"Philadelphia of Tomorrow," painted by artist Harry Gricevics in 1952. The artwork depicts the view of Philadelphia from the Philadelphia Museum of Art steps with various artists in the foreground. Credit: Atwater Kent Collection at Drexel.
Drexel University announced today that it has been awarded an $850,000 grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts that will be used to help make the Atwater Kent Collection more accessible to the public.
“This grant is a terrific vote of confidence in the work we are undertaking to increase access to Philadelphia’s many histories through this collection,” said Rosalind Remer, PhD, senior vice provost for Collections and Exhibitions. “Our aim is to bring history to where people are—to create a museum without walls.”
The Atwater Kent Collection includes an extraordinary assemblage of some 130,000 historical artifacts and archival materials relating to Philadelphia and American history. As part of its stewardship, the University has focused on moving the Collection — from a former warehouse location to the Hamilton Building of the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts in Center City; continuing work on a comprehensive collection evaluation; and working toward public access online.
The grant from The Pew Charitable Trusts will help Drexel expand the number of items publicly available online to approximately 7,000 over three years; support the conservation of artifacts; and fund a community lending program that will bring pieces of Philadelphia’s history directly to schools, community centers and library branches.
“In a city known for its historical assets of national significance, it’s important to also preserve our area’s local history, including the stories of everyday Philadelphians,” said Donna Frisby-Greenwood, a senior vice president at Pew who leads the organization’s work in Philadelphia. “That is why The Pew Charitable Trusts is excited to support Drexel University in its efforts to improve public access to the Atwater Kent Collection. Prior to Drexel’s stewardship, no more than 300 objects from the Collection had ever been on public display at one time. With Drexel’s plans to create a ‘museum without walls,’ the University will provide city residents with unprecedented opportunities to view and engage with thousands of pieces of Philadelphia’s history—empowering people to reflect on that history from the neighborhoods in which the items originated.”
In February 2023, Drexel made the Atwater Kent Collection publicly available online for the first time in its history with the launch of the Online Collection, which debuted with over 1,000 objects and currently features more than 3,000 items on virtual display, with more added every month. Recently digitized groups of items include records of the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (SPCA) and materials related to the African American experience in Philadelphia. Some of the most popular and famous items in the Atwater Kent Collection are also part of the online debut, including George Washington’s desk and bookcase, Abraham Lincoln’s hat, and Joe Frazier’s boxing gloves—all originally part of the collection of the Historical Society of Pennsylvania.
The work continues as thousands of additional photos will be taken to provide comprehensive photography for the Collection that will then be added to the online database.
For more information about the Atwater Kent Collection, click here; and for more information about The Pew Charitable Trusts, click here.