Five events to watch for in January

Happening at Penn this month: the opening of the Arthur Ross Gallery’s latest exhibit, a celebration of Martin Luther King Jr., and a walk for wellness.

Damien Sneed performs at a keyboard
Damien Sneed (pictured) and his band will perform at the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts on Jan. 17 to celebrate Martin Luther King Jr. (Image: Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts)

With winter sweeping in and a new semester imminent, January follows the slowdown of the holiday season with lectures, performances, and new exhibits. All adding up to more than enough entertainment and intellectual engagement to prime the mind before the start of a new semester or, as time has it, the embark of a new decade. 

Here, five events to watch for around campus this January. 

‘Unburdening Liveness’ Lecture (Thursday, Jan. 9, 6:30 p.m.)

In association with Performance Intensive, an eight-day interdisciplinary arts laboratory funded by The Sachs Program for Arts Innovation, Yale Professor of American Studies and Theater Studies Tavia Nyong’o will talk through the “burden of liveness,” placed in the context of technology and artificial intelligence, and the thoughts of José Esteban Muñoz. His lecture recalls debates during the 1990s about performance by minorities and their exclusion from dialogues that discussed the past and future. 

This lecture examines how the variable of AI may continue to shape that debate—and maybe even stifle progress.

Performance Intensive, additionally supported by the Center for Experimental Ethnography and the Department of Fine Arts at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, runs from Jan. 5-12 and welcomes performance artists from around the country for workshops, performances, lectures, and more. 

Frankenthaler on Paper Opening Reception (Thursday, Jan. 16, 5 p.m.)

Fiesta, 1973; acrylic on paper; 22 x 30 inches.(Image: courtesy the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation)

Long a fan of Helen Frankenthaler, Lynn Marsden-Atlass, executive director of the Arthur Ross Gallery and curator of the new exhibit “Frankenthaler on Paper,” was introduced to the director of the Helen Frankenthaler Foundation five years ago. After expressing interest in showcasing the abstract expressionist painter’s work at Penn, she began a conversation and realized that—because Frankenthaler’s works are typically large-scale—the Arthur Ross Gallery would be a perfect home for her smaller scale works, such as ones that include paintings on paper, acrylics on paper, and prints. 

Pieces from the 1970s to 1990s are displayed in the show, with special emphasis on prints of the 1960s and ‘70s.

“I chose that time period because in the late 1960s and ‘70s there was this remarkable renaissance in print workshops, producing prints and contemporary prints with renowned artists—among them, Helen,” Marsden-Atlass says.

Fourteen prints from the 1970s to 1990s are part of the show, in a variety of media that ranges from lithography to woodcuts. These, in addition to 10 unique paintings.

At the opening event, Ruth E. Fine, a scholar of Frankenthaler who was formerly the curator of special projects at the National Gallery of Art in Washington, D.C., will discuss the exhibition as she sees it, prints during the ‘60s and ‘70s, and the 10 paintings. Light bites and refreshments will be available. 

We Shall Overcome (Friday, Jan. 17, 8 p.m.)

Timed with Martin Luther King Jr. Day, the Annenberg Center for the Performing Arts invites producer and musical director Damien Sneed and his band to celebrate King’s legacy with the Penn and Philadelphia communities. 

Sneed, who is bandleader, pianist, keyboardist, and vocalist, joins several other vocalists, an organist, a bassist, a drummer, and singers from the New Spirit of Penn Gospel Choir and the St. Thomas Gospel Choir, from Overbrook. 

“We Shall Overcome” showcases African-American music traditions that inspired the Civil Rights Movement and weaves in spoken word from some of King’s most inspiring and galvanizing speeches. Gospel, modern gospel, classical, jazz, Broadway, and spirituals—covering artists from Aretha Franklin to Donny Hathaway—encompass the show, which adopts an uplifting tone while seamlessly switching from one genre to the next. 

Wellness Walk (Monday, Jan. 27, noon)

Students gathered on College Green with sign that reads Wellness Walk Follow Me
Students gather for a Wellness Walk in October 2019. (Image: Center for Public Health Initiatives)

The Penn community is invited to participate in a Wellness Walk that begins in front of the Benjamin Franklin Statue at College Hall. On this occasion, the walk is themed with Penn basketball, as part of the ongoing series’ intention to add a learning component to walks and unite people who might not otherwise meet. 

Coaches Steve Donahue and Mike McLaughlin, the men’s and women’s basketball coaches at Penn, respectively, will attend to educate participants about the basketball programs and the history of the Palestra. Attendees will receive two free tickets from Penn Athletics for Penn basketball games.

The trek around campus is part of the Wellness Walk initiative that sprang from the Office of the Provost’s Your Big Idea Wellness competition held in Spring 2019 The project is one of three winners and is a collaboration between Penn Libraries and the Penn Center for Public Health Initiatives. The program is based on the “Walk With a Doc” national walking program that begins with a short talk and ends with a Q&A session. 

Wellness Walks for the months ahead are currently being planned and will continue throughout the spring semester; wellness leader suggestions are encouraged. 

Penn Science Café: Risky Choice: Paradoxes of Rationality and Behavior (Tuesday, Jan. 28, 6 p.m.)

At the Suzanne Roberts Theatre in Center City, Assistant Professor of Psychology Sudeep Bhatia applies psychological theory to the process of risk-taking, teasing out the rationality and irrationality inherent in how it’s decided.

“Risk is one of the most important variables in our personal, social, and economic lives, and how we represent and respond to risk guides our behavior and determines our well-being,” Bhatia says. “Risk is also very well-studied from a statistical and philosophical perspective, and considerable research has documented discrepancies between rational rules for risky decision-making and our own behavior responses to risk.”

Researchers, he adds, are only now beginning to understand these discrepancies and, thus, how everyday decisions are made. The talk will be of special interest to those who enjoy psychology, philosophy, and statistics—and the intersections of any and all of the aforementioned. 

The talk is part of the Penn Science Café series, sponsored by the School of Arts and Sciences

Want to know more about what’s happening around campus? Find out more through Penn Today’s curated events calendar. Have an event you’d like to suggest for the calendar? Email Staff Writer Brandon Baker at