Moonstone began in 1981 on the second floor of Robin’s Book Store, which went out of business in 2012, where Sandy Robin developed a series of Saturday morning children’s programs and Larry Robin presented poets and authors. Incorporated as a 501©3 non-profit corporation on February 23, 1983, with the motto Education Through The Arts From the Cradle to the Grave, Moonstone believes that learning is a life-long activity and that art stimulates both cognitive and affective learning at all ages. While literature was at the center of Moonstone’s programing, Larry and Sandy believe that Art, in all its forms, is more than enrichment; it effects how one thinks, sees, interprets, describes, meets life and functions in society. Moonstone Inc., with the mission to create programs based on the philosophy that the arts, creativity, and imagination are essential aspects of life and learning, operates the Moonstone Preschool and the Moonstone Arts Center.
Sandy Robin began to work with children, first at The Variety Club Camp & Developmental Center for children with special needs and then as director of the After-School Program at Old Pine Community Center in 1981. Unable to do the kind of programming she wanted, Sandy started the Moonstone After-School program at the Society Hill School of Art and Music. At the same time she developed a Saturday morning children’s series with programs like Sonia Sanchez reading the book she had written for her own children, The Adventures of Fat Head, Small Head, and Square Head; dancers from the Pennsylvania Ballet introducing the Nutcracker through discussion and demonstration and children’s stories presented as theater. This was the proving ground for what became the Moonstone Preschool, which Sandy established in its own location in 1983. The Robins discovered that the use of the arts to stimulate cognitive and affective learning was supported by Howard Gardner’s theories of multiple intelligence and other educational theorists.
The Moonstone Arts Center began as Moonstone Readings at Robin’s Book Store and Larry’s connection to books and publishing created the opportunity to develop the Arts Center’s programs. Many of the programs brought writers into contact with each other and into contact with the reading public. Some of these programs were: The Celebration of Black Writing which Moonstone presented for 18 years. The Paul Robeson Festival and The Ink Programs, which originated in the Pennsylvania Humanities Council’s Pennsylvania Year of the Writer in 1986. Larry Robin was on the steering Committee for the Philadelphia Ink Program and saw the potential for ongoing programs in support of local writers. The programs were designed to provide encouragement to writers by providing them with an opportunity to meet with other writers working in the same genre as well as an opportunity to promote their work to a wide and appreciative audience. All the Ink Programs aimed to celebrate diversity as something that unites rather than divides us, they sought to discover and hear the many different voices that make up the richly diverse cultural fabric of Philadelphia. The Ink Programs included: Philadelphia Ink – celebrated writers from the area who published in a given year; Women’s Ink – celebrated women writers; Children’s Ink – celebrated artists and writers who introduce children to the world of books; Red Ink: Readings of Resistance and Liberation – celebrated radical literature; Poetry Ink: 100 Poets Read which continues and celebrates poets, is in its 19th year in 2015.
The Moonstone Arts Center’s mission is to “promote creative exchange through diverse cultural programs” and produces over 100 public events each year including poetry, author events and history programs in the Greater Philadelphia Area.
New and emerging poets are featured in weekly programs as well as annual marathon poetry readings such as Poetry Ink: 100 Poets Reading and 100 Thousand Poets for Change. There is a weekly program at Fergie’s Pub, irregular programs at Brandywine Workshop and monthly programs at PhillyCAM. In 2015 Moonstone launched Who Do You Love?, a new series at PhillyCAM which uses the talk show format to discuss the life and work of an important poet. These programs can be seen “on demand” at the PhillyCAM website.
Poetry Ink: 100 Poets Reading is a seven hour poetry reading held every April, in which poets present their work back to back, often in pairings that create contrasts between styles, levels of experience and the culture of the poets themselves. “Nowhere else in Philly do we get such a wonderful mix of people, voices, and generations, and it is an experience in varieties of personalities as much as in poetry and poetics – everything from uplift to satire, from political protest to personal sorrow, love poems and tirades, transgression an decorum, the outrageous and the outraged, ranters and restrained formalists, street and academy, performance poets and shy ladies barely audible – pretty much the human spectrum. I loved listening…stayed a while, came back for more. Anyway, it was a great day…Only death is as great a leveler as Moonstone [Arts Center].” – Eleanor Wilner, author of Tourist in Hell; The Girl with Bees in Her Hair; Reversing the Spell: New and Selected Poems, and Otherwise.
