Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy

University of Pennsylvania Libraries



Jo Davidson, "Walt Whitman," 1957, bronze on granite base statue. Photo by Alec Rogers for the Association for Public Art, 2016.


"Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy," Blue Earth Review, “What Would Walt Whitman Do?,” 2016, bumper sticker. Photo by Lynne Farrington.


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

University of Pennsylvania Libraries will present Whitman at 200: Art and Democracy, a region-wide series of cultural events designed to reassess Walt Whitman (1819–92) and his impact on art and society, on the occasion of his 200th birthday. A pivotal figure in American literature and art, Whitman spent the last two decades of his life in Camden, NJ, and he frequently traveled by ferry to enjoy Philadelphia’s cultural life. This project will situate Whitman in Philadelphia and its neighborhoods, and connect him to the life and art of the city, then and now. Four new artistic commissions will examine themes within Whitman’s work and life. Philadelphia-based artists Carolyn Healy and John Phillips will collaborate on a multimedia installation that will be viewed aboard a 110-foot-long industrial barge at Penn’s Landing on the Delaware River. The Bearded Ladies Cabaret will create an outdoor performance at Independence Seaport Museum, and Homer Jackson, director of Philadelphia Jazz Project, will organize four walks in diverse neighborhoods, which will draw on civil rights protests and freedom songs, and feature Whitman poems set to music in new compositions by Guthrie Ramsey and Waverly Alston. New York-based artist Spencer Finch will create a participatory work for the RiverLink Ferry, which traces the same route Whitman travelled between Camden and Philadelphia. Influential singer, songwriter, and poet Patti Smith will perform Whitman poems at the Philadelphia Museum of Art as a personal tribute to Whitman. A multitude of exhibitions and programs will be presented at the University of Pennsylvania, including an exhibition at the Kislak Center and a conference hosted by Penn Libraries, as well as by partner organizations such as the Free Library of Philadelphia, Academy of Vocal Arts, City of Philadelphia, and William Way LGBT Community Center.

Additional unrestricted funds are added to each grant for general operating support.