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Highlights of a venue of the arts for decades

The Academies. Owen Wister and W.E.B. DuBois. A look at some of the most important events in Philadelphia's artistic history.

The American premiere of Mahler's "Symphony No. 8" on March 2, 1916, at the Academy of Music, Leopold Stokowski conducting the orchestra.
The American premiere of Mahler's "Symphony No. 8" on March 2, 1916, at the Academy of Music, Leopold Stokowski conducting the orchestra.Read more

Philadelphia has always had a lively arts community. The events below, as selected by The Inquirer's arts reporters, are some of the most memorable in the last 180 years:

1857: The Academy of Music opened. Built in the spirit of Milan's La Scala opera house, the Academy provided a glittering magnet for a growing cultural life.

1876: The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, founded in 1805 and the nation's oldest art school, moved into its landmark Frank Furness/George Hewitt building on North Broad Street, and Philadelphia native Thomas Eakins joined as a teacher and, ultimately, director.

1894: Alexander Milne Calder's 37-foot-tall sculpture of William Penn was placed atop the new City Hall, beginning the city's century-plus relationship with Calder artists, including his son, sculptor Alexander Stirling Calder, and grandson, Alexander "Sandy" Calder, inventor of the mobile.

1899: W.E.B. DuBois, a young sociologist at the University of Pennsylvania, published his classic The Philadelphia Negro: A Social Study, the product of a year's research in the Seventh Ward. It was the first extensive, empirical look at the sociology of an urban black community.

1902: Germantown-born Owen Wister published The Virginian, the first "cowboy" novel, setting a style with the line, "When you call me that, smile!"

1912: Conductor Leopold Stokowski arrived to take over the Philadelphia Orchestra. He made it into the world-class orchestra that it is, and, over many decades, developed its sound.

1922: Millionaire avant-garde art collector Albert C. Barnes established the Barnes Foundation to implement his theories of art education and appreciation. It was not until 1961 that his collection was opened to the public, and then only on a highly restricted basis.

1928: Atop Fairmount at the end of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the first finished section of the new Philadelphia Museum of Art building, devoted to British and American art, was formally opened to the public.

1938: West Chester-born Samuel Barber wrote Adagio for Strings, adapted from his String Quartet. Slow and soulful, Adagio has gone on to become one of the most beloved pieces of music and has been used in many movies.

1964: Philadelphia-born Penn professor E. Digby Baltzell published The Protestant Establishment: Aristocracy and Caste in America, in which he popularized the term WASP. Said a colleague, "He felt the best of WASP culture represented the best virtues to which everyone could aspire: honor, hard work, respect, authority."

1972: Robert Hedley and Jean Harrison founded the Philadelphia Company to produce new work and work never seen in the region. Now the Philadelphia Theatre Company, it became the first of the home-grown small companies to become a major professional organization, followed by People's Light and Theatre in Malvern (1974), the Wilma (1979), Delaware Theatre Company in Wilmington (1979), American Music Theater Festival (1984), and the Arden (1988).

1976: As part of the Bicentennial celebration, Robert Indiana's LOVE sculpture was placed at a point overlooking the Parkway in JFK Plaza, which in no time became universally known as LOVE Park.

1983: The Walnut Street Theatre Company was formed, making the 174-year-old Walnut a not-for-profit theater company under the direction of Bernard Havard. It acquired major professional status and became the most heavily subscribed theater in the United States.

1984: The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program was founded. In the next 25 years it became the nation's biggest public-arts initiative, emblazoning more than 2,800 city walls with murals that attract tourists from around the world.

1995: The Philadelphia Theatre Alliance established the annual Barrymore Awards to honor theater artists and productions for excellence. The first best-musical award went to the Arden's production of A Little Night Music; the best play was the Philadelphia Theatre Company's Master Class, which went on to Broadway the next year and won the Tony Award for best play.

1997: Nick Stuccio and Eric Schoefer founded the Philadelphia Fringe Festival, one of the nation's largest festivals of its kind, now called the Live Arts/Philly Fringe festival.

2000: Jennifer Higdon premiered blue cathedral with the Curtis Symphony Orchestra, followed by the 2002 premiere of her Concerto for Orchestra by the Philadelphia Orchestra. These two works have made Philadelphia's Higdon one of the most frequently performed living American composers.