A period of ‘Intermission’ for The Colored Girls Museum

by Delaney Parks
Posted 6/13/24

Four months after The Colored Girls Museum was granted a zoning variance to remain in its twin Victorian home, the museum is navigating a period of flux.

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A period of ‘Intermission’ for The Colored Girls Museum


Four months after The Colored Girls Museum was granted a zoning variance to remain in its twin Victorian home on a residential street in Germantown, the museum is navigating a period of flux alongside the opening of its newest exhibition: The Intermission. 

For Executive Director Vashti DuBois, the exhibition title reflects a period of “intermission” in her own relationship with the museum. Nine years ago, after the death of her husband, she began the museum as a Philadelphia Fringe Festival show, partly as a way to refocus her grief and energy into something that brought joy.   

Even when the public wasn’t there to see it, DuBois said living in the house with her youngest son back then meant that she “had to tap into the fact that I’m a performance artist” each day.

Getting themselves and the house ready every morning meant leaving evidence of life in each room of the house.

In April 2023, DuBois received a notice from the Philadelphia Department of Licenses and Inspections notifying her of a code violation triggered by a Philly311 zoning complaint. There were two issues: the 140-year-old, three-story Victorian house wasn’t in a detached building in its neighborhood, and it was being used as both a residence and a cultural institution. 

While the zoning board granted DuBois a variance that allows TCGM to continue functioning in the home, it also ruled that nobody can live there, prompting a reckoning about the museum’s philosophical purpose.

“There should always be the possibility of household living for her. Whether it’s an artist who's in residency, or somebody passing through doesn't matter to me, but a house should always have the capacity to be a home.”

DuBois always refers to the Victorian house as “her,” and she personifies the pieces of art that live within its walls. Since she was a young girl, DuBois has treated houses this way, indulging in games and fantasies about how each part of the house doubles as a body part.

“I believe that everything we encounter has a life force,” she said. “We can attune to that life force or not—it's not a requirement—but I completely believe that houses are living, breathing entities. How could they not be?” she added.

Her habit of referring to art pieces as alive is contagious. One of the exhibit’s curators, Terrell Maurice, told her, “You’re making me start talking to inanimate objects.”

Although she’s moved only as far as a house on the other side of the street, she compares the experience to empowering a nine-year-old child to grow up. “That feels okay to me. I'm not an overprotective mom,” she added.

The mission of TCGM, according to Dubois, is to “be a public ritual for the protection, praise, and grace of ordinary Colored Girls,” and to acknowledge their work and the ways that a home is a multifaceted place. 

Sometimes, it’s a place of labor. The museum’s only permanent exhibit honors washerwomen, with clotheslines that hang up book pages and photographs, and small fiber arts “badges” that artist Toni Kersey crafted during an illness. Often, it’s a place of gathering, as seen in the upstairs Afrofuturistic speakeasy room featuring a bar cart laden with an hourglass and bottles of the McBride Sisters Black Girl Magic Zinfandel.

“We're really playing with this idea of alternate and parallel universes,” DuBois said. “Black folks are always living in multiple timelines,” she added.

The six young Black women who served as muses for a portrait series four years ago have grown up in the real world as their portraits have in the museum—now, each one has their own room. For The Intermission exhibit, each room will continue to evolve throughout its duration, until January 2025. 

This constant evolution intersects with DuBois’ idea of community curation. She’s inviting primarily Black, femme, Philadelphia-based artists into conversation with the space to help answer the question of what this museum will become.

One of The Intermission’s community curators, Jazlyne Sabree, works in mixed media, blending natural materials like vellum with photography. Her work, she said, juxtaposes the spiritual guiding force of West African endangered animals with the “endangered state” of being a Black person in the world today. Sabree aims to balance bitterness and joy.

“As much as we celebrate in this moment, and we're proud in this movement, we also have to exist with the equal truth that there are still threats,” she said.

The concept of The Intermission flows from DuBois’ background in theatre. During a theatrical intermission, something has paused from the audience's perspective, but the performers must stay in character, she added. 

“We've invited the audience onto the stage during the intermission so that they can participate in and witness us having this public conversation with our characters, which are the artwork, the artists, and the community members who are part of this creation,” DuBois said.

The Intermission held a “soft opening” on May 4, and the museum will launch an enhanced website on May 15, where tickets and new products will be available.