Philadelphia Assembled: Resistance, resilience, and radical welcome

What does the future of Philadelphia look like? How is the Philadelphia that we know now changing in terms of population, politics, and infrastructure? And how can the intersection of art and social action help us all to imagine a collective future for our city?

These questions are at the heart of a major collaborative artistic undertaking from the Philadelphia Museum of Art (PMA) called Philadelphia Assembled. Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk is working with a wide network of over 160 artists and activists throughout the city who are meeting in various workshops this spring that focus on imagining Philadelphia’s future collectively.  Van Heeswijk’s work has been featured in publications and exhibitions worldwide, including the Liverpool, Shanghai, and Venice biennials. She lives and works in Rotterdam and Philadelphia.

New atmospheres

Amanda Sroka, the PMA’s assistant curator of contemporary art, explains that the museum is only one partner in the creation of this unique and dynamic exhibit: “Philadelphia Assembled asks us to think differently about relationships and how we create exhibitions,” Sroka says. “This project is asking the museum to be a collaborator along with stakeholders in the city — who are sharing narratives of resistance and resilience. The museum is working alongside our collaborators, not just being a host.”

This epic project is comprised of five different “atmospheres” that raise questions about the city’s future: “Reconstructions” examines questions of social displacement and reentry into society; “Sovereignty” explores how we define self-determination and autonomy; “Sanctuary” is about how we understand self-care, asylum, and refuge; “Futures” reimagines our tomorrow; and “Movement” deals with facilitating action and collective learning.

What is ‘radical welcome’?

The Sanctuary atmosphere may be the most politically charged at the moment. The essential question of this atmosphere is a timely one: How can Philadelphia become a true Sanctuary City? Artist Jeanne van Heeswijk says, “We want to explore — what does ‘sanctuary’ actually mean? Is it possible? What does radical welcome for all look like? What does it mean for a refugee, for an LGBTQ teen?” Partner organizations for the Sanctuary atmosphere include the Attic Youth Center, New Sanctuary Movement, Prevention Point Philadelphia, and Project Safe.

The five atmospheres will come to life for the public to experience in the museum’s Perelman Building from September 10 through December 10, 2017.  Admission will be pay-what-you-wish.

“When visitors come to the Perelman Building, it will be transformed,” Sroka explains. “Philadelphia Assembled will be in the café — in the food we’re serving.  You’ll see video, film screenings, spoken word, music.”

To get a better sense of the kind of activism and collaboration that is happening now as the project is being created, visit the Philadelphia Assembled blog, and check out the full calendar of associated events and opportunities happening throughout the city. On social media, Philadelphians can follow along and share their own experiences with @phlassembled and @philamuseum, using the hashtag #phlassembled.