The Redemption of the Schuylkill

An exhibition and conversation series about our changing relationship with the river as it was, as it is, and as it could be


Fields of Knowledge
  • Artistic legacies
  • Design
  • Health / Sustainability
  • Memory
  • Public culture

Organizing Institutions

Slought, City Parks Association

Contributing Institutions

Philadelphia Water Department, Penn Program in Environmental Humanities


Deenah Loeb, Aaron Levy, Alma Siualgi, Nick Yu


Department of English, University of Pennsylvania

Process initiated


Opens to public



4017 Walnut St
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Along the Schuylkill River Pennsylvania


0% Formal - 100% Informal

Slought and City Parks Association are pleased to announce "The Redemption of the Schuylkill," an exhibition and an unfolding public programming series from May 18th through August 18th 2015 investigating our changing relationships with the Schuylkill River. A reception and conversation will take place on Monday, May 18th from 4:30-6pm. The exhibition will conclude with a second conversation on Tuesday, August 18th, from 4:30-6pm.

How do we think about moments where the built environment converges with the natural? How do we represent the complexity of our relationships to water, and our ever-shifting attachment to memory, ecology, and place? Starting with an historical lens, continuing through contemporary documentation and imagining possibilities for the future, this project seeks to investigate our complex relationship to the Schuylkill - physically, socially, economically and culturally.

This project builds from the understanding that the Schuylkill River is often invisible today to many residents of Philadelphia. Though many would recognize iconic features along the river, frequently documented through artist's sketches and photographs, the river is more than just these 'frozen' moments in the intricate story of human engagement and interaction with water. As Langston Hughes suggests, a river is also a metaphor for our souls, one that embodies collective memory, lived experience, and struggle. The meaning and value of these waters have expanded over time and place, resulting in a dynamic relationship between the personal and political, as well as a unique mythology around its flow that resists any single representation.

A more polemical river can be found in the work of civic leader John Frederick Lewis, whose foundational publication The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill: The River As it Was, the River as it is, the River As it Should Be (1924), from which this project takes its title, issued a rallying cry to "redeem" the river for the citizens of Philadelphia. Lewis, writing on behalf of City Parks Association, a civic organization which advocates for open space and for re-claiming our waterways, was one of the first voices in modern Philadelphian history to rethink the role of the Schuylkill as an explicitly urban resource and human responsibility. Approaching Lewis' publication as a score in effect, with this project we revisit and rewrite The Redemption of the Lower Schuylkill for the present, with all of its challenges and possibilities. Please join us in this ongoing conversation.

"Where a river flows through a City, its condition is not and can not be that created by nature. All its surroundings are artificial. The hand of nature has given way to that of man. [...] The beauty of a municipal river way depends on art and art alone."

-- City Parks Association, Twenty-fifth Annual report, 1913