City Partnerships: First in a City Series of Globally Focused Public Artworks Resides at Friends Select School

Friends Select School is displaying a new public artwork in partnership with the Global Philadelphia Association and Mural Arts Philadelphia campaign to raise awareness about the United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs). The artwork, titled Gender Equality, was created by local artist and Drexel University professor Barbara Smolen. It will be displayed on the school building’s 17th Street side for the next two years and reflects the fifth SDG’s mission “to provide all genders with equal access to education, health care, decent work and representation in political and economic decision-making.” The colorful, calligraphic painting was sponsored by Glenmede Trust, in alliance with Mural Arts Philadelphia, New Century Trust, Widener University, and Global Philadelphia Association. 

The United Nations’ Sustainable Development Goals were introduced 
in 2015 to address 17 continuing global issues, and will continue to guide global development efforts for the next decade. In addition to gender equality, other SDGs include ending poverty, protecting the planet, and ensuring a greater quality of life throughout the world. The United States and 192 other countries have adopted the SDGs, and as the only World Heritage City in the U.S., Philadelphia is positioned to advocate these goals. Global Philadelphia Association’s SDGs campaign with Mural Arts Philadelphia will, in the end, produce 17 works of public art throughout the city to honor and celebrate each of the SDGs; Gender Equality is the first of the series. 

“To be the institution considered to display the very first public art of this campaign speaks to the strength of our identity as a school, and to display the painting that lifts up gender equality speaks to our history of championing social justice, equity, and inclusion,” Michael Gary, head of school, said of Friends Select’s partnership in the project. “The selection of our school as the home of Gender Equality not only resonates with how we leverage the city as an extension of our curriculum, but also is indicative of our global connection. What an honor to be chosen as a partner in this international campaign.” 

In October, Friends Select hosted a formal unveiling of the artwork with an event that featured a presentation in the Blauvelt Theatre, attracted local figures, such as City Representative Sheila Hess, and included remarks from Michael Gary, Mia Cohen ’21, and a performance by Friends Select musicians. Mia, who participated in an internship with GenHERation, an organization that connects young women with global change-making organizations to advance women’s professional opportunities, feels Friends Select’s commitment to gender equality has a positive impact on students. “To know that our administration and faculty so deeply prioritize gender equality makes me feel not only safe, but also more comfortable to be myself and share my thoughts in an unfiltered way,” she said. “It really makes our entire educational experience at Friends Select so much more meaningful.” 

Inside the building, students and faculty across all divisions continue their commitment to gender equality. Lower school faculty formed the Gender Education committee in partnership with Gender Spectrum, a nonprofit organization that helps create gender-sensitive and inclusive environments for all children and youth. The committee is creating professional development programming that supports faculty as they design a curriculum that will help young learners build a deeper comprehension of gender and gender inclusivity as well as understand how they can support each other in feeling comfortable as their true selves. In middle school, students are taking the lead on diving into gender equality and stewarding it within the school and their communities through both the student group Gay, Lesbian or Whatever (GLOW) and the Equity, Inclusion, and Allyship committee. Upper school students study gender equality in various courses, such as the History of Gender and topic-focused workshops. For example, students designed and hosted workshops, such as Breaking the Gender Binary; Sexism in the Classroom; and Race, Gender and Pop Culture during last year’s Day of Inclusivity, Intersectionality, Community, and Equity (DIICE).

Margaret Smith, director of city curriculum, has managed the partnership with Global Philadelphia Association since the summer of 2019, when the project to bring the artwork to Friends Select School began. She believes the school community fosters not just gender equality but each of the 17 SDGs, and notes many of them are reminiscent of the Quaker SPICES. “The SDGs are, at their core, about creating a world in which all are safe to flourish, and I see a lot of commonality between them and our Quaker testimonies,” she said. “There is no equality without gender equality. Friends Select’s mission statement begins with ‘We believe in the Quaker values of respect for all,’ and we are proud to be a part of this partnership that uses public art to promote equality regardless of gender.”