In the early ‘90s, Audrey Claire Taichman was a waitress in a very different Philadelphia. She worked at Rittenhouse Square’s Friday, Saturday, Sunday, but the dining options back then were limited—and the streets were deserted.
“It was dangerous walking home at night,” remembers the restaurateur who is the driving force—along with co-chairs Stephen Starr, Michael Solomonov and Nick Elmi—behind Feastival, the party that features the culinary stylings of some 80 chefs and that has raised over $3 million for Fringe Arts over the last eight years. “When I graduated from Temple University, I remember feeling like there was nothing in Philadelphia to keep me here. Now, thanks to restaurants and the arts, college students aren’t moving to New York or Chicago. They’re staying here and making the city better.”
Taichman opened her eponymous Rittenhouse Square restaurant at all of 26 years old and soon found herself at the heart of a trend that was returning vibrancy to our streets. She opened her second restaurant—Twenty Manning—in 1999. When Richard Vague, now FringeArts Board President, gave her The Death and Life of American Cities, by Jane Jacobs, Taichman saw that her aspirations were straight from Jacobs’ playbook.
“Jane Jacobs is my hero,” says Taichman. “She went up against Robert Moses and changed New York City. She realized that better cities are more populated cities. That’s what we’re proving in Philly. When I first started raising money for FringeArts, people were like, ‘Why?’ They didn’t understand the bigger impact. A city has to make its inhabitants happy. Whether it’s the culinary arts or the visual arts, the better the art, the better the city.”
So Feastival is about the food, yes, but it’s also, to hear Taichman tell it, a celebration of what Jacobs preached in 1961. That, though there’s nothing inevitable about the American city, there is something grand about the idea: Diverse populations, living in close proximity to one another, their feet hitting the same streets, sharing everything from art to food to sports teams—what Taichman calls “cultural to-dos.” Imagine, in these polarized and polarizing times: A party that celebrates the notion that we’re all in this together.
Thursday September 28th, 7 p.m. – 10 p.m., tickets $300, FringeArts, 140 North Columbus Boulevard.Header Photo: Feastival