A brand-new play will premiere at the finale of the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s Philadelphia Assembled civic engagement project this weekend.
The play’s name, Lacunae, literally means a rift or piece of empty space. Author Mona Washington explains that the name correlates to the open-mindedness and room to grow required when governmental and social outlooks come together.
Washington believes that to advance, different ideas need to come into contact with one another. “When there’s enough space, you learn. But sometimes you bump and you break,” she says.
Lacunae tells two crossing stories, one showing a museum employee who learns from a painting come to life and another presenting the increasing gentrification in a Philly neighborhood. The playwright stumbled upon the idea while she worked several pop-up plays that she intended to put on in different areas of Philadelphia.
One of these plays, Neighbors, took place in Kensington in August. It primarily dealt with the new construction all around the neighborhood. A nearby museum hosted exhibits and seminars about gentrification.
Washington took pieces of Neighbors and other plays to create the basis of her new play, which will premiere in the PMA’s Perelman Building. Along with the written dialogue, performers of the play are encouraged to ab lib.
The subject of Lacunae seems especially appropriate since the Philadelphia Museum of Art, a historically institutional organization, and a group of forward-thinking activists and artists had to collaborate to create Philadelphia Assembled.
As the playwright acknowledges, “there’s a lot of bad blood about the museum”, but the project peacefully united people with many varying beliefs.
Dutch artist Jeanne van Heeswijk spearheaded Philadelphia Assembled, in which the participants made all the major decisions about what and how they would communicate their message.
Several artists and activists felt reluctant to join the project at first. Artist Denise Valentine said that she had never felt at home at the museum and only committed to the project fully once the museum convinced her that she could completely express her point of view.
On the other side, the PMA needed reassurances that the project participants could create something both meaningful and timely. At the exhibition’s September premiere, the museum had to step back and allow the artists to work.
Project participants and museum administrators are currently looking into how to continue working together in the future.