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March 20, 2023

The Colored Girls Museum in Germantown celebrates Black girlhood through art and artifacts

Its latest exhibition, 'Sit a Spell,' asked artists to plop in chairs and react to what happened around them

Arts & Culture Museums
colored girls museum Provided Image/Blue Medium

The Colored Girls Museum, a nonprofit located within a historic Victorian home in Germantown, acts as a gathering place and exhibition space honoring Black girlhood.

Nestled within a 135-year-old twin Victorian home in Germantown is a museum that honors Black girlhood. 

The Colored Girls Museum, at 4613 Newhall St., acts as a gathering place, exhibition space, think tank and research facility, with a curated collection built primarily through personal submissions by Black women and girls. The museum recently opened its 10th exhibition, and received a major grant to support upcoming projects.

"It's really hard in this world to have the humanity, just the everydayness, of Black folks be a consideration," TCGM founder Vashti DuBois said. "Oprah will have a museum, she should. Toni Morrison will have a museum, she should, and so many other women and girls of the African diaspora whose names we know. 

"But ordinary Black women and girls have done so much for so many for so long. We deserve a place of sanctuary. We deserve a place of recognition. We deserve a place where we can see our ordinary lives matter, just because ordinary lives are exceptional in their ordinary-ness."

DuBois launched the museum in 2015 from her home, marrying her creative background in theater arts with her experience working for nonprofits that focus on social justice issues faced by Black women. 

The museum's concept came about during a Fringe Festival show. DuBois had invited 15 Black women to inhabit the rooms of her house, bringing along art and artifacts from their everyday lives. 

"I'm passionate about the liberation, the well being, the whole health of Black women and girls, and I do feel that where we go, the world follows," DuBois said. "So if Black women and girls are not OK, ultimately nobody is going to be okay. ...  Much of what I think is necessary for healing is found in being a creative human, because I think that we always embody the answers to the questions that we have."

colored girls museum roomProvided Image/Blue Medium

DuBois, who is from Brooklyn, and her family lived in the Germantown house for years after moving from New York City following the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

She since has moved out of the twin Victorian, completely turning it over to the museum. The house itself serves as a major character that embodies the museum's mission.

colored girls museum germantownProvided Image/Blue Medium

The Colored Girls Museum is located at 4613 Newhall St., inside a historic home in Germantown.

"The Colored Girls Museum is a public ritual for the protection, praise and grace of ordinary Black women and girls, and specifically, Black girlhood and so the house is an entity," DuBois said. "You'll hear us, when you do come, refer to her as a she," DuBois said. "And yeah, we tour you, because part of the way we enact protection, praise and grace is to make sure we don't leave her unattended."

The guided tours take visitors through eight exhibition spaces, which are essentially different rooms that display curated artwork and artifacts. For example, the third floor houses the "Afro-futuristic Speakeasy," featuring photography and interviews in which Black women discuss the people who influenced their views on Black feminism.

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"Thinking about this, the history of speakeasies ... this is when alcohol is prohibited, and thinking about how in this moment that we all find ourselves and, as women and specifically as Black women, what's being prohibited," DuBois said. "So whether it is the overturning of Roe v. Wade or the march to really remove Black history and Black literature from universities and schools, but thinking about the ways in which Black women are prohibited from doing so many things and having so many expressions. And so the Afro-futuristic Speakeasy on the third floor is having a complicated conversation with the art in those rooms."

The tours are guided-only, but guests come away with unique experiences based on their personal histories, DuBois said.

"When people come to the museum, although these are docent-led tours, what it is that you take away from your experience at the museum is really entirely up to you," DuBois said. "I can tell you whatever, but you're going to interpret that through the lens of your own experiences, no matter who you are."

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The museum's 10th exhibition, "Sit a Spell: An Invitation and an Invocation," was unveiled earlier this month. Featured artists were asked to submit materials that consider what it means to literally sit in chairs and react to what's happening in the world around them.

An opening party for the exhibition is being held Friday, March 31. Travelers through Philadelphia International Airport also can see a "Sit a Spell" installation by TCGM in Terminal C.

In November, TCGM became a recipient of the Art Works Grant program, an effort funded by the Forman Arts Initiative and Philadelphia Foundation. It supports community-based arts organizations that work with BIPOC communities. According to DuBois, TCGM will apply the grant to its current and upcoming projects.

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One upcoming project is the "Living Room," a new garden that uses art and outside space to pay tribute to the history of Black femme gardeners in Philadelphia.

DuBois also is starting a podcast called "The Girlfriend Kit: Ask A Colored Girl," which features conversations with Black women discussing friendships and relationships. The first episode premieres Wednesday.

Guided tour of TCGM can be booked online. Tours also are available by appointment on Thursdays and Fridays for groups of 10 or more. 

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