It seemed like an ordinary Saturday at the department store. Thousands of shoppers crowded the Macy’s in downtown Philadelphia. The marble floors in the historic Wanamaker department store buzzed with activity. It was late October, and the holiday shopping season was beginning to pick up. As customers navigated the grand courtyard, the famed Wanamaker Organ—the world’s largest organ, weighing 287 tons, with 12,800 pipes—played in the background. At noon, it intoned the first notes of the “Hallelujah Chorus” from Handel’s Messiah.
Suddenly, a chorus of more than 650 members burst into song. It wasn’t clear who was singing, or why. This impromptu choir, interspersed throughout the crowd, seemed to appear from nowhere. Just moments before, all of the people now singing had looked like ordinary shoppers, dressed in street clothes, sipping coffees, eyeing merchandise, chatting with friends. And now the massive hallways reverberated with song.
Shoppers were amazed. Some burst into tears. Many whipped out their smart phones to take pictures or make recordings. As the chorus ended, the crowd cheered wildly. A few individuals held up signs that said, “You’ve just experienced a Random Act of Culture.” Since then, video of the event has gone viral; at this writing, it has been seen 7.3 million times on YouTube.
Random Acts of Culture is a project of the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation. The Knight Foundation has as its mission the goal of helping create informed and engaged communities by supporting transformational projects in journalism and media innovation, community engagement, and the arts. These “random acts of culture” accomplish all three goals: by supporting public performances, by integrating the arts into everyday community life, and by sharing the results online through professionally edited video.
Knight Foundation supports transformational ideas that promote quality journalism, advance media innovation, engage communities and foster the arts. We believe that democracy thrives when people and communities are informed and engaged. For more, visit www.knightfoundation.org.