A Philly arts and culture guide to MLK Day

Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. in 1963. Image courtesy of the Library of Congress.

Remember the legacy of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. this Monday, January 19. You’ll find free and reduced-price admission at a number of arts and cultural institutions as well as a variety of service projects. Whether you’re an art lover, a history buff, or towing your brood, there’s a way to celebrate.

Tribute in music

The Philadelphia Orchestra will perform a free tribute concert at Girard College Chapel to honor Dr. King’s life and work. “Dr. King dreamed of a society where all men are created equal and his message continues to inspire us. We proudly contribute to his legacy by demonstrating the unifying power of music in the community,” said Ryan Fleur, Executive Vice President for Orchestra Advancement.

For the second year in a row, Yannick Nézet-Séguin will be conducting the concert, which runs for 90 minutes and features six different pieces chosen to reflect Dr. King’s heritage. There will be music by African-American composers, such as James Weldon Johnson’s "Lift Every Voice and Sing," traditional music like "Ezekiel Saw de Wheel," and classical pieces that speak to the theme of the day. The concert features the world premiere of the first movement of composer Hannibal’s One Land, One River, One People (the full work premieres in November). The Orchestra commissioned this work, which explores the connections among communities and the individuals within them.

“Our concert is always meaningful, both for the audience members and the musicians. Oftentimes we’ll see people in the audience visibly moved by some pieces or when Charlotte Blake Alston performs Dr. King’s ‘I Have a Dream’ speech while the Orchestra performs Samuel Barber’s Adagio for Strings,” Fleur said. For a preview, watch a video of last year’s performance.

Drums, crafts, breakdancing, fine art, and “I have a dream” 

Stop by the Philadelphia Museum of Art for “Pay What You Wish” admission and special programming, including dance performances by Danco2, pop-up mini tours, greeting card crafts, and more, along with the PMA’s latest exhibition, Represent: 200 Years of African American Art. (Here's our WNWN preview of the show.)

From Saturday, January 17 to Monday, January 19, professional actors will read Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s 1963 “Letter from Birmingham Jail” at Eastern State Penitentiary, alongside tours, Q&As, hands-on art projects, and discussion. The readings are free, but standard admission is required for the tour of the penitentiary.

The National Museum for American Jewish History offers free admission and a day of family-friendly activities. Explore the challenges and benefits of freedom through stories of political struggles in the face of discrimination. Make art projects, listen to the Sister Cities Girlchoir, watch the PBS documentary Eyes on the Prize: America’s Civil Rights Movement, and more.

Visit the National Constitution Center for $5 admission and a range of educational programming. There will be an interactive sing-along, an engaging reading of the “I Have a Dream” speech, a performance by the Unity Choir, and mobile-making.

The African American Museum in Philadelphia offers free admission for its Sharing the Heritage Celebration and Day of Service. The day is packed full of exciting activities, including a scavenger hunt, selfies with Phillies Outfielder Ben Revere, breakdancing workshops, and performances by the Universal African Dance & Drum Ensemble and Female Precision Drill Team. Explore the multimedia exhibition "Audacious Freedom: African Americans in Philadelphia," which showcases the contributions African Americans in Philadelphia made between 1776 and 1876.

The National Liberty Museum has free admission for its Martin Luther King, Jr. Day of Service. Tours, crafts, and an educational “I Have a Dream” workshop (now full) round out the day. Craft activities related to the “I Have a Dream” theme take place every weekend until February 1. 

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