It's rare to find spaces in the bustle of today’s world that allow for uninterrupted appreciation of art in all its forms. So, when you do come across one of these spaces, it's difficult to forget. The Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Friday Nights series is one such art haven. The series presents a new musician virtually every Friday night, drawing from the Philadelphia music community and beyond. The artists hail from a wide variety of countries, backgrounds, and musical histories, with classical jazz, Americana, folk, and Latin music among the styles represented. But the unifying feature of all the artists is their ability to create their own distinct ambiance.
Friday Nights costs only $14 for students, which is the regular student price for admission to the museum on any given day. Beginning at 5 p.m. on Friday evenings, attendees can enter the museum, greeted by cocktails, tapas–style food, and a candlelit Great Stair Hall. The first performance begins at 5:45 p.m., with a second set at 7:15 p.m. The rest of the museum is also open late, allowing guests the opportunity to get up close and personal with the art on display. It’s a fluid experience—although the featured musicians play, listeners eat, drink, and otherwise enjoy the space. The soft clinking of glasses and soaring piano arpeggios create the ideal atmosphere for a unique night out.
This past Friday, singer–pianist Dena DeRose graced the Friday Nights attendees with her velvety voice and old–school jazz repertoire, backed by a bassist and a drummer. The night was one of romance and community, with young couples holding hands under the tables spread around DeRose, older couples bobbing their heads to the old songs, and groups of friends laughing softly over wine on the Great Hall staircase. DeRose’s crooning could be heard while strolling through some of the museum’s many exhibits—a perfect accompaniment to the stunning artwork.
Coordinator of the Friday Nights series Catherine Ricketts holds evenings like this close to her heart. Not only does she painstakingly select performers from a large list of submissions, but she also wants to ensure that the artists and attendees have an enchanting night.
“You know, we are an art museum. We should take good care of people that are making art, so I really love that about my job," Ricketts explained. "I also love seeing a huge room of people that are very different from one another in some ways all united around the same experience … I love looking around the room and seeing everything from young families with toddlers, to couples on their first date, to friends who came after work for happy hour, to older couples who have been married for 40 years." Ricketts is not just passionate about art, but about the experience of consuming it as well.
The eclectic noises of the night’s sound check echo as we chat about her favorite performances (the “dreamy, ambient” ones), and how some have moved her to tears. She explains the vision behind Friday Nights as a means of putting “local artists in conversation with the art” at the museum and as a way to build community within the museum and in Philadelphia. Art has the power to create and celebrate community, and if you want to get involved with the Philly art scene, this is the perfect place to start.
The museum is constantly featuring different types of art and performance. It will debut an after–hours event on Oct. 11: Friday Remix, a night of “improvisational, participatory” pop–up performances scattered throughout the galleries. Catherine described the event as “DIY art,” a way to connect with art in a unique way. The featured artists include a circus group and Eppchez!, a vocal group slated to perform in an elevator. There's also an exclusive membership rate for students during the month of October—only $20 for a year of membership, which includes free admission, access to special exhibitions and special rates and discounts.
Regardless of your experience (or lack thereof) with the Philadelphia Museum of Art and the larger art scene in the city, Friday Nights is the perfect spot for a dreamy date night or an evening out with friends. The space fosters magical moments that only music can spark and serves to educate Philadelphians about art. If you’re looking for charm, the Friday Nights series—and more broadly, the art museum—is the place to go.
This article was updated on Tues., Oct. 8, 2019, to reflect clarifications.