Fourth Wall and the future
My next door neighbors, when I was fifteen, were a black couple: a newspaper reporter and a retired kindergarten teacher. The teacher had been on a racial commission with a white woman whose husband had attended an Episcopal boarding school in New Hampshire. The two women stayed in touch for years. So when her husband’s alma mater needed to recruit black girls, white woman reached out to her friend to see if she knew any girls who might fit.
Aunt Florence called me.
It’s how I start my memoir, Black Ice, because without their friendship, I would never have had the experience that transformed my education–and my adolescence. And I am sure that in twenty years, many, many, many relationships started in and around Elijah’s Dornstreich’s Fourth Wall will create many unexpected outcomes. As if the refreshment and beauty of arts experiences were not enough!
Lorene Cary knows about art. As founder of the seminal Philadelphia cultural institution Art Sanctuary, Penn professor, author, and holder of five honorary Doctoral degrees, Lorene really knows about impact. We seek to walk in the footsteps of generations of Philadelphia trailblazers – not least Lorene Cary.
The Fourth Wall Arts project began early last year, and has grown well beyond our expectations. At first we just wanted a cool alternative to the typical social menu of cocktail parties and the like: a chance to gather our circle of friends, young artists, intellectuals, and taste makers in the Philadelphia region for a monthly evening of arts, wine, and food in my center city home.
As we formed our plans, many artists got on board, and our ambitions grew. We never ended up having an Arts Salon in my home. The first Fourth Wall Arts Salon occurred in May of 2010, welcoming 100 guests to Media Bureau in Northern Liberties. The following month we had 180 guests. Then 205. By August we welcomed 260 people to Fourth Wall Arts Salon.
Each month these events are an eclectic mix of music, dance, theater, poetry, visual artists speaking on their work, and topical speakers along with an open bar of beer and wine and a spread of vegetarian food. The idea is to create an environment of artistic excellence, cultural vitality, and community engagement unlike anything else. On our website’s “feedback” page, on Facebook, in our recent fan survey, and in countless interactions at our Salons, we see a theme: these are the most diverse events our guests have ever attended.
And that is the point. Fourth Wall is actually about breaking down walls. Between artist and audience, between black and white, old and young, rich and poor, traveling through the varied and beautiful neighborhoods of our great city. By mixing communities we create shared inspiration and understanding. Just like every other city in America, we have neighbors who have no idea about one other. And that would be fine, if once they found out, they didn’t care. But they do. Perhaps my mother summarized it best when she emailed me after a recent Salon:
”Last night as we were leaving the Salon, a young, African-American man was entering. I (a gray-haired Jewish lady) recognized him and asked “Didn’t you perform at a previous salon?” He beamed at me and said yes. I was beaming at him. Without the Salon, there is most likely no way that our two lives would intersect. With the Salon, our two usually disparate cultures met in fellowship and goodwill. It was joyful and I am very grateful.”
By creating unique and beautiful arts experiences we nourish the vitality of our cultural ecology, which should be a model for the nation and an accurate reflection of our truly colorful metropolis. By providing opportunities to showcase the best of our carefully vetted local artists from every genre, we encourage and enable growth, laying the foundation, brick by brick, of a rich cultural landscape – an integral prerequisite for a vibrant community as well as economic development.
Our model is tirelessly collaborative. We have held Salons in community dance centers and soaring cathedrals. In 2011, things are shaping up incredibly for Fourth Wall. The level of our partnerships with City institutions has climbed right to the top. Catch us inside the Philadelphia Museum of Art on September 2nd.
We have begun to expand our work based upon the platform we’ve created. Fourth Wall is developing partnerships with local schools and institutions to implement our model of arts-based education and community activism: in poetry and creative writing, visual art, dance, and more – even magic.
Fourth Wall has partnered with local institutions including the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the African-American Museum, The National Museum of American Jewish History, and the Philadelphia Theater Company to place artists and produce gala events, infusing an element of diversity and inspiration unique to the Fourth Wall brand.
Fourth Wall is manufacturing – or at least reinvigorating – demand for the arts, one person at a time. If city institutions like The Kimmel Center, The Philadelphia Orchestra, and others are to survive, they will need to play by the same rules as anyone else in a capitalist economy; subsidies won’t do it. By mixing hip-hop with opera, African dance with chamber music, tap-dancing with rock, we are simply revealing what true arts enthusiasts already know: EVERYONE loves good art if it is presented in a manner in which they can approach and enjoy it. And no city in the world has better artists than the City of Philadelphia.
Elijah Dornstreich has a fifteen-year career as an entrepreneur and business executive in both the financial and entertainment industries. He was President of NationsFirst Financial from 1999 to 2007, and is an owner of Capital Business Partners, which partners with banks and institutions to offer funding solutions to small businesses. He is a principal of Aorta, Inc, an artist management company, and is also a founder of the non-profit Fourth Wall Arts Salon, a platform for independent artists to gain exposure and support in the Philadelphia region.
In 2007 Elijah became President of the Alumni Advisory Board of The Bronfman Youth Fellowships in Israel for a 2-year appointment. He travelled to Israel in July 2006 as a member of ROI-120, an initiative of Birthright Israel, which sends 120 Jewish leaders between age 20 and 35 from around the globe for a 3-day conference in Jerusalem to discuss and strategize on Jewish philanthropy and continuity.
In 2007 Elijah helped produce the short film Have You Ever Heard About Vukovar?, which has won numerous awards and screened at the 2008 Tribeca Film Festival, and has a production credit for the film The Ordinary Radicals. Elijah grew up working on his family’s organic vegetable and herb farm in Bucks County, Pennsylvania.
Follow Fourth Wall Arts on Twitter: @fourthwallarts