The Celebration of Black Writing started as a party on Sunday afternoon February 17, 1985 celebrating some of the great African American writers who lived in Philadelphia: Allan Ballard, Charles Blockson, Denise Dennis, Muriel Feelings, Charles Fuller, Kristen Hunter, Sonia Sanchez, Ed Sims, Gilbert Ware and Rudolph Windsor. Organized by Moonstone, it took place on the second floor of Robin’s Book Store. By 1988 it had become a two day event with a panel discussing the State of Black Writing (Charles L. Blockson, Houston A. Baker Jr., David Bradley, Rosa Guy, June Jordan, James Haskins and Woodie King) with a lifetime achievement award going to Benjamin Quarles. It included storytelling with the Association of Black Storytellers and a book fair with forty authors. From the fourth to the seventeenth celebration Moonstone produced not only the conference but also a series of posters and booklets. In 2000 the 16th Annual Celebration of Black Writing went international exploring the relationship between the Harlem Renaissance and the Négritude Movement with a five day program called Alchemy In Paris. This program featured Roger Bonair-Agard, Sam Allan, Barbara Chase-Riboud, Michel Fabre, Ted Joans, Les Nubians, Simon Njami, Ed Shockley, John A. Williams, Kimmika L.H. Williams-Witherspoon and Julia Wright. It included programs with Cave Canem, Harlem Writer Guild and the Union of Writers of the African Peoples with Dennis Brutus. In 2002 the Celebration of Black Writing became part of Art Sanctuary and they have grown the program into a month long series of events in May of each year.
The Paul Robeson Festival ran from 1987 to 1994, was developed by Moonstone in co-operation with Swords into Ploughshares and Charles L. Blockson Collection at Temple University. The Festival was designed as both a celebration of the life and work of Paul Robeson and as a forum that would encourage people to emulate his artistic and human integrity. The first Paul Robeson Festival was greeted in the Philadelphia Inquirer with the banner headline: “At last Philadelphia Honors Paul Robeson.” The Philadelphia City Council responded to the festival by recognizing April 5 – 11 1987 as “Paul Robeson Week in the City of Philadelphia” (Resolution no. 1016). The second Paul Robeson Festival celebrated Paul Robeson’s ninetieth birthday. Subsequent festivals explored the themes of art and activism as exemplified in Robeson’s life. Each annual festival combined live performances, screenings of Robeson’s films, and discussions of his legacy.
The annual programs were:
- 1987 – A Tribute to Paul Robeson
- 1988 – The 90th Birthday Tribute to Paul Robeson
- 1989 – The Art of Protest, The Protest of Art
- 1990 – Which Side Are You On: The Artist, The Worker & The Struggle For Freedom
- 1991 – I Shall Be Heard: The Search for Free Expression
- 1992 – View From The Western Shore: Indigenous View of the Quincentenary
- 1993 – Paul Robeson’s 95th Birthday Tribute
- 1994 – Yearning to Breathe Free: Political Asylum in the United States
The Paul Robeson Festival led Moonstone to explore the relation between art and social activism with programs such as the Betrayed: Violence Against Women, where three poets led an exploration of this topic; Justice Month, with a discussion between Angela Davis and Sister Helen Perjean; The Richard Wright Centennial Celebration with a week of activities with Julia Wright; and Thomas Paine’s Legacy: Three Centuries of Revolution in Philadelphia. This series of programs developed into the Hidden History Project.
The Hidden History programs are city wide festivals on the life and work of activists who struggled to make sure that “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” applied to everyone. These people are rarely featured in our history books, sometimes mentioned in passing or getting a line or two. Hidden History programs have included:
- 2009 – Thomas Paine: America’s Forgotten Founding Father (200th year after his death) Thomas Paine wrote Common Sense in 1775 in Philadelphia and turned what was a tax revolt into a political revolution. He was the first person to assert that the common man could and should rule himself.
