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“Artfully” Crafting New Narratives by Trapeta B. Mayson, Executive Director

February 25, 2016

It has been  remarkable year for Historic Germantown. In June of 2015, we learned that we were one of several organizations selected to receive a prestigious grant from The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage. This grant supports our new community art, history and engagement program, Elephants on the Avenue – Race, Class and Community in Historic Germantown. Pairing acclaimed artists and noted historians, Elephants will take us and our community on a two year exploration of race and class –  providing artistic entry into these complex issues or  “elephants”, the things we don’t talk about but they are there, ever present and needing attention and audience.

We are grateful to The Pew Center for Arts and Heritage for this amazing opportunity. As one community member aptly pointed out after the first workshop at Historic Germantown’s member site, Historic Rittenhouse Town, “this workshop is a gift to the community” and indeed it is. There is no doubt that Historic Germantown is a great repository of amazing history thanks to the vast collection and records of the Germantown Historical Society. This organization works tirelessly to preserve the stories of the many families that built and contributed to the German Township. There isn’t a week that goes by that someone doesn’t email, call or ring our bell to query about his or her ancestors. Researchers and family historians alike dig into historical records to add to, confirm or piece together a narrative, a framework for understanding what came before.

As much as we are aware of the stories that are easily accessed, we are also concerned about the ones with gaping holes. Projects like Elephants on the Avenue help us hear, learn and amplify the untold, forgotten, ignored and developing stories. As a Germantown resident, I am in awe of the many layered experiences that lives and breathes in this community. Where else can we learn about the lives of those who labored behind the scenes at Deshler-Morris or the sacrifice and courage it took for the Johnson family matriarch to risk her home and business to participate in the Underground Railroad? We get this and more in this vibrant, beautiful and complex community and Historic Germantown is proud to be a part of it. We see ourselves as a community hub and are committed to a balanced telling of both our history and present day stories.

Y Wisher Elephants workshop 11-15-2015-2423

Germantown in the fall, photographed November 14, 2015 by Tieshka Smith for Historic Germantown. Copyright Tieshka Smith for Historic Germantown, all rights reserved.

Elephants workshop#2

Historic Germantown – Elephants on the Avenue Workshop at La Salle University Art Museum photo by Jill Saull

This spring, we are adding another project to our roster of programs intended to artfully support and highlight new narratives. Historic Germantown is partnering with Philadelphia’s Poet Laureate and Germantown resident Yolanda Wisher and Parkway Northwest High School for Peace and Social Justice  to pilot a youth led program called Historic Germantown’s Culture Keepers. Over the course of several workshops, high school students at Parkway will explore Germantown’s past and present through tours, geocaching, photography, storytelling, and creative writing. Culture Keepers will build their leadership, teamwork, technical, and creative skills as they facilitate and digitally record community dialogues and write poems and performance pieces based on the stories they have heard. Ultimately, we hope to form Historic Germantown’s first Youth Advisory Board and create a Youth Assistant Docent Assistant program.

HG Face to Face Flier 2015(v2)

We  invite you to stay tuned to learn about our efforts and to continue to support us and our 16 member sites as we tell the remarkable stories from the past and embrace the untold, forgotten and present day narratives.


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