When the Bard of Avon is in the building, it’s bound to have something to do with the arts.
And so it was, as a Shakespearean actor from the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre joined the Mendelssohn Club singers in helping PNC’s Arts Alive initiative announce the recipients of $1 million in grants.
New awardees are the Asian Arts Initiative; First Person Arts; Mendelssohn Club, Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre and Theater Horizon; they — along with returning grantees African American Museum in Philadelphia, the Bay-Atlantic Symphony, the Black Pearl Chamber Orchestra, Cape May Stage, Fleisher Art Memorial, the Kimmel Center, Koresh Dance Company, The Opera Company of Philadelphia, People’s Light and Theatre Company, Perkins Center for the Arts, the Philadelphia Live Arts Festival and Philly Fringe, Philadelphia Mural Arts, the Philadelphia Museum of Art, the Philadelphia Orchestra, Scribe Video Center and Wheaton Arts and Cultural Center — all can either continue programming or introduce new ones, thanks to the grants, which range from $25,000 to $80,000.
“Art should be accessible to everyone. We know that a vibrant arts scene improves our region by creating jobs, boosting tourism and generating millions in revenue,” said Bill Mills, PNC regional president for Philadelphia and Southern New Jersey. “But accessibility to the arts can also make a profound difference in the lives of individuals, especially underserved youth and their families.
“The arts develop creativity, innovation and collaboration,” Mills continued. “Skills for the workforce of tomorrow.”
This is the fourth year that the bank has funded regional arts through its “Arts Alive” program, which has awarded more than 100 grants — totaling more than $4 million — since this initiative started in 2009.
Arts Alive is a 5-year, $5 million initiative with a stated goal to “help area residents gain access o he arts and to help arts organizations expand and engage audiences.”
“The foundation focuses its philanthropic mission on early childhood education and community and economic development, which includes the arts and culture,” read a statement from PNC Arts Alive. “Through Grow Up Great, its signature cause which began in 2004, PNC has created a $350 million, multi-year initiative to help prepare children from birth to age 5 for success in school and life.”
All of the grantees plan on using the funds immediately; the Philadelphia Shakespeare Theatre will offer free tickets and transportation for its presentation of Othello; Theatre Horizon will offer free tickets to low-income and underserved residents; and First Person Arts will offer free admission to its Story Day Celebration.
AAMP plans on using the funds for its “Come See About Me” celebration and profile of hit-making music group the Supremes. This multi-pronged exhibit and presentation will also features more than 70 gowns from Mary Wilson’s personal collection, along with album covers, rare photographs, video footage and related programming.
”We are very excited. This is big news for us,” said Romona Riscoe Benson, president and CEO of the African American Museum. “Very rarely is there an exhibit of this magnitude, and this grant will help us improve and expand considerably.”
Benson to lead event planning, charity programs
Romona Riscoe Benson has been named as PECO’s new manager of corporate relations. Benson, who has more than 25 years in strategic leadership in the areas of programming, marketing, community affairs, museum management, event and convention planning, tourism and promotion, will lead PECO’s sponsorships, corporate and employee giving and volunteerism programs.
Benson comes to PECO after serving as president and CEO of the African American Museum in Philadelphia, where she recently directed a $4.5 million building renovation project and installation of a nationally recognized exhibit on the early life of African Americans in Philadelphia, known as “Audacious Freedom.”
“It is somewhat of an emotional change for me, given the love that I have for that institution - but having said that, I’m very excited to go to PECO,” said Benson, who has headed the museum for the last seven years.
“It’s an exciting opportunity having a chance to work with various communities in the five county area, in the capacity where I will help direct support to organizations and help direct human resources through PECO volunteers.”
Benson starts her new role on December 17. She will remain at the museum for the next month.
“We are very pleased to welcome Romona Riscoe Benson to PECO, as she brings her tested and proven leadership to the organization,” said Elizabeth Murphy, PECO vice president of Governmental and External Affairs.
“She has been a well-respected executive in the Delaware Valley for many years now, and we look forward to the new and innovative ideas we know she will bring to the organization.”
