What to see at the Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts

When the first Philadelphia International Festival of the Arts (PIFA) was announced back in 2010, it seemed a bit curious that the event would take place every other year — festivals are, after all, usually annual affairs. But after getting a look at the ambitious undertaking that plopped a Ferris wheel in the middle of Broad Street? Well, yes, a year off between productions seemed appropriate.

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PIFA is back for round three this April, and the programming is as impressive as ever. Featuring 16 days of performances across the city by local and international artists, it kicks off with a fire show at Penn’s Landing and concludes with a street fair that will shut down nine blocks of Broad Street.

This year’s concept, “We Are What We Make,” explores the fabric of Philadelphia. “We’re becoming more and more curious about how things are made and what makes a city. You can see it in the restaurant industry, you see it in architecture, and you’re seeing it in art,” says PIFA artistic director Jay Wahl.

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“That said, there’s always been that authenticity to the city. This is where the Constitution was written — we made, quite literally, the country here.”

From Old City to the Parkway, from family entertainment to cutting-edge performances, there’s plenty to see. Here are three can’t-miss events to get you started.

“Article 13”
April 8-10, Penn’s Landing

A collaboration between France’s Compagnie Carabosse and Mexico’s Teatro Linea de Sombra, “Article 13” is a free, interactive performance honoring migrants who disappeared while pursuing better lives abroad. Incorporating fire installations, statistics and first-hand accounts, the timely exploration of immigration serves as an opening to PIFA as it makes its American debut. “It’s not a political piece — it’s a human piece,” says Wahl.

“The Kinetic Tree”
April 8-23, The Kimmel Center
Serving as PIFA’s centerpiece, “The Kinetic Tree” comes to life every night with free performance at 7 and 10 p.m. Although Mimi Lien’s gigantic sculpture is impressive and, in a sense, “grows,” no artist could have created something as simple and beautiful as a real tree — and that’s an important aspect of the festival’s “We Are What We Make” concept. “We as humans can’t make a tree, not with any amount of funding, which I think is worth noting,” says Wahl.

Street Fair
April 23, Broad Street
It’s rare that you can close down nine blocks of Broad Street in Center City without invoking Philadelphia’s rage, but PIFA manages to pull it off. Stop by for plenty of carnival-inspired treats, music, street performers and kid-friendly entertainment—not to mention the opportunity to see one of the city’s busiest thoroughfares in a whole new light.[tab]“Once you sit down and have lunch in the middle of Broad, you look at it differently every day,” says Wahl.

Follow Monica Weymouth on Twitter @iproposetoast

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