/futures sep 12 '17
Philadelphia Assembled is the process of over a hundred people putting their creative inputs into an ecosystem of programming. It would never - could never - be just one thing. The Art Museum and its staff have done a heroic job of wrangling everything together through the forms of a mural, exhibition spaces, and programming in the Perelman Building. Coherent design elements, an aggregative aesthetic, relationship-based organizing, and the public esteem of the museum itself have all been employed to try to fit this under an umbrella. But in the end, it defies branding.

PHLA tries to touch and encircle the problems real people are facing -- problems that aren't being addressed by the social order, so we turn to art to find answers. Climate change, colonialism, technology and conception of time are touched by Futures; asylum, safety and self-care are touched by Sanctuary; food justice, local economies and community liberation are touched by Sovereignty; mass incarceration and economic displacement are touched by Reconstructions. It's not just an art project; it's people engaged with their lives, the lives of their communities, and the future of the world. This is what I mean when I say it defies branding. There is no elevator pitch that will fix these things people are concerned about. This is the real shit that makes up the world.

The overall theme of PHLA, to me, is that the people can be empowered to create their own framework for defining the problems and their answers. It's a statement of multiplicity - there are multiple perspectives, but they must come from the people affected by the problems, who are often themselves stretched thin, so we must build their capacity for imagination and action. We often say "the hard, thankless work of organizing," but that's an opaque definition, it doesn't show what is actually required. Deep listening, integrative thinking, endless patience, tolerance for uncertainty, a strong sense of humor, and a passion for movement building and participation; these are the defining characteristics of my fellow PHLA participants - artists, activists, organizers - and that's what I saw on incandescent display on Saturday. It's what I hope the project will bring to all those who participate by showing up for programming or even just to stare at the mural for an afternoon or evening.

I don't know if that's what came across for those on the outside. Maybe people saw the mural and were instantly overwhelmed. That's good. That's a start. I would encourage anyone who left with a feeling of overwhelm to return; there is so much to be gleaned from this project.