Commonwealth is the outgrowth of a multiyear partnership between three dynamic, socially engaged contemporary arts organizations: the Institute for Contemporary Art at Virginia Commonwealth University in Richmond, Virginia; Philadelphia Contemporary in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania; and Beta-Local in San Juan, Puerto Rico. The project explores the historical concept of “commonwealth” and its legacy in each of the three locations. It asks whether it’s possible to unleash the collective power embedded in that term while recognizing its connection to exploitation and colonialism. The question of how people understand common wealth, and the tension between individual choice and collective wellbeing, has become all the more relevant in 2020, a year that began with earthquakes in Puerto Rico and has continued with the historic impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Black Lives Matter movement.
Using the tools of culture — from critical conversation to writing, image-making, performance and even gardening — Commonwealth offers paths to understanding both the unequal structures that shape our lived realities and ways that people might come together to make the world more equitable.