- 2009 – John Brown: 150 Years Later (150th year after his death). John Brown’s attempt in 1859 to start a liberation movement among enslaved African Americans at Harpers Ferry, Virginia electrified the nation. This can be considered the first action in the American Civil War.
- 2011 – Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (100 years after her death) Frances Ellen Watkins Harper (September 24, 1825-February 22, 1911), was an African-American writer, lecturer, and political activist, who promoted abolition, civil rights, women’s rights, and temperance. She lived at 10th and Bainbridge in Philadelphia. Philadelphia City Council Resolution #110085 adopted February 11, 2011 ”Recognizing the Week of February 20, 2011 as Frances Harper Week”
- 2011 – Emancipation (150 years after the firing of Fremont) John C. Frémont, major general in command of the Department of the West emancipated the slaves in Missouri on August 30, 1961. President Abraham Lincoln asked Frémont to revise the order. Frémont refused to do so. Lincoln responded by firing him on November 2, 1861.
- 2012 – Martin R. Delany (200th birthday) Martin Robison Delany was an African-American abolitionist, journalist, physician, and writer, arguably the first proponent of American Black Nationalism. (35, 36, 37, 38) Philadelphia City Council Resolution adopted March 15, 2012 “Recognizing the Week of May 6-12 as Martin Delany Week
- 2013 – Ida B. Wells (150th birthday) Ida Bell Wells-Barnett was an African-American journalist and newspaper editor who documented lynching in the United States, showing how it was often a way to control or punish blacks who competed with whites. Wells was a skilled and persuasive rhetorician, and traveled internationally on lecture tours.
- 2013 – Voices of Women Voices of Women looked at the mid nineteenth century: as Women’s Suffrage emerged from the Anti-Slavery movement; and touched on some of the amazing women who have continued the gender inequality discussion over the last 150 years. Women have been central to most of the social movements in America with an amazing number of smart and brave individuals leading the struggles. The goal was to deepen the understanding of women as the driving force leading social progress. Moonstone focused on three of the earliest activists in this movement: Lucretia Mott, Margaret Fuller and Harriet Jacobs.
- 2014 – Charlotte Forten Grimké (100 years after her death) Charlotte Forten Grimké was one of the most influential antislavery activists of her time. She was the first northern African-American schoolteacher to go south to teach former slaves. A sensitive and genteel young woman, she brought intense idealism and fierce abolitionist zeal to her work. Born in Philadelphia in 1837 as a free individual, Charlotte worked all of her life trying to end slavery and to create equality.
- 2014 – The Underground Railroad in Philadelphia The program explored the period from 1830 to 1870 with programs on some of the people who were active in the struggle against slavery with emphasis on Robert Purvis, William Still and the Philadelphia Female Anti-Slavery Society. These included lectures on individuals, panels on the movement, films and discussions and a tour of Underground Railroad sites, resources and historic markers that honor some of the period’s activists.
The core of the Moonstone Preschool is a thematic approach to the use of multiple intelligence theory. The arts based curriculum is grounded in the progressive educational philosophies of John Dewey, with an understanding of the significance of art in cognitive and affective development as expressed by Elliot Eisner and the concepts of multiple intelligence developed by Howard Gardner.
Moonstone believes in Diversity and Imagination, in the importance of being in contact with people who do not look alike, sound alike, think alike or solve problems in the same ways. Multiple Intelligence allows teachers to tap into the individual learning style of each child and to teach multiple approaches to all aspects of life. “The arts teach children that problems can have more than one solution. This is at odds with the use in our schools of multiple choice tests in which there is no multiple correct answers. The tacit lesson is that there is almost always, a single correct answer. It’s seldom that way in life.” Elliot Eisner, Three Rs Are Essential, but Don’t Forget the A — the Arts, January 03, 2005, Los Angeles Times. New brain imagery is also probing the idea of diverse intelligences. More information:
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