ABOVE PHOTO: View of The Seine, Looking Toward Notre Dame, 1896, Oil on canvas, 14 7/8 x 20 1/8 in., Courtesy of Michael Rosenfeld Gallery, LLC, New York, NY.
Philadelphia shines a spotlight on its rich African American legacy during Black History Month, when exhibits, plays, storytelling events, music and more illustrate and celebrate the black experience in Philadelphia and beyond. Headlining the events, Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) features more than 100 pieces by Tanner, who lived in Philadelphia after the Civil War and became the first prominent African-American painter to gain international acclaim. Joining the Tanner exhibit are Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum, special events at The African American Museum in Philadelphia, a new African-American-themed theater show at the National Constitution Center, the world premiere of Branch: A Baseball Legend, the Philadelphia premiere of Clybourne Park and much more.
Museum Exhibits & Events:
The Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) explores the life and work of African-American artist Henry Ossawa Tanner through a definitive retrospective of his career. Henry Ossawa Tanner: Modern Spirit, a traveling exhibition curated by PAFA staff, mounts more than 100 pieces, including the two known sculptures Tanner completed, 12 paintings that have never been shown in a Tanner retrospective and his career-making Resurrection of Lazarus, which is making its first trip to the continent. Tanner, who lived in Philadelphia after the Civil War, studied at PAFA. Through April 15. 118-128 N. Broad Street, (215) 972-7600, pafa.org
The Penn Museum (University of Pennsylvania Museum of Archaeology and Anthropology) presents Imagine Africa with the Penn Museum, a 12-month exhibition and community engagement project. After viewing a portion of the museum’s impressive collection of African artifacts, people respond to what they see by giving feedback, while community groups provide more in-depth analysis. At the end of the project, the museum will reinstall the Africa exhibit, addressing people’s interests and most-talked-about topics and including community perspectives. Events throughout the year complement the project, and Black History Month is no exception. Both free with admission, Imagine Africa Community features traditional and modern music, dance and storytelling by local artists (February 18), and Voices of Africa sways to the beat of traditional African and African-American songs, message music, gospel and inspirational percussive rhythms (February 22). During the pay-what-you-wish Contemporary South African Performance, Dr. Carol Muller, professor of ethnomusicology, presents the relationship between music and cultural status (February 28). 3260 South Street, (215) 898-4000, penn.museum
Starting Black History Month a little early, the Mercer Museum hosts a special screening of the documentary Black Soldiers in Blue, about the first and largest training ground for black soldiers during the Civil War, Camp William Penn. Audience members can stick around after the show to discuss the film. January 29. 84 S. Pine Street, Doylestown, (215) 345-0210, mercermuseum.org
During the National Constitution Center’s month-long celebration, visitors watch the Breaking Barriers Show and delve into the lives, hardships and contributions of Thurgood Marshall, Bessie Coleman, Jackie Robinson and other extraordinary African-Americans, and each weekend, they listen as Once Upon A Nation storytellers recount amazing tales of early African-Americans. Plus, the museum’s permanent collection includes inspiring items important to the United States’ past and present, including a rare printing of the Emancipation Proclamation and a signed copy of Barack Obama’s A More Perfect Union speech. All month. 525 Arch Street, (215) 409-6700, constitutioncenter.org
Every weekend throughout the month of February, The African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP), 701 Arch Street, (215) 574-0380, aampmuseum.org, offers special workshops that are free with admission. Drawing inspiration from the story of Robert Smalls, an enslaved man-turned-Civil War hero-turned-U.S. Congressman, children create their own superhero characters during Outlined in Black: Creating Superheroes (February 4, 11). Part of the Free Library of Philadelphia’s annual One Book, One Philadelphia program, themed around Haiti this year, museum-goers receive a free copy of A Taste of Salt: A Story of Modern Haiti and hear the story of two teenagers who risked their lives to create change in their homeland (February 4), and children can join engaging storyteller, artist and historical re-enactor Carla Wiley during a presentation of the book Running the Road to ABC (February 25). People interested in tracing their family roots can take advantage of Introduction to Black Genealogy: A Beginner’s Workshop (February 19).
PHOTO: Peter P. Jones, Henry Ossawa Tanner, 1909, Henry Ossawa Tanner papers, Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution.