Benson is a nationally recognized speaker on multicultural subjects - most notably in the areas of community empowerment, economic development, culture, tourism and hospitality. She served five years as the executive director of the Philadelphia Multicultural Affairs Congress. She served as senior director of Visitor Services and Community Relations with the New Jersey State Aquarium, and has served as a congressional delegate to the White House Conference on Tourism.
The board of the AAMP has established a search committee for a new president and CEO. Patricia Wilson Aden, currently the museum’s senior vice president of operations, will serve as interim president.
“We’ve accomplished some extraordinary things there during my tenure, so I’m very proud of the legacy being left. I’m proud to have worked with such wonderful board members and staff members to achieve a lot of those things. It is a time when the museum is poised for more opportunities, so I’m looking forward to seeing how the board determines the selection of the next president and CEO,” Benson added.
The Citizens Bank Foundation donated $25,000 to the African American Museum in Philadelphia to underwrite the museum’s commemoration of Martin Luther King Jr.
The grant will allow the museum to offer free admission and cultural activities to more than 3,000 museum visitors on Jan. 16.
As part of the museum’s Sharing the Heritage Day, visitors will enjoy a variety of family-friendly activities, including arts and crafts, historic reenactments, music, dance and other cultural performances. In addition, visitors can view a new exhibit entitled “Life and Times of Congressman Robert Smalls,” which officially opens on Martin Luther King Jr. weekend. The exhibit includes furniture from the house where Smalls and his mother were enslaved, letters and pictures from his home in Beaufort, S.C., and movie screenings.
“Dr. Martin Luther King Jr.’s goal of promoting justice and equality for all people can never be overlooked or underestimated,” said Daniel K. Fitzpatrick, Citizens Bank president and CEO for Pennsylvania, New Jersey and Delaware.
“The Citizens Bank Foundation is honored to commemorate Dr. King’s legacy by underwriting free admission for a special community day at the African American Museum in Philadelphia.”
To encourage visits by families, the bank will offer the Citizens Bank Scavenger Hunt for Heritage, a fun and educational activity that will help children explore and experience the museum. More than 50 Citizens Bank volunteers will guide children through their list of clues to find specific artifacts. Each child who brings a completed list to the Citizens Bank table in the museum will receive either a copy of “Martin’s Big Words,” a picture-book biography of the civil rights leader or a book on Robert Smalls entitled “American Heroes: Robert Smalls: The Boat Thief,” compliments of Citizens Bank. Scavenger hunt participants will also receive a special commemorative button, compliments of AAMP.
“This is our fifth year partnering with Citizens Bank and, as always, we’re grateful for the support,” said Romona Riscoe Benson, the museum’s president and CEO.
“The Citizens Bank Foundation’s generous support enables us to open our doors to the community for our festivities and exhibits surrounding Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. Day. This important event allows us to attract new community members to the museum and to showcase our continually updated facility.”
“The partnership between Citizens Bank and the African American Museum has significantly enhanced the observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day in Philadelphia,” said Mayor Michael A. Nutter. “The generosity of the Citizens Bank Foundation will allow thousands of people to walk through the doors of the museum and learn about a man who changed America for the better.”
Located at 701 Arch Street, AAMP will be open from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. January 16.
Patricia Wilson Aden takes over as president, CEO
A new leader has been tapped to move the African American Museum in Philadelphia into its next phase.
Patricia Wilson Aden has been appointed as the museum’s new president and CEO. She had served as interim president since the December 2012 departure of previous president and CEO Romona Riscoe Benson.
“I’m thrilled to take on the president’s role in this point of AAMP’s history,” said Aden.
“AAMP has a wonderful history of strong leadership, both at the board and staff level. I am especially pleased to have had the opportunity to work with Romona Riscoe Benson and to follow in her footsteps. Romona is a powerful act to follow. She certainly made her mark here at the museum and in Philadelphia at-large and it is my hope to extend the work that she did.”
Aden took over the leadership of the museum while a national search for Benson’s replacement was initiated. Claire Lomax, chair of AAMP’s board of directors, noted that Aden quickly emerged as the best person to lead the museum through its next phase.
“AAMP is a pivotal point in its 37 year history and in Patty, we have a person who understands our mission, our operation, our potential and our vision for the future,” said Lomax.
