Telling America’s Diverse Story Through Art at PAFA

At the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), wandering spaces with paint on canvas or sculptures in a gallery only describes a fraction of the experience. PAFA is a space for vibrant and ever-evolving conversations, where voices from every background are heard, where artists at every age and stage of development gather to create, explore, learn, and form a community, and where creativity transcends traditional boundaries and celebrates every background.

A Tradition of Supporting Contemporary Artists

From its inception, PAFA has championed emerging artists, Commissioning, exhibiting, and collecting the work of rising artists and sharing that work with a broad audience. The institution's commitment to contemporary art has been unwavering through purchasing the work of students on the cusp of their professional careers, collecting work from alumni and faculty, and acquiring art through its renowned Annual Exhibitions.

Broadening the Definition of American Art

PAFA takes pride in its historical commitment to inclusiveness with the goal of  “broadening the definition of American art” by presenting innovative exhibitions that highlight underrepresented voices - women, African Americans, Hispanic Americans, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists from diaspora communities.

In the past three years alone, PAFA has acquired an impressive array of 560 works by 264 artists, more than 40% of which were created by African Americans, and 33% by women artists. PAFA stands out as a leader in the museum field, demonstrating a dedication that few peer institutions can match.

Transformative Exhibitions: Rethinking American Art

By June 30, 2024, PAFA will have unveiled three groundbreaking exhibitions that challenge conventional notions of American art. These exhibitions provoke thought about who shapes the American art canon, who is included, and why, and what role art and artists have in shaping civic discourse about our shared community goals.

Making American Artists reframes American history by showcasing the works of women, LGBTQ+ artists, and artists of color, their works displayed in thematic rather than chronological groupings that create striking visual counterpoints designed to encourage a new dialogue. These artists' careers were deeply influenced by PAFA, whether through their education or the exhibition and display of their work, prompting a critical re-examination of the institution's legacy in shaping 21st-century American art. On tour in 2024. See tour itinerary for more information.

Tour Itinerary


Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America is a multi-sited exhibition project in collaboration with the African American Museum in Philadelphia (AAMP). Rising Sun addresses the undeniable community need for museums to directly address the disquieting canonical history of the United States and the work of re-appraisal, reformation, reckoning, and repair necessary to finding a collective way forward and confronts the uncomfortable truths of America's canonical history, advocating for communities who were denied participation in defining what America would be or how the country should be structured. On view until December 31, 2023.

See Rising Sun


Determined to Be: The Sculpture of John Rhoden is the first comprehensive retrospective for 20th-century African American sculptor John W. Rhoden (1916-2001) whose contributions to American art have been overlooked. Despite a distinguished career and numerous accolades, Rhoden's name has been excluded from the annals of American art history. This retrospective aims to rectify that oversight. On view until April 7, 2024.

See Determined to Be


These exhibitions form an arc, inviting viewers to engage with American history in a more complex and inclusive way through art and conversations around artwork. More than an institution for creatives and academics, PAFA is a catalyst for redefining the narrative of American art, one that reflects the true diversity and complexity of our shared identity. Visit PAFA, and be a part of this transformative conversation.

About the banner image:

Photography: Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts, March 23, 2023–October 8, 2023 in the Historic Landmark Building. Courtesy of the Pennsylvania Academy of the
Fine Arts, Philadelphia. Photography by Ryan Brandenberg.

Artwork: Lenka Clayton - The True Story of a Stone, 2023 (installation detail view), Paintings, sculptures, and archival documents from PAFA’s permanent collection selected by the artist, text labels written by the artist, mirror, and a marble replica of Pekin Drake by Charles Rudy, 1941 (10 1/8 x 7 x 12 ¼ in.), Joseph E. Temple Fund, 1942.9. Commissioned by PAFA for Rising Sun: Artists in an Uncertain America.

About PAFA

Founded in 1805, the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts is America's first school and museum of fine arts. A recipient of the National Medal of Arts, PAFA offers undergraduate and graduate programs in the fine arts, innovative exhibitions of historic and contemporary American art, and a world-class collection of American art. PAFA’s esteemed alumni include Mary Cassatt, Njideka Akunyili Crosby, William Glackens, Barkley L. Hendricks, Violet Oakley, Louis Kahn, David Lynch, and Henry Ossawa Tanner.