Christine Wyatt and Christina Leoni- Osion in production still from Entre Puerto Rico y Richmond: Women in Resistance Shall not be Moved, 2020 by Alicia Díaz, co-created with Patricia Herrera, Christine Wyatt, Christina Leoni-Osion, Luis Vasquez La Roche, Héctor “Coco” Barez, Yaraní del Valle, and David Riley.
Photo: Courtesy of the artist and collaborators
WHAT IS COMMONWEALTH
What is commonwealth? The United States of America can be described as many things but “a place where people hold wealth in common” would not be one of them. If it isn’t wealth then what do we hold in common? Can we redefine “wealth” and redistribute it in ways that foster greater well-being for all? Essentially: can we draw on the collective power embedded in the term “commonwealth” while, at the same time, recognizing its connection to exploitation and colonialism?
PROJECT DATES & LOCATION
September 10, 2020–
January 26, 2021
Community Education Center
3500 Lancaster, Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19104
601 W Broad St,
Richmond, VA 23220
Digital Publication forthcoming
San Juan, Puerto Rico
William Penn Foundation
ABOUT THE PROJECT
Our project started as a simple line of questioning. Curators from three institutions, each based in a US political territory designated as a “commonwealth,” chose to think together about what that term actually means. In this partnership among Beta-Local (San Juan, PR), the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University (Richmond, VA), and Philadelphia Contemporary (Philadelphia, PA)—we set out to investigate the word’s history, its utopian potential, and its limitations.
Over the course of the fall of 2020, Commonwealth will be presented in each of the 3 cities in a variety of different mediums. The Philadelphia presentation of Commonwealth will feature:
A newly-commissioned billboard by artist Firelei Baez. The billboard will feature a high-resolution reproduction of a new painting by Baez, in which she overlays painted imagery over historic atlas plates from various periods of West Philadelphia’s history.
The billboard will be on view outside the Community Education Center at 3500 Lancaster Ave from 9 AM-10 PM daily, opening October 15, 2020 and closing January 10, 2021.
Three issues of the Commonwealth digital publication, to be released serially in November and December 2020 and January 2021. Designed by San Juan-based studio Tiguere Corp.
Three of the seven banners illustrated by Noa Denmon.
A series of banners illustrated and designed by Noa Denmon, and commissioned by the Commonwealth Community Council. The banners will be installed on lightposts along Lancaster Avenue from 34th St to 40th St, and will be on view beginning October 15, 2020.
Commonwealth in Community (2020), a participatory program developed by the Commonwealth Community Council.
Spiral Q co-director Jennifer Turnbull poses with signs that read “Our community is not for sale”. Photo by Daniel Jackson
Philadelphia’s iteration of Commonwealth will also include several online programs developed in collaboration with Beta-Local and ICA VCU.
The Commonwealth digital publication is co-edited by the project curators and will be launched in three issues between November and January 2021, available here. The three bilingual volumes, anchored in the spirit of a miniseries or a pamphlet series, include networks of content linked to the Commonwealth project. Through this content, the project’s collaborators approach their contexts, ideas, and feelings (many of these contradictory) about the term “commonwealth” in various ways and from multiple latitudes that are at times almost impossible to reconcile.
Issue #1 includes contributions by Commonwealth artists Duron Chavis (with architect Quilian Riano), Sharon Hayes (with poet Ross Gay), and Mónica Rodríguez (with Pablo Guardiola). It also features a journalist report from Brian Palmer, a comic by Jimena Lloreda, and series of working concepts, or "tools," illustrated by Lorraine Rodríguez.
Issue #2 features three more contextualizing contributions from artists who participated in Commonwealth: Firelei Báez, Alicia Díaz (with poems by Patricia Herrera), and Nelson Rivera (written by nibia pastrana santiago). This issue also includes two historical case studies by Kalela Williams and Mabel Rodríguez Centeno, a journalist report by Sojourner Ahebee, an essay by anthropologist Yarimar Bonilla, and a new comic strip by Jimena Lloreda.
Issue #3 (coming January 2021) will include contributions from Commonwealth artists Carolina Caycedo, Tanya Lukin Linklater and Tiffany Shaw-Collinge, and Tawnya Pettiford-Wates and Ram Bhagat of The Conciliation Project, as well as contributions from Joel Cintrón Arbasetti, Ana Edwards, Silvia Federici, and Jahd Khalil, a final comic strip from Jimena Lloreda, and a reflection by Shazza Berhan and Laura Chow Reeve of Southerners on New Ground on their project The World We Want Is Us.