Aden brings nearly three decades of experience in nonprofit management to her new role. She joined AAMP in 2010 as the museum’s vice president of operations, a role that provided considerable exposure to the challenges and opportunities of the cultural asset. Prior to joining AAMP, Aden served as executive director of the Rhythm and Blues Foundation, a national nonprofit dedicated to preserving rhythm and blues as a unique American musical genre. Before working with the foundation, Aden served as vice president for arts and culture for Universal Companies, a nonprofit founded by R&B producer Kenny Gamble.
She began her career in the field of historic preservation. As director of the Mid-Atlantic office of the National Trust for Historic Preservation, Aden coordinated capacity-building for statewide preservation organizations in the mid-Atlantic, the Virgin Islands and Puerto Rico. She also held positions as the president of the Preservation Alliance of Greater Philadelphia and the executive director of the District of Columbia’s Preservation League.
“We’re intent on not only building on our legacy but working towards our future as well.
“We are reimagining the African American Museum because we are at the point in the museum’s history where we realize that there are real opportunities out there that we are commitment to pursing,” Aden stated.
AAMP’s current exhibition, “Come See About Me: The Mary Wilson Supremes Collection” which features gowns once worn by Motown recording artists The Supremes, was Aden’s brainchild. The exhibition has drawn national attention, raised awareness of AAMP, attracted new audiences in unprecedented numbers and earned financial support from PNC Bank and other corporate supporters.
“With the Come See About Me exhibit, we certainly set the bar high. Our audience has been broadened and diversified and we want to make sure that as we move forward we have the kind of exhibits that bring those same people back to us again and again. We really want to ensure that our exhibits are compelling, substantive [and] provocative – the kind of experience that when you walk away from the exhibit you want to talk about it further.”
The AAMP is in the process of putting together an exhibition on the Tiberino family that will open in September. The exhibition will feature the work of the late, noted African-American painter, Ellen Powell Tiberino and her family as well as artists that they have been associated with.
Aden noted that the bold initiatives are being undertaken to ensure the sustainability of the museum.
“We want to make sure that all of Philadelphia embraces the institution, embraces the museum as their own museum and really celebrates it as the asset that it is,” she said.
“We understand that in order to sustain the museum that we are going to have to invest in the museum. We are hoping that our members, our peer organizations and our stakeholders all collaborate with us to make that happen.”
Lomax sees a bright future for AAMP with Aden at the helm, ready to take on both creative and operational leadership.
“We are now poised to advance the museum’s mission by engaging in comprehensive, bold initiatives that will capitalize on our recent successes and remind people of AAMP’s contribution to the vibrancy of Philadelphia’s cultural landscape,” said Lomax.
“We hope to attract supporters of arts and culture in the city to invest in AAMP’s exciting plans for remaining relevant and accessible to the broader community.”
Aden’s vision for the museum also includes focused efforts to mentor the next generation of talent in the field of African-American history and stewardship. The museum hopes to continue its current Fellowship in Museum Practice program funded by the Institute of Museum and Library Science. The program provides students pursing graduate level degrees in African-American history and related fields hands-on experience by working in the museum for one year.
Museum officials said the AAMP is well positioned to be the region’s focal point of African-American culture and to be an invaluable hospitality partner in curating the Philadelphia experience.
“We are thrilled with the appointment of Patricia Wilson Aden as president of the African American Museum of Philadelphia,” said Meryl Levitz, president and CEO of the Greater Philadelphia Tourism Marketing Corporation.
“She has been a great partner and with her extensive cultural background and history with the museum, she will be great in this role – both for AAMP and for Philadelphia.”
“Patricia’s vision for strategic programming offerings will truly support of presentations to meetings planners who are seeking the solid cultural and historical aspects of this city as the backdrop to their convention experience,” said Jack Ferguson, president and CEO of the Philadelphia Convention and Visitors Bureau.
Aden holds a bachelor of arts in history from Spelman College and a master of arts in historic preservation planning from Cornell University. She also received an honorary doctorate of arts from Davis and Elkins College in West Virginia.
Founded in 1976, the AAMP is the first institution funded and built by a major municipality to preserve, interpret and exhibit the heritage of African-Americans.
Contact Staff Writer Ayana Jones at (215) 893-5747 or