Heading out of Center City along North Broad Street, one thing is painfully obvious about the grand boulevard nicknamed the Avenue of the Arts: Both the arts and the cultural sizzle they promise are in short supply along that stretch.
To the south, the venerable and thriving Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts anchors the City Hall end. Farther north, there's the famed Freedom Theatre near Temple University, itself a hub of cultural activity.
Civic leaders, though, would be the first to acknowledge the arts avenue still has a ways to go.
That's why the groundbreaking last week for a new home for the Pennsylvania Ballet - along with an earlier announcement of an intriguing project to add more lighting to North Broad - are exciting signs of progress.
The ceremonial start of construction for a new $17.5 million Pennsylvania Ballet headquarters and studios, reestablished ballet school, and a garden north of Vine Street mean more than just the pending arrival of a new neighbor to that area. The project also represents a milestone in the ballet's successful, two-decade effort to recover its financial footing, after nearly having to pirouette into the wings permanently.
Two-thirds of the funding is in hand, including city and state aid, with another $6 million to be raised. Donors to that capital campaign have good reason to be confident about the ballet's future, especially with plans to launch a school next fall that will nurture a new generation of dancers. The ballet's modest operating surplus last fiscal year was another achievement amid troubled economic times for all arts troupes.
While the ballet school hopes to produce future bright lights of dance, an Avenue of the Arts infrastructure project announced earlier in October, and getting under way next year, will offer visitors to North Broad Street a unique sight at night.
The plans call for lighting an initial 2.5-mile stretch with sleek, 55-foot, modernistic light poles down the middle of North Broad, beginning with the section from Spring Garden Street to Temple's campus. Eventually, officials at the Avenue of the Arts Inc. agency plan to install the lights from Glenwood Avenue all the way to City Hall.
City Councilman Darrell L. Clarke said at the announcement of the project that the lights will signal that "this is the next hot corridor." Indeed, the addition of new restaurants and loft apartments along the route - in tandem with the light project and the ballet's eventual arrival - are positive signs that North Broad is stepping up the pace.