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Liberty Unplugged

Liberty Unplugged poster

May - September 2015


Liberty: Unplugged! was The Mann Center's 2015 community festival project. With this festival, the Mann was proud to lead the Philadelphia community in celebrating the messages and movements of three iconic men: Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. The focus on these three icons coincides with the convergence of three anniversaries of note: the 150th anniversary of the 13th Amendment, the 50th anniversary of the Voting Rights Act, and the 25th anniversary of Nelson Mandela's release from imprisonment.

The Liberty: Unplugged! festival featured a series of special concert events, community partnership initiatives, and educational programs. It began in May and continued through September 2015. Throughout these five months, the Mann invited audiences, artists, and scholars to ”unplug” history from its traditional modes of instruction, creatively reinterpreting the still-timely themes of these men and their movements: freedom from modern-day slavery, voting rights, and human rights (local and global).

Curated by Nolan Williams, Jr., CEO of NEWorks Productions and Festival Artistic Director for the Mann.

Past Events

Poetry Slam Contest
Sunday, July 5, 2015 through Friday, August 14, 2015

The Mann, in partnership with Philly Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM), was pleased to present the Liberty: Unplugged! Poetry Slam. This citywide contest invited Philadelphia youth to explore the central Liberty: Unplugged! festival topics of human trafficking, voting rights, and human rights on a local and global level. Participants were featured on the festival’s digital platforms and the finalists were invited to perform as part of the festival finale event at the Mann. The top three winners were awarded cash prizes and ticket packages for a 2016 concert at the Mann.


'Liberty Leaders' Mural

The mural was unveiled at the Mann on June 5, 2015 and on display in the Mann's Welcome Center. Students were further challenged to reflect on the words and actions of these great men and give serious thought to how they might impact our world today—thus continuing the unending march towards freedom and liberty. The ‘Liberty Leaders’ Mural was created by young 9th through 11th grade artists attending the KIPP Dubois Collegiate Academy. These students elected to participate in an after-school art enrichment class centered on the Liberty: Unplugged! festival. As part of their creative process, students researched speeches by Frederick Douglass, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela, then worked cooperatively to paint each historical figure along with excerpts of their most renowned speeches.

Mural Student Artists: Mahalia Strickland, Audrey Jones, Kennedy Parks, Sharda Snead, Kamilah Gittens, Carnesha Walton, Nasreen Hughey-Mainor, Dimir Ramsey, Jessica Harron, Art Teacher

new voices

New Voices "Peace by Piece"
September 2015 through November 2015

In partnership with Child’s Play, a non-profit arts education theatre group, the Mann implemented its 2015 Connecting Arts-N-Schools (CANS) program, “Peace by Piece,” in four Philadelphia public schools in September 2015. Students were inspired to create group-generated stories showing how they can make a difference in the world and bring about peaceful solutions to problems. Child’s Play returned to the schools in November 2015 to perform the developed stories for the students.

(NOTE: The CANS series was developed by the Mann to provide multicultural programs to targeted public, charter, and parochial schools in the greater Philadelphia area. The CANS mission is to connect students and educators with the performing arts in deep and meaningful ways, offering performances that enhance the in-school curriculum and broaden students’ horizons.)

The Mann Center for the Performing Arts, in partnership with NEWorks Productions, was proud to present:

Liberty: Unplugged! Town Hall  
Saturday, September 12, 2015 | 1:00PM
Moore College of Art and Design
19th and the Parkway
Philadelphia, PA 19103

As a signature event of the 2015 Liberty: Unplugged! festival, the Mann and NEWorks Productions partnered in presenting the Liberty: Unplugged! Twitter Town Hall, a forum in which young scholars were engaged in critical and open dialogue about three themes that, as in the days of Douglass, King, and Mandela, still threaten the cause of liberty locally, nationally, and globally: modern-day slavery, voting rights, and human rights. 

Actor and activist Hill Harper moderated this forum, which took place live at the prestigious Moore College of Art and Design, located along the Parkway, Philadelphia's cultural Mecca of world-class museums. Through streaming/webcast and live tweeting, satellite gatherings of youth scholars in other key parts of the country were engaged in the conversation.

The Liberty: Unplugged! Twitter Town Hall was a community forum in three parts:

Twitter Town Hall

Moderated by Hill Harper
Co-moderated by Dr. Stefan Bradley, Dr. Lisa Weah, Dr. Mari Crabtree, and Jazzy T

This forum engaged young scholars in critical dialogue about the three themes of modern-day slavery, voting rights, and human rights, which were highly prevalent in the days of Douglass, King, and Mandela. Leading the discussion were student presenters from Temple, U.Penn, Cheyney, and West Chester. Through live web stream and Twitter, satellite gatherings of student scholars in Charleston, Ferguson, Baltimore, and Buffalo joined the conversation.

Poetry Slam

The finalists of our citywide poetry contest competed live. The Poetry Slam was presented in partnership with the Philly Youth Poetry Movement.

United We Band

The day culminated with a musical showcase featuring emerging, young Philadelphia artists performing songs of social justice. Presented in partnership with Artists United, S Factor Entertainment, and PhilAsh Entertainment Group.


Three Kings Concert
Monday, August 10, 2015

This free concert, held at the Mann's pavilion, showcased works that explored festival themes, including spirituals performed by student musicians from Play On Philly! and the Chicago Metamorphosis Orchestra Project, a newly choreographed dance piece by Danse4Nia Repertory Ensemble for the Oscar Award-winning song “Glory” (performed by Common and John Legend as the theme song for the movie Selma), a new theatrical piece about Martin Luther King, Jr. by Universal African Dance and Drum Ensemble, a tribute to Nelson Mandela performed by Sharon Katz & The Peace Train, and finalists from the festival’s citywide poetry competition.

Three Men, Three Movements
Saturday, May 2, 2015

Three Men, Three Movements was the inaugural concert event for Liberty: Unplugged! This free community event was produced in partnership with Play On, Philly! (POP), the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement (PYPM) and ODUNDE365. The concert was held at Mother Bethel AME Church and featured works commissioned and created specifically for the project, including musical repertoire created by POP, as well as spoken word pieces created by the Philadelphia Youth Poetry Movement.

The Mann was proud to congratulate Samantha Siermine, a junior Graphic Design student at the Moore College of Art & Design, who was presented with a scholarship from the Mann for her work with the #LibertyUnplugged festival branding. Samantha is one of 15 students who worked on a year-long design project centering on the 2015 festival icons Frederick Douglas, Martin Luther King, Jr., and Nelson Mandela. Samantha’s work was incorporated into all online and print branding throughout the festival.

Liberty Unplugged! was sponsored by:

The Mann Center
Independence Blue Cross
Lomax Family Foundation
Louis N. Cassett Foundation
Moore College of Art & Design
NEWorks Productions
Philly Youth Poetry Movement
Syde Hurdus Foundation
The Artists United