Philadelphia is gearing up to mark America’s 250th birthday with community projects that span the semiquincentennial party in 2026.
Philadelphia250an organization that plans local events and programs throughout the milestone year, has chosen three projects that it will strengthen with organizational support and funding:
- “Our Market,” an effort to train immigrant Italian Market traders to tell their own stories, led by artist Michelle Angela Ortiz.
- “Revolutionary Action Figures,” teaches kids to make their own toy dolls based on neighborhood heroes, led by Smith Memorial Playground.
- “Cities of Inclusion,” putting policies and supports in place to better accommodate people with different disabilities.
Each project will be supported from a $250,000 fund, which is currently being raised by Philadelphia250.
In addition, an organization was called America250 is the official commission created by Congress to plan a national event to mark the semiquincentennial. Its board includes several figures who are local to Philadelphia and Pennsylvaniabut has yet to make concrete plans for 2026.
In the past, Philadelphia has celebrated the nation’s landmark anniversary dates with major civic projects that have transformed the city’s landscape. For the 1876 centennial, Philadelphia created a hugely successful world’s fair in Fairmount Park, where Memorial Hall, now home to the Please Touch Museum, was built.
For the sesquicentennial in 1926, a less successful fair was staged on the grounds in South Philadelphia, which suffered from near-constant rain and was widely considered a flop, but from which FDR Park originated. The Ben Franklin Bridge was completed and opened to traffic in celebration of that birthday.
The 1976 bicentennial was fraught with problems, including Mayor Rizzo calling in 15,000 federal troops to deal with demonstrators and an outbreak of Legionnaires’ disease at a downtown hotel that killed more than two dozen people. But the event spurred the construction of the African American Museum, the Mann Center, a waterfront civic center that would become the Independence Seaport Museum, and the installation of the iconic LOVE sculpture in JFK Plaza.
With just four years to go, no major capital projects are underway for 2026. Philadelphia250 is in the early stages of planning a grand opening ceremony and a series of pop-up events across the city with neighborhood partners .
“We took this direction because of, basically, the zeitgeist right now, which is very much about making sure people have a voice in decision-making,” said Danielle DiLeo Kim, executive director of Philadelphia250. “In a city like Philadelphia that’s so diverse — we’re a Black majority city where not everyone always has the opportunity to have a voice at such an important milestone moment like this — we want to create that opportunity.”
The three selected projects came from an open call for ideas that attracted around 80 responses. From those 11 were selected to be developed for further consideration, each receiving an $11,000 stipend to continue working on the idea.
“We want the projects to be responsive to the four themes that we use at Philadelphia250 to inspire our work and that we think really fit the original founding values of this country,” said Kim.
“Those four themes are shared prosperity, people’s history, revolutionary action, and the pursuit of happiness.”
Kim said the selection committee is also looking for projects that are scalable and replicable, potentially growing into citywide programs.