I found this workplace drama interesting. With my Asian (Korean) background, I think it offers an interesting perspective from the lens of diversity and inclusion on campus culture. It also reminded me of trying to balance being a mom (single parent), a daughter, and a professor when I was going through a tenure process at the prior institution. I think such experience has prepared me for my current job so that I could embrace and share my cultural background with students and faculty at Drexel.  

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?  

A: In the winter term I will offer a new elective course, “Design for Health + Wellness,” that will include a field trip to the new Penn Pavilion that recently opened. The timing of the opening of this new facility at Penn Medicine is most opportune for my class because it is truly a phenomenal facility from many lenses. I look forward to introducing this area of specialty with a new way of seeing healthcare design that supports health and wellness. 

Max Vasapoli

Max Vasapoli.

Academic advisor for entertainment & arts management, fashion design (undergraduate and graduate), undeclared

Q: What new arts and cultural events or offerings have you been excited to see in Philly?

A: It’s been incredible to see the reemergence of live performance. Before the pandemic, I would see 2-3 shows a week, so I — like so many others, and especially those working in the industry — have been waiting for the day live performance would return. There’s nothing like sitting in an audience waiting for a performance to begin. It still manages to take my breath away every time. It’s something I never take for granted and feels even sweeter after a long hiatus. The first show I saw back was the Bearded Ladies’ “The Beardmobile” starring some of the city’s brightest talents: Anthony Martinez-Briggs, Sam Rise, Cookie Diorio, Jess Conda, and John Jarboe. It was truly a reunion of theatre makers, and it was distanced outside and with all protocols in place. I also saw Theatre in The X present “The West Philly Meeting,” created over the past two years in collaboration with West Philly community members. It was a collaboration worth waiting for. And, of course, I think the entire live arts community celebrated the return of the Fringe Arts’ Philadelphia Fringe Festival this fall. I was lucky enough to see Pig Iron’s “Love Unpunished” and Gunnar Montana’s “Hotel Montana.”

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: As a theatre and dance practitioner, I was elated to see how ingenious creators became in isolation. The work was often celebratory, innovative, and more collaborative than I’ve seen in the past, particularly because we had the time to spare, even across time zones. I was interviewed by multiple podcasts across a number of topics and hosts (The Role of Race in Dance, Academic Advising for Dancers), which I don’t think I ordinarily would have had the time to record. There was a huge movement of collaborative work like the “Ratatouille the Musical” on TikTok and “Dreamgirls” with Broadway talent streamed on Clubhouse. Opera Philadelphia’s highly anticipated and world-renowned Digital Festival O brought classics and new works into our homes, with ordering menus provided by the city’s best eateries. I was impressed by everyone’s passion to continue to create, collaborate and comfort.

Brent White

Assistant teaching professor, music
Director, Jazz Orchestra and Jazztet
Coordinator, Arts and Culture Hub at the Dornsife Center for Neighborhood Partnerships

Brent White.

[Editor’s note: White was formerly an adjunct faculty member at Westphal]

Q: What new arts and cultural events or offerings have you been excited to see in Philly?

A: Now that we’re back on campus, it’s been really exciting to see students performing in the room all together at the same time. We did almost two years of virtually being a band and a jazz orchestra, so we did all these elaborate things to try to make music. We put all the kids in a video game for last year’s “A Jazzy Holiday 2020” winter concert (our first time doing a holiday show, and it was included in a WHYY article about holiday performances in Philly) and students played in front of green screen, and shot video on their cell phones. And now we’re back in person and we’re trying to figure out how that works, because both there are both freshmen and also sophomores who might never have been on campus before.

That first rehearsal was a big moment for me for just getting the band back together. We performed some scales to see if students could still play the instruments after coming back and see who’s slacking and who’s really practicing. We have a Jazz Orchestra Fall Concert event on Dec. 2 that’s part of a whole series of concerts at Drexel’s Mandell Theater.

Q: What pandemic innovation(s) have you been most intrigued to see in your field and why?

A: This isn’t related necessarily to the arts, but just in general, I think we’re starting to decide what Zoom is good for and what it’s not good for. I think Zoom is good for certain things where you don’t have to meet in person, and we figured out that certain interactions we can do over Zoom and that’s a big advantage. But Zoom does not work for some of the things that we need to do, like rehearsing in bands. I think we’ve learned the limits of technology through this pandemic, and I hope we all take in a little bit of self-reflection of when we need to be around other people for certain things.

Q: What media have you recently enjoyed and/or turned to for help with the transition to Drexel?

A: I haven’t played video games since I’ve been a teenager, but I decided to get a Nintendo Switch during the pandemic, because I was stuck inside and had all this extra time. I don’t have that many games because I’m not really that into it, but we do play a lot of Mario Kart and it’s just family stuff I can enjoy with my kids. That’s what I turn to for releasing stress when I have the free time.

Q: What spot have you enjoyed exploring or want to explore on or near Drexel’s campus?

A: I went to Drexel’s Rec Center the other day to check it out because I want to try this Pilates class. And like I’d mentioned, I’ve also been excited about that two-week series of concerts at Mandell Theater starting near the end of this month. There’s one for Jazz Orchestra and other Drexel bands and ensembles and choirs, so there’s a whole series of concerts that I feel that the University doesn’t know about. We do it every term, and it’s just at Drexel. I know students are cramming for finals during that time, because it’s at the end of the term, but maybe they just need to release some stress and could come to a free concert.