Museums of the 21st Century

Museums of the 21st Century is a series of public conversations with cultural practitioners altering our conception of what a museum can offer its public. Since Fall 2018, Philadelphia Contemporary has invited visionaries ranging from artists to architects, curators to historians, poets to public officials to consider the possibilities of the museums to come. Each talk hosts local perspectives alongside national or international visitors, offering Philadelphia audiences the opportunity to both hear more about their community and to learn from those outside the region. Read more about past conversations at the end of this page.

The next conversation on Friday, September 13th will feature artist Richard Pell, the Founder and Curator at the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, in conversation with Niki Ciccotelli Stewart, Chief Learning and Engagement Officer at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Pell and Stewart will each present their perspectives on the future of natural history museums, and potential intersections between scientific research, public intellectual platforms, and contemporary art. 

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+ September 13: Richard Pell + Niki Stewart

Richard Pell is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History, an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The Center for PostNatural History operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States including the Victoria and Albert Museum and Wellcome Collection in London, the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, the CCCB in Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, the 2008 Taipei Biennial, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History as well as being featured in National Geographic, Nature Magazine, American Scientist, Popular Science and New Scientist. The CPNH has been awarded a Rockefeller New Media fellowship, a Creative Capital fellowship, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, and received generous support from Waag Society and the Kindle Project. Pell is a National Academy of Science KAVLI Fellow and was awarded the 2016 Pittsburgh Artist of the Year. He is currently an Associate Professor of Art at Carnegie Mellon University.

Niki Ciccotelli Stewart is the chief learning and engagement officer at The Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia, PA. In her current role, she oversees the exhibits, learning, visitor services, and volunteer services departments and is charged with creating an outstanding, meaningful, and relevant visitor experience for every single person that comes to the museum. Prior to joining The Academy, Niki spent 11 years at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. She joined the museum team in 2008, three years before the public opening and as a member of the opening team, helped take the museum concept from idea to reality, building the physical site, operations, and programming. As chief engagement officer, she oversaw education, exhibitions, and interpretation. Niki also helped launch several significant projects including the Frank Lloyd Wright Bachman-Wilson House’s opening, the launch of The Momentary, and the creation of Art Bridges, a new arts foundation focused on sharing American art across the country.

+ June 11: Mikhaile Solomon + King Britt

Mikhaile Solomon is a designer and arts advocate with backgrounds in a myriad of arts disciplines including theatre, dance, and architecture. She received her Bachelor of Arts from the University of South Florida in Theatre Arts and her Master’s of Architecture from Florida International University. Mikhaile enjoys working on projects that give her the opportunity to share her love of art, design, and architecture with the communities. She is the Founding Director of Prizm Art Fair which exhibits artists from Africa and the African Diaspora, who reflect global trends in contemporary art, through a blockbuster exhibit held during Art Basel/Miami. She hopes to use her varied skills in arts and design to set precedents for the future of Miami’s arts and culture scene.

King James Britt is a Philadelphia-born composer and DJ. As a composer, he has collaborated with the likes of De La Soul, Madlib, Moor Mother and many others, being called for remixes from Meredith Monk to Solange, as well as films like Miami Vice.

Honing his skills as the first resident DJ at Philadelphia’s Silk City, King was DJ for Grammy Award-winning hip-hop/soul group the Digable Planets before focusing on his own projects. Since then, King has been a Pew Fellowship recipient, and his projects like Fhloston Paradigm and Sylk130 have won high acclaim, adding layers to Philadelphia’s rich history.

King has performed live work in a number of forward-thinking spaces, and DJ’d globally, spinning in every continent except Antarctica. In addition to his work as a composer and DJ, King has served as a music event curator, combining music, culture, and performing arts for venues including MoMA PS1, Fringe Arts, and Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art.

+ September 13: Nana Oforiatta Ayim + Vashti DuBois

Nana Oforiatta Ayim is a writer, filmmaker and art historian. In her work, she has sought to understand the various relativities of cultural contexts, and to give voice to that understanding in a way that speaks to both the actors and communities of that context, as well as the wider world. She is director of the ANO Institute of Arts & Knowledge, through which she has pioneered a pan-African Cultural Encyclopaedia, reimagining narratives from across and about the continent; and a Mobile Museums project that travels into communities, collects material culture and exhibits them in those communities, creating discourse about narratives, memory and value. She has spoken widely on cultural narratives and institution-building in Africa, in institutions like the British Museum and Cambridge University. She has written for publications like frieze and African Metropolitan Architecture, and is publishing her first novel, The God Child, with Bloomsbury Publishing in 2019. She has also made several films, a cross of fiction, travel essay, and documentary, that have been shown at museums like The New Museum, Tate Modern, and LACMA.

Vashti DuBois is the Founder and Executive Director of The Colored Girls Museum in Historic Germantown, Philadelphia, PA. Founded in 2015, The Colored Girls Museum (TCGM) “honors the stories, experiences, and history of Colored Girls.” It is the first institution of its kind, offering visitors a multi-disciplinary experience of memoir, in all its variety, in a residential space. This museum initiates the “ordinary” object — submitted by the colored girl herself, as representative of an aspect of her story and personal history which she finds meaningful; her object embodies her experience and expression of being a Colored Girl. TCGM has been engineered to pop up in other cities and neighborhoods around the country — transforming ordinary spaces into Colored Girls Museum outposts, which collect, archive, and share the stories of indigenous colored girls. This start-up Museum enterprise has been written about in the Smithsonian Magazine, Essence, Associated Press, Philadelphia Inquirer, Metro U.K., and others.

DuBois has held leadership positions at a number of organizations over her 30-year career in non-profit and arts administration,working primarily on issues impacting girls and women of color  including: Free Library of Philadelphia, Tree House Books, the Historic Church of the Advocate, Children’s Art Carnival in New York City, Haymarket People’s Fund in Boston, Congreso Girls Center, and The Leeway Foundation. DuBois is a graduate of Wesleyan University, and a NAMAC Fellow. She is currently working on a book about the making of The Colored Girls Museum.

Sponsored by Open Society Foundation


Mikhaile Solomon & King Britt: Museums of 21st Century from Philadelphia Contemporary on Vimeo.