What comes to mind when you think of Philadelphia? We bet it’s the Liberty Bell, which is on display in downtown, or Benjamin Franklin, whose diplomatic mission to France is the subject of a new miniseries starring Michael Douglas.

Philadelphia also served as the U.S. capital from 1790-1800, but the city is important for more than its role in early American history. Today, Philadelphia is the sixth-largest U.S. city. Its population of over 1.5 million is 40% Black or African American, 33% White, and 15% Hispanic or Latino.

As you might expect for such a diverse city, Philadelphia is a great place to experience contemporary culture and the arts. Here is our roundup of people and places that make Philadelphia so amazing!

Julian Abele (1881-1950), Architect

Philadelphia owes key cultural sites to Julian Abele, the first Black alum of the University of Pennsylvania’s School of Design. Abele designed the University of Pennsylvania’s President’s House, the Parkway Central Library, and much of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. When CBS Philadelphia examined Abele’s legacy for Black History Month in 2024, journalist Janelle Burrell showcased breath-taking examples of his “lasting imprint on Philly.” Since 1991, a historical marker honoring Abele has stood near the base of the steps to the art museum, not far from the statue of another indomitable Philadelphian, Rocky.

Woodmere Arts Museum (est. 1940)

The Philadelphia Art Museum is justly famous for its American, European, and textiles collections, but we also love the Woodmere Arts Museum for featuring local artists, as well as screening classics or other notable films at the weekly event Tuesday Night at the Movies.

Recently, the Woodmere displayed evocative, vibrantly colored works by Henry Bermudez, a Venezuelan who came to Philadelphia for political asylum in 2003. If you visit Woodmere by early July, you can enjoy special exhibits of drawings and sculptures by William Daley (1925-2022) and art by Philadelphian women including Sarah Miriam Peale (1800-1885). You can tour the wonderful sculpture garden and admire a remarkable fountain called Free Interpretation of Plant Forms at any time of year, weather permitting.

The Rocky Steps (est. 1976)

The stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art were completed by 1928, but they did not become the Rocky Steps until 1976. That year, a boxer named Rocky Balboa (Sylvester Stallone) trained intensively at Mighty Mick’s Gym and sprinted up 72 steps to the entrance of the Philadelphia Art Museum, so that he could be prepared to fight world heavyweight champion Apollo Creed (Carl Weathers).

Although Rocky is a fictional character, based on Chuck Wepner and Rocco Marchegiano, the 1976 film became a treasured part of Philadelphia’s civic identity as it sparked a beloved franchise and made cinema history. For Rocky’s training montage, director John G. Avildsen used the newly invented Steadicam, a mounted camera that could capture smooth footage of bodies in motion. (We’ve previously admired its use in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film The Shining.)

For over 15 years, tourists have been gathering in front of the Philadelphia Art Museum to take photos with a bronze statue from Rocky III (1982). Before you do the same, inform yourself about Stallone’s impressive career by watching Sly, a documentary screened at the Toronto International Film Festival in 2023.

Quiara Alegría Hudes (b. 1977), Playwright

A self-identified “Philly Rican,” Quiara Alegría Hudes frequently writes about her Puerto Rican heritage and experiences growing up in Philadelphia. In 2012, she won a Pulitzer Prize for Water by the Spoonful, the second play in a trilogy about a Philadelphian and Iraq veteran named Elliot Ortiz. The other plays are Elliot, A Soldier’s Fugue (2006) and The Happiest Song Plays Last (2015).

In 2021, Hudes published a memoir, My Broken Language, which she dedicated to “the grrrl descendants of Obdulia Perez,” her maternal grandmother. Its chapters have titles like “Mom’s Accent” and “Spanglish Cousins on the Jersey Turnpike.” The same year saw the release of Sony Animation’s Vivo, a musical with a book by Hudes and songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda, just like In the Heights (2008). The collaborations between Hudes and Miranda are not to be missed, but read Hudes’ plays and memoir to gain the artist’s perspective on her native city!

