Whitman at 200: Artistic Commissions

18 May - 30 Sep 2019
Various Locations


Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy, East Camden ferry dock and Philadelphia skyline, 2017, digital photograph. Photo by John J.H. Phillips.

As part of a region-wide program of cultural events designed to reassess Walt Whitman and his impact on art and society, University of Pennsylvania Libraries presents four new artistic commissions for Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy on the occasion of the pivotal literary figure’s 200th birthday.

  • Contradict This! A Birthday Funeral for Heroes
    May 31–June 2
    The Bearded Ladies Cabaret creates an outdoor performance at Cherry Street Pier that explores both the human and heroic sides of Walt Whitman.
  • River Road
    June 4–5
    Philadelphia-based artists Carolyn Healy and John Phillips collaborate with performer James Osby Gwathney Jr. to create a multimedia work based on Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road.”
  • New Songs of the Open Road
    May 18, June 8, June 22, July 6
    Interdisciplinary artist and Pew Fellow Homer Jackson draws on the history of civil rights protests and freedom songs, as well as Whitman’s “Song of the Open Road” and select Langston Hughes poems, to organize four walks in diverse neighborhoods around Philadelphia.
  • RiverLink Ferry Installation
    New York-based artist Spencer Finch creates an interactive work on the RiverLink Ferry, connecting Whitman’s journey in the late 19th century to today’s visitor experience. Audiences will participate by spinning color wheels of Pantone swatches Finch selected after observing the ever-changing tones of the Delaware River.