Penn Museum programming revamped

With building renovations underway, the Penn Museum has freshened up its roster of fun things to do.

Bumpin' Uglies DJs at a Crawl Out Thursday party
Members of the Bumpin' Uglies DJ group pose for a photo at the inaugural “Crawl Out Thursday” event at Penn Museum. (Photo: Penn Museum)

With a new look comes new events. 

As construction moves forward at the Penn Museum to transform Harrison Auditorium, the Egypt Gallery, the Mexico and Central America Gallery, and Africa Gallery, programming, too, has started to evolve. Three new event series kicked off this fall, plus some twists to old classics.

“The larger building transformation effort is the impetus of this new initiative,” Arielle Julia Brown, public programs developer, explains. “It’s in keeping with the work of renovating the vast majority of the Museum. And we are also rethinking how we can expand our partnerships; some programs that previously existed are now being retooled to be able to expand our work within close proximity of other cultural institutions and campus partners.”

A major new event is “Crawl Out Thursdays,” inspired by the Zora Neale Hurston quote, “Love makes your soul crawl out from its hiding place.” (Hurston was an influential 20th-century black, queer anthropologist and writer.) The concept: The Museum partners with a benefiting organization to celebrate, through music and drinks, the “rent parties” of the Harlem Renaissance that were hosted as block gatherings to help low-wage workers in black communities make rent. The first “Crawl Out” was hosted alongside the Young Caribbean Professionals Network on Oct. 4, with reggae music and performance art.

Musicians performing at the Penn Museum's Dia de Los Muertos CultureFest event
As part of Penn Museum's recent efforts to host more performances, musicians take to the stage for Dia de Los Muertos, in connection with CultureFest. (Photo: Penn Museum)

For the series, the Museum will next partner with Theatre in the X, a West Philadelphia community theater organization that offers free performances, on Dec. 6. The Museum partners with the Bumpin’ Uglies reggae and hip-hop DJ group to emcee the parties.

“We locate groups that have some sort of conversation with Hurston’s legacy,” Brown says of finding partners for the event. “We are very interested in nonprofits that serve underprivileged groups, and we take cues from them about what kind of gathering they might want to have.”

Also new on the events schedule is the “Coffee with a Keeper” series, during which guests are invited to grab an early-morning coffee in the Pepper Mill Café with a curator who maintains the objects in a given collection, offering insider perspective into special pieces. That happens monthly. 

The “Museum Mile” is a newcomer to the calendar as well. 

“Colloquially, we reference that we’re going to Japan to drop off a box of whatever, and so this is kind of an extension of that,” Brown laughs. “We’re welcoming folks to walk through previously marked paths through the Museum [that add up to] a mile, to get exercise, toward the end of the week.

“It’s a great place to meet strangers and get some steps in.”

The long-running “CultureFest!” series, meanwhile, will adjust its usual time slots from 1 to 5 p.m., and from 5 to 8 p.m.—the latter time span for the event geared toward adults. The next program will celebrate Winter Solstice, on Dec. 8, with astrology workshops, vision boarding, a make-your-own-drink cocktail bar, a Festival of Light ceremony, choir performances, and appearances from theater artists drawn from Philadelphia, New York City, and Providence, R.I. Ancillary events planned with local theater artists in December will also take from the solstice theme.

Penn Museum's exterior at night
(Photo: Penn Museum)

The final new initiative is a larger effort to curate more performances in the Museum, starting with a two-day run of the show “Traveling While Black,” a solo performance from Edris Cooper-Anifowoshe that explores the connects and disconnects of travel as an African-American woman, based on her international travel and experience finding joy but, also, being policed. That performance takes place on Nov. 9 and Nov. 10. 

Other series, such as “The Great Lecture Series,” will be revamped as construction at the Museum finishes.