Mural Arts Philadelphia (est. 1984), Nonprofit Organization

In 1984, Jane Golden was hired at the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network by Wilson Goode, Philadelphia’s first Black mayor. Today, Golden serves as Executive Director for Mural Arts Philadelphia, a nonprofit organization descended from the Anti-Graffiti Network. Thanks in large part to its philanthropic and artistic efforts, Philadelphia has become the City of Murals – over 4,000 of them. According to Golden, “Murals are the autobiography of the city of Philadelphia.”

While exploring the city, you may pass Ernel Martinez’s beautiful tributes to Philadelphians including reporter Ed Bradley and jazz musician John Coltrane. You may stop to ponder statements on Philadelphia’s history, such as Jared Owens’ PhilaGuernica, or expressions of its contemporary identity, such as Kala Hagopian’s Philadelphia Marathon Mural. We mention these works only as examples – you can discover thousands more for yourself!

Kelli S. Williams (b. ?), Stop-Motion Animator

After completing art degrees in Baltimore, Maryland, and Columbus, Ohio, Kelli S. Williams was hired to teach at Philadelphia’s Moore College of Art and Design in 2017. Her connection to the city’s creative community deepened when she won a Black Artist Fellowship from Mural Arts Philadelphia in 2021.

Williams’ website features a wonderful one-minute reel, which provides a broad introduction to her work. One of her early projects, This is Tru, is a comedy about the Collins family, centering on 22-year-old Tru. A darker work, the short horror film Feed, vividly shows how it feels to be consumed by social media. Williams already has a Netflix credit, but this talented stop-motion animator has only just begun. We can’t wait to see what she creates next!

Tierra Whack (b. 1995), Rapper

Tierra Whack, a highly original rapper, skyrocketed out of North Philadelphia’s housing projects to international fame. She released an EP called Whack World in 2018, earned a Best Music Video Grammy® nomination for “Mumbo Jumbo” in 2019, made the film Cypher in 2023, and dropped an album called World Wide Whack in 2024. When Whack remarked on choosing 15 out of 300 songs for her debut album, she said, “This is not a hit factory.” Judges as eminent as Beyoncé seem to disagree.

Whack is featured in “My Power” on Beyoncé’s album The Lion King: The Gift and the film Black Is King. During the Renaissance tour, Beyoncé listed Tierra Whack among other sources of inspiration in lyrics inserted for the performance of “Break My Soul”: “Lauryn Hill, Roberta Flack, / Toni [Morrison], Janet [Jackson], Tierra Whack.” If Queen Bey likes someone this much, then so should you!

Kensington Derby and Arts Festival (est. 2007)

As a fundraiser for the Kensington neighborhood, also known as Fishtown, business owners organize an annual arts festival and parade. The most recent celebration took place on Saturday, May 11, so you may want to start planning to attend next year. If you do, you will find that the Kensington Arts Festival is an excellent place to admire the work of Philadelphia’s artists, hear local bands and DJs, sample food from numerous restaurants, and try drinks by craft brewers – all in one day!

Organizers describe the main event as “a parade of homemade human-powered sculptures,” but the zany spectacle must be seen to be believed. Costumed participants ride bicycles that have been converted into fanciful, often humorous vehicles. Past examples have included a clown cart, biplane, and famous trashcan. After riders navigate an obstacle course, they end in a mud pit, earning loud acclaim for (harmless) crashes. Plan your next trip around this raucous Philadelphia tradition if you can!

That’s our roundup! We hope that we introduced you to some marvels of modern Philadelphia.

We’ll be back soon with another roundup, if we don’t collapse on the Rocky Steps, become obsessed with cataloguing Philadelphia’s wonderful murals, or get our head stuck inside the Liberty Bell. (Don’t ask.)

Until next time, find some creativity wherever you can. Stay safe, and be well. #StandCreative