Da Vinci Fest brings curiosity out at a safe distance

Da Vinci Fest Launch Party
Da Vinci Fest Launch Party in 2019.

This weekend kicks off one unique event that’s new to the City of Brotherly Love. Da Vinci Fest was originally supposed to be a multi-day festival that was going to be shutting down a few streets in South Philly filled with programs for adults and youth, installed exhibitions, a competitive Derby race, an art-market, and a brand new mural. For obvious reasons, in-person plans changed, but the new Festival is still going to be in full swing, just digitally instead. The creators of DVF wanted the experience to still be memorable, and they put 18 months of planning (and pivoting) into the experience to make that happen. 

“It was originally as a huge art and science block party and in the middle planning, a pandemic happened,” says Jarrod Markman, Executive Director of the Da Vinci Art Alliance. “So we’re saying it’s a festival that has been upgraded with many virtual experiences and it’s still keeping the spirit of bringing people together through art and science programming. A lot of those experiences have been shifted to online.” 

2019 Festival Launch Party. Provided

The Da Vinci Art Alliance is a nonprofit art organization based in South Philadelphia that provides resources, exhibition space and community for members and surrounding neighborhoods. The goal of the festival is to show curious-minded Philadelphians a way to experience the wonders of art and science just as Leonardo Da Vinci did. 

“Our sort of goal is to really just showcase the artistry, creativity and diversity of the local community through our programming,” continues Markman. “All the programming really stems from our organization’s namesake, Leonardo Da Vinci, so we have art, science, botany, math—really Da Vinci was such a master at so many different fields and sectors that we get to play a little bit at how we combine programs. We are just excited that people who are art-minded and science-minded can come together and experience something new through the platform.” 

Last year, the DVAA tested their idea for the festival with a block launch party that mimicked a smaller scale version of this festival design in Polumbo Park. But plans changed this past spring when figuring out just what to do come fall with COVID-19. 


“It was really difficult, especially in the first year when you don’t already have the platform built,” says Markman. “We are really trying to build it as we go. The pandemic hit and we didn’t even know what October was going to look like at all. So, we had to make some really important decisions really early on and in May we decided to switch to a mostly virtual platform because we knew that good digital content was going to take that long to develop and we wanted to deliver something of  good quality rather than wait to see if things were going to open up or see how things were going to go.”

The Da Vinci Art Alliance acted quickly in other ways when the pandemic first struck as well being one of the first organizations in the city to try and showcase some creativity online while most were on lockdown. Da Vinci announced the launch of its #DaVinciAtADistance Visual Program which featured completed works of art by DVAA Members to maintain a sense of social bonds outside of the gallery setting. By sharing all new member artwork on Instagram and Facebook, members were able to enjoy unique works of art and share their own new works with members and the public. 

This shift and pivot system helped when continuing to plan Da Vinci Fest as well, and now Philadelphians can enjoy both online and in-person events as well. With so much going on, Markman listed a few must-sees for 2020. 


For one-stop, Markman mentioned the Festival’s largest exhibition out of the five they are offering. Through “The Endless Urban Portrait” guests will be able to investigate Philadelphia’s architectural past and present through this collaborative exhibition by DVAA members, Jefferson University’s College of Architecture students and the Built Environment students, faculty, and alumni, and PEW Fellow, Lisa Marie Patzer. 

“That is an exhibition that is taking all of those people and sort of looking for a common and future vision of Philadelphia through an installation of historic wallpaper and exploring how machines interpret a South Philly row-home,” says Markman. 

Another notable stop is a month-long pop-up exhibition at Polumbo Park. “That is going to be whimsical and inter-twined sculptures by local artists that will be free and accessible to anyone. That is in collaboration with a group called Philadelphia Sculptors,” continues Markman. 

Philadelphians will also be able to check out a few in-person events as well such as the scope and sketch class. This particular event is an outdoor and socially distanced astronomy and art course where the public can look through a socially distanced telescope at a telecast moon. Then artists will teach you how to shade the moon’s craters after a science lesson. Scope and Sketch will take place Oct. 23 and 25. 

The Philly Moon MenProvided

To kick off the festival, Philadelphians can also check out the livestream at 6:30 p.m. on Oct. 22. According to the release, the livestream will feature Leslie Gudel, Philadelphia’s first female sportscaster who will give a play-by-play narration of the Da Vinci Derby where Philadelphians of all ages will race their derby car creations for awards in speed and creativity.

Aside from the events, there is also going to be plenty of at home crafts, a new mural debuting on the side of the DVAA building, an art-market and much more. A full list of events and happenings at the 2020 Da Vinci Fest can be found at davinciartalliance.org

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