Women in Resistance: Virtual Panel
Monuments & Political Speech: Virtual Discussion
THE ARTIST COMMISSIONS
The Commonwealth exhibition at the ICA VCU in Richmond and the digital publication will feature newly-commissioned artworks by each of the following artists. These new works were jointly commissioned by the Commonwealth curatorial team:
Installation image, Commonwealth at the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University, 2020.
In image: Duron Chavis and Quilian Riano, Resiliency Garden, 2020.
Photo: David Hale
The Commonwealth Community Council identified community leaders in the West Philadelphia Promise Zone neighborhoods to be recognized on a series of light pole banners spanning a portion of Lower Lancaster Avenue: De’Wayne Drummond, Madeline Arrington, Lorraine Gomez, Chuck Bode, Lucia Esther, Bettye Ferguson, Miles Mack, Norman “Butch” Ellis, Tim Spencer, Reverend Dr. Andrew Jenkins, Dr. Herman Wrice, Elsie Wise, Ellen Powell Tiberino, Abdul Rahim Muhammad, James Dupree, Cass Green, Rose Bryant, and Keith "Bibby" Bell.
In addition to honoring those individuals, there is also a banner dedicated to The Black Bottom and University City High School. The Black Bottom was a primarily Black neighborhood that was removed during a phase of Urban Renewal that allowed the University of Pennsylvania and Drexel University to expand into inhabited residential areas. University City High School, which was built as a part of that Urban Renewal phase, served the surrounding neighborhoods from 1971- 2013, and had an iconic mural honoring The Black Bottom on its walls.
Banner illustrations by Noa Denmon.
Madeline Arrington, De’Wayne Drummond, Lorraine Gomez
Chuck Bode, Lucia Esther,
Miles Mack, Norman “Butch” Ellis,
Reverend Dr. Andrew Jenkins,
Elsie Wise, Dr. Herman Wrice
University City High School,
The Black Bottom
Mr. Muhammad, Ellen Powell Tiberino, James Dupree
Cass Green, Keith "Bibby" Bell, Rose Bryant
COMMONWEALTH & COMMUNITY
To further investigate “What is Commonwealth?”, the Community Council asked people of all ages and backgrounds from the Greater Philadelphia area to submit photos of drawings and artworks that respond to the question: “What is Commonwealth? And where do you or do you not see the values of commonwealth in your community?” Below is a compilation of the submissions we received.
The beautiful Mantua Peace Garden and the community it serves!
–Rikeyah L. | Mantua
THE REGRANTING PARTNERS
The following West Philadelphia arts and culture organizations, who uphold and demonstrate the values of Commonwealth in their work, were awarded regrants as a part of this project:
AL BUSTAN SEEDS
BIKE WORKS (NBW)
ELLEN POWELL TIBERINO MEMORIAL MUSEUM
THE COMMUNITY COUNCIL
The Community Council in Philadelphia was formed to inform various aspects of the local manifestation of the project, and also to set a precedent for a more collaborative, civically engaged program in the future. The council members have met monthly from August 2019 to October 2020 and have served as ambassadors to their communities in gathering and providing important insights on the neighborhood’s history and current needs and interests.
They have helped to develop light post banners along lower Lancaster Avenue, and a participatory project with the Promise Zone neighborhoods of West Philadelphia, Commonwealth in Community.
The council’s contributions also include helping to direct a substantial regranting initiative in which funds from the William Penn Foundation were distributed to support a number of local organizations in West Philadelphia.
After this project ends, Philadelphia Contemporary will continue the Community Council program to sustain current relationships and form new ones with various stakeholders around the city, and to continue to inform future programmatic decision-making.
CREDITS & ACKNOWLEDGMENTS
Commonwealth is organized and curated by Beta-Local co-directors Pablo Guardiola, Michael Linares, and nibia pastrana santiago and former co-director Sofía Gallisá Muriente; ICA at VCU Chief Curator Stephanie Smith; Noah Simblist, Chair of Painting + Printmaking at VCUarts; and Kerry Bickford, Director of Programs, Nicole Pollard, Program Coordinator, and Nato Thompson, Sueyun and Gene Locks Artistic Director at Philadelphia Contemporary.
Beta-Local is a non-profit organization based in San Juan, Puerto Rico, dedicated to supporting and promoting aesthetic thought and practices through various programs, including La Práctica a 9-month research and production program for artists and other cultural agents; The Harbor, a residency program for artists, curators, thinkers and other makers; and La Ivan Illich, an experimental pedagogical platform through which anyone can propose a class, workshop, conference, encounter, study group or any other knowledge exchange.
Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University is a contemporary art museum in Richmond, Virginia that presents the art of our time and provides an open forum for dialogue and collaboration across the region and throughout the world. As a non-collecting institution, they showcase an ever-changing slate of exhibitions, performances, films, and special programs that translate our world into every medium.