In the autumn of 2016, we were tasked with a fascinating challenge: create a bold and welcoming exhibition that would discuss the history of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway. On the surface, this isn’t that difficult. As curators in the Special Collections division, we’ve created exhibitions in the past—that’s one of the most enjoyable aspects of our daily endeavors. The challenge we had to face was distilling one hundred years of celebrations, community spirit, architectural feats, and the essence of Philadelphia’s historical heart into twenty-two display cases.
How do you do that? (In truth, we think "How do we do this?" was the header for our first meeting about the exhibition.) After a few rounds of brainstorming, we realized that while it may be impossible to capture all of the events and milestones of the Parkway, life around this grand boulevard could be encapsulated into themes. As we studied the history of the Parkway, the people who have visited it, been inspired by it, and who live on it, our themes grew, adapted, and changed. In many ways, these themes were like the Benjamin Franklin Parkway itself: at a casual glance they seemed solid, but upon a closer examination, it was obvious that they were malleable and were always slightly in flux.
You may wonder how the Parkway is malleable. How could something constructed of brick and stone be adaptable? The simple answer is because of the people and organizations who use it. It was this concept that became the nucleus of our show and helped us create various themes: the history of the Parkway’s construction; the festivals and fun that have happened over the past century; the art and educational opportunities for our citizens and our visitors; the housing—and lack of housing—of the Parkway’s residents; the people who have used the Parkway as a venue to make their voices heard; the joyful events and monuments that reflect the love and faith of our city; and the natural elements that bring the greenery of Fairmount Park into the heart of the city.
We hope you’ll visit Corridor of Culture: 100 Years of the Benjamin Franklin Parkway on your next trip to Parkway Central. We had a lot of fun exploring the history of Philadelphia’s grand boulevard, and we hope you’ll enjoy learning about the history of our city.
Laura Stroffolino | Curator | Print and Picture Collection
Christopher A. Brown | Curator | Children's Literature Research Collection