It’s already a balmy late summer’s day as the SEPTA station fills with Swatties awaiting the Saturday morning train. Canvas totes on their shoulders and coffees in hand, the students make friendly chatter before their free passage into Philadelphia. The subsidized voyage signals CollegeFest’s 2022 launch from Swarthmore, an annual event that is both well-received and highly attended by regional college students.
This year, the organization emailed that the event — which offers free access to museums and discounts from local businesses — was attended by over 17,000 college students. While CollegeFest acts largely as a promotion of Philadelphia businesses and institutions, the weekend also fosters creative exploration and investigation. Early in the academic year, college students are presented with the chance to explore new perspectives and broaden their own. The clear invitation to venture off campus nudges students toward appreciating and consuming art for its own sake.
As students become more situated on campus this semester, it can also be exciting to pop the Swarthmore bubble. Nora Jorgensen ’25 and friends were among the participants in the festivities.
Jorgensen explained, “I hadn’t gone into Philly much so it was nice to see some museums. We went to the Rodin Museum and the [Philadelphia] Museum of Art, and both of them exceeded my expectations! It was just a fun time with friends.”
Perhaps this opportunity offers a chance for wonder and questions, or the enlargement of perspectives and discovery of local lore, such as the meticulous arrangement of the paintings in the Barnes Museum, or the striking and enduring poses sculpted at the nearby Rodin Museum.
Studio art major Rivers Redclay ’23 reflected on her Sunday visit to the Barnes Museum with a classmate. Their assignment was to make use of the weekend and select a painting that stood out so they could do a close visual analysis. “I chose Gustave Courbet’s ‘La femme aux bas blancs.’ I had never seen that expression on the face of a painting of a woman; there was something suggestive and prideful about it,” she told me.
In my own experience revisiting and exploring these spaces, I felt a sense of homecoming, of re-experiencing and processing art that has become familiar and localized by these Philadelphia spaces. Being back at college this semester becomes framed by a return to these wonderful areas and collections of paintings, sculptures, and miscellaneous works. To this end, it is a lovely, positive thing to see the fervor and curiosity of other students considering these institutions.
It seems that many students had individually positive and memorable outings, yet they also participated in a collective experience of appreciation, exploration, and even adventure and surprise. While it is exciting to picture an environment in which all museums are always so accessible (in terms of transit, admission, and information), this culture-centric weekend exodus is well worth commending.