Matthew Miller, a postdoctoral fellow from the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, will serve on the Philadelphia Art Commission, which is the city’s design review committee.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Miller to the nine-member Commission, part of the Department of City and Area Planning, in late August. The Commission makes decisions on all construction and public art projects located on City property or funded by the City. Miller, who is the only black member of the commission, said the mayor appointed him in part because of his commitment to fighting racism.
Miller previously worked with the Philadelphia Planning and Development Department to advance anti-racism in the city planning process. He said he planned to “bring the spirit of an academic and a town planner” concerned about fairness to the Commission.
“I’m very interested in how to apply my interest in storytelling, geography and planning, from the perspective of someone who thinks about art and cultural production in the public domain,” said Miller.
Miller, who is known to many as “Dr. Matt,” is excited to translate his academic work into public spaces and everyday life. It fills a vacant post for one of the two posts reserved for professors of art and architecture of the Commission, according to the Weitzman newsroom.
“As an academic, you are a lifelong learner,” Miller said. “It’s really exciting for me to be able to see how development works in a city like this.”
Miller’s goals for his new role include working with Cobbs Creek Recreation Center, a city-funded recreation center in West Philadelphia. Miller said he wanted to bring the recreation center back to life while engaging the community.
For each project the committee works on, it examines the historic character of the neighborhood, who will benefit from the project and how the project will affect the surrounding community, Miller said.
“What’s exciting to me is that there is a certain degree of freedom in how you interpret what these projects mean,” he added.
One challenge Miller anticipates is planning for monuments across town. Monuments including the Christopher Columbus statue in south Philadelphia have become indicted symbols amid pressure for racial justice after the police murder of George Floyd.
“You want to preserve history, but also to affirm that people have been here and have lived here to meet the needs of the people who are here now,” Miller said.
He aims to find a way to reflect Philadelphia’s “gritty, rich and authentic history” through monuments, and has said he has accepted the nomination to the Commission to bring a new perspective to the table as more. young and only black person in the group. He is an openly queer, first-generation college graduate. Miller is also director of Justice and Belonging Initiatives at Weitzman, which is a redesigned version of the school’s diversity, equity and inclusion work.
“I was making my own path along the way and I want to[ed] to create the feeling of being a public intellectual on this journey, ”Miller said.