Thaddeus Squire is an urban explorer. His passion for the history behind forgotten buildings and his commitment to contemporary performance art has led him to combine both and re-invent places. Squire is a planner and organizer, and in many ways a pragmatic intellectual. Two years ago he founbed the Hidden City festival which brought together new audiences to historic places and to the discivery of site-specific performances. Here's his story. Thaddeus Squire is the founder of the Hidden City festival and director of Philadelphia's Culture Works. Photo by Peter Woodall
I grew up the son of a preacher, who pulled himself up out of blue collar Conshohocken, and a nurse who traveled north out of working-class Raleigh. One grandfather was a butcher at the Acme market on Fayette Avenue. The other owned a truck repair shop off of US 1. From both of my parents I learned the value of ministering to others. My career has been dedicated to helping a different group of people. From a study of music and history, I developed a passion for arts and culture. So, my ministry involves cultural workers: artists, researchers, writers, curators--people who make things that explore, celebrate, tear down, rebuild, and chronicle our path through this world. In my religion, heaven is the legacy we leave to others and to the future when we build buildings, compose songs, write books, or make other things for people to experience.
I was raised comfortably middle class, but on the Main Line, where I was afforded some access to Philadelphia's movers of money and power. My more modest roots, however, kept me interested and believing in value of the people, companies, places, and things that may not command the limelight, but that are essential to maintaining the richness of our culture. Today, I try to leverage the relationships I've developed across many social and cultural worlds to celebrate and support the lesser known.
I have four basic principles for living: First, do something that makes you jump out of bed in the morning. Second, do it with people you like and respect. Third, make sure you are never one up or one down in your relationships with those people. Fourth, make sure the first three things pay the bills. They're principals that I've have developed to support a life of relentless curiosity. They're also my formula for happiness.
I spent a childhood trespassing on various Main Line estates, pretending I owned them. My best friend and I would break into the odd carriage house to perform some act of vigilante preservation. We did get caught. But the Lower Merion Police didn't know what to do with kids re-glazing windows or repairing damaged woodwork. My fascination with uncharted, forbidden places blossomed into an obsession with exploring Philadelphia's byways, backstreets, and aging buildings and, by extension, the people, events, and ideas that inhabited them. The dents and dings in my former '96 Honda Civic--rendered by the odd light pole, opposing fender, or bit of wall--charted my distracted journeys through our hidden city. They are the traces of my belief in the endless wonder that you can experience if you take the time to delve into the world around you--its people and places. This gets me out of bed in the morning.