The Independence Seaport Museum and AAMP invite visitors to James Forten on Display, a month-long exhibit at both museums, to discover the life and achievements of the African-American businessman and abolitionist who owned and operated his own sailmaking company in Philadelphia after the Revolutionary War. During the Independence Seaport Museum’s Seafarin’ Saturday, children take after the icon by making their own maritime signal flags (February 18). February 1-29. 211 S. Columbus Boulevard, (215) 413-8655, phillyseaport.org
AAMP, Independence National Historical Park and Friends of Independence National Historical Park team up for a day-long symposium entitled American Slavery: Bringing Wider Perspectives to Museum Interpretation. At the Philadelphia Branch of the Federal Reserve Bank of the United States, guest speakers and panelists—including representatives from the Smithsonian’s National Museum of African American History and Culture, Mount Vernon, Cliveden, The President’s House and more—discuss the still-heated topic of slavery in a free country. Advance registration required. February 25. 6th & Arch Streets, aampmuseum.org
On The Stage:
Arden Theatre Company presents the Philadelphia premiere of Clybourne Park, the response to the 1959 classic A Raisin in the Sun. The story revolves around a house and a neighborhood over five decades, as families move in and out—illustrating that gentrification can come in all colors. Through March 18. 40 N. 2nd Street, (215) 922-1122, ardentheatre.org
The Society Hill Playhouse presents the world premiere of Branch: A Baseball Legend, a play about racism in American culture—and doing something about it. Theater-goers watch and listen as Branch Rickey recalls breaking baseball’s color barrier by signing Jackie Robinson in 1947. February 3-26. 507 S. 8th Street, (215) 923-0210, societyhillplayhouse.org
For the Painted Bride Art Center’s well-known and well-loved Jazz On Vine series, guitarist-composer David “Fuze” Fiuzynski and The Planet MicroJam Institute ensemble, with special guest Freedom Bremmer, pay tribute to Jimi Hendrix’s 70th birthday. Along with such songs as House Burning Down and Stepping Stone, the group plays original “Fuze” pieces that are inspired by the great guitarist. February 4. 230 Vine Street, (215) 925-9914, paintedbride.org
The Kimmel Center for the Performing Arts highlights the African-American experience through music. With five high-spirited performances, the American Theater Arts for Youth celebrates heritage and tradition through the inspirational musical experience Black Journey (February 15-18). During Bash the Trash: African Folktales, part of the Free at the Kimmel series, participants use reused and recycled materials to build their own musical instruments while enjoying African folktales (February 18). Broad & Spruce Streets, (215) 893-1999, kimmelcenter.org
More Stories, Music & Art:
Dedicated to bringing writers, artists and performers into direct contact with members of the community, Art Sanctuary boasts an interactive lineup for Black History Month. First, families join the free Storytelling Circle, led by African-American storyteller Denise Valentine (February 3). Guests may bring their own instruments to play and share for Women Behind the Guitar Strings and Roots Folklore, during which all participants discover the origins of guitar-like instruments from Africa (February 11). And Art Sanctuary’s monthly Live Music Showcase, featuring styles from jazz to hip-hop each fourth Friday, stars local songstress Kyleen Shaw (February 24). 628 S. 16th Street, (215) 232-4485, artsanctuary.org
At the Historic Philadelphia Center, history comes to life when a re-enactor depicts Civil Rights pioneer Octavius Catto and Once Upon A Nation storytellers share riveting stories about the lesser-known African-American experience. The first 20 children (ages 12 and under) to meet Catto enjoy a free showing of Liberty 360, a 3-D theater show that delves into symbols of freedom. After the show, crafty kids can create baseball card-sized silhouettes while they learn about one of America’s best-known profile artists, enslaved African Moses Williams. Activities are free. February 4-5. 6th & Chestnut Streets, (215) 629-4026, historicphiladelphia.org
The acclaimed Mural Arts Program has turned Philadelphia into a city of murals, with more than 3,500 works of art adorning its walls. The Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection spotlights 50 of these murals, honoring many themes and figures of significance to Philadelphia’s African-American history—W.E.B. DuBois, Patti LaBelle, Malcolm X and many others. Art lovers and history buffs can download a free self-guided audio tour, narrated by Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of The Roots, or hop on a guided trolley tour on the last Saturday of each month. Following the trolley tour, they can attend a free workshop at AAMP to dig deeper into the highlighted topics. Tours depart from AAMP. 701 Arch Street, (215) 685-0754, muralarts.org