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Philadelphia Contemporary Presents: A Conversation on the Future of Natural History Museums

Friday, September 13, 6:30-8 p.m. at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

PHILADELPHIA, August 23, 2019

On September 13, Philadelphia Contemporary and the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University will present a conversation between artist Richard Pell, the founder and curator at the Center for PostNatural History in Pittsburgh, and Niki Stewart, chief learning and engagement officer at Philadelphia’s Academy of Natural Sciences. Pell and Stewart will each present their perspectives on the future of natural history museums and potential intersections among scientific research, public intellectual platforms, and contemporary art.

The conversation is the third installment of Philadelphia Contemporary’s Museums of the 21st Century, a series of public discussions between the founders, writers, curators and artists reinventing what a museum can offer its public. Since fall 2018, Philadelphia Contemporary has invited visionaries ranging from artists to architects, curators to historians, and poets to public officials to consider the possibilities of the museums to come. Each talk plays host to both a Philadelphia-based thinker and a national or international voice, offering audiences the opportunity to hear more about their own community and to learn from those outside the region.

Sponsored by the Knight Foundation, the series reflects Philadelphia Contemporary’s steadfast commitment to fostering innovative and interdisciplinary work across the city through a dynamic model of sustainable collaborations and partnerships, expanding public conceptions of what contemporary art is and can be.

Richard Pell is the founder and director of the Center for PostNatural History, an organization dedicated to the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally and heritably altered through domestication, selective breeding, tissue culture or genetic engineering. The Center for PostNatural History operates a permanent museum in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and produces traveling exhibitions that have appeared in science and art museums throughout Europe and the United States including the Victoria and Albert Museum and Wellcome Collection in London, the Museum für Naturkunde in Berlin, the CCCB in Barcelona, the ZKM in Karlsruhe, the 2008 Taipei Biennial, and the Carnegie Museum of Natural History, as well as being featured in National Geographic, Nature, American Scientist, Popular Science and New Scientist. Pell is a National Academy of Science KAVLI Fellow and was awarded the 2016 Pittsburgh Artist of the Year. He is currently an associate professor of art at Carnegie Mellon University.

Niki Ciccotelli Stewart is the chief learning and engagement officer at the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University in Philadelphia. She oversees the exhibits, learning, visitor services, and volunteer services departments and is charged with creating an outstanding, meaningful and relevant visitor experience for every single person that comes to the museum. Prior to joining the Academy, Niki spent 11 years at Crystal Bridges Museum of American Art in Bentonville, Arkansas. She joined the museum team in 2008, three years before the public opening and as a member of the opening team, helped take the museum concept from idea to reality, building the physical site, operations and programming. As chief engagement officer, she oversaw education, exhibitions, and interpretation. Niki also helped launch several significant projects including the Frank Lloyd Wright Bachman-Wilson House’s opening, the launch of The Momentary, and the creation of Art Bridges, a new arts foundation focused on sharing American art across the country.

About Philadelphia Contemporary

Founded in 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary presents visual art, performance art, and spoken word across the city of Philadelphia. A nomadic contemporary art organization with ambitions to establish a freestanding, globally oriented and locally aware non-collecting arts institution, Philadelphia Contemporary has pioneered a vibrant and sustainable model based on partnerships and collaborations. Having commenced pop-up programming in October 2016, Philadelphia Contemporary continues to develop an ambitious roster of projects that will be mounted in the coming years, while planning for a permanent home in a new building. 

About the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University

Founded in 1812, the Academy of Natural Sciences of Drexel University is a leading natural history museum dedicated to advancing research, education and public engagement in biodiversity and environmental science. Visitors to the Academy have the opportunity to get face-to-face with towering dinosaurs, meet live animals, and explore a tropical garden filled with live butterflies. Philadelphia’s natural history museum offers surprises for all ages, from changing interactive science exhibits to a children’s discovery center, a fossil dig, and opportunities to interact with real science experts.

About the Center for PostNatural History

The Center for PostNatural History is dedicated to the advancement of knowledge relating to the complex interplay between culture, nature, and biotechnology, and the collection and exposition of life-forms that have been intentionally altered through selective breeding or genetic engineering. Their mission is to acquire, interpret, and provide access to a collection of living, preserved, and documented organisms of postnatural origin. Founder, Rich Pell, is an artist working at the intersections of science, engineering and culture. The Center for PostNatural History has been awarded a Rockefeller New Media fellowship, a Smithsonian Artist Research Fellowship, a Creative Capital Award, and a Kindle Project Maker's Muse Award. Pell is currently a professor of Electronic and Time-based Arts at Carnegie Mellon University and was awarded the Pittsburgh Artist of the Year award in 2016.

Press Contacts

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Shanon Lee