Matthew Miller, a postdoctoral fellow at the Stuart Weitzman School of Design, will serve on the Philadelphia Art Commission, which is the city’s design review board.
Philadelphia Mayor Jim Kenney appointed Miller to the nine-member Commission, which is part of the Department of City and Regional Planning, in late August. The Board 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 the fight against racism.
Miller has previously worked with the Philadelphia Department of Planning and Development to advance anti-racism in the city’s planning process. He said he plans to “bring the spirit of a scholar and a planner” who cares 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 artistic and cultural production in the public domain,” Miller said.
Miller, known to many as “Dr. Matt”, is excited to translate his scholarly work into public spaces and everyday life. He fills a vacancy for one of the two places reserved for professors of art and architecture at the Commission, according to the Weitzman Newsroom.
“As a scholar, you are always 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 the Cobbs Creek Recreation Center, a municipally 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 considers 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’s a degree of freedom in how you interpret what these projects mean,” he added.
One challenge Miller anticipates is planning monuments across the city. Monuments including the statue of Christopher Columbus in South Philadelphia have become charged symbols amid the push for racial justice following the police killing of George Floyd.
“You want to preserve history, but also affirm that people have been here and lived here to meet the needs of people who are here now,” Miller said.
He aims to find a way to reflect Philadelphia’s “gritty, rich, authentic history” through monuments, and said he accepted the appointment to the Commission to bring a fresh perspective to the table as a more young and only black of the group. He is a first-generation college graduate and openly queer. Miller is also the Director of Justice and Belonging Initiatives at Weitzman, which is a revamped version of the school’s work on diversity, equity and inclusion.
“I was creating my own path along the way and wanted[ed] to create a sense of being a public intellectual on this journey,” Miller said.