‘An enormous relief’: Philly’s Colored Girls Museum wins zoning approval

The decision means the museum can remain at its current location in Germantown.

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The Colored Girls Museum on Newhall Street

The Colored Girls Museum on Newhall Street in Philadelphia’s Germantown neighborhood. (Kimberly Paynter/WHYY)

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The Colored Girls Museum will keep its current home.

Ending months of uncertainty, the Zoning Board of Adjustment this month granted an appeal filed by founder Vashti DuBois, allowing the museum to continue operating out of the Germantown Victorian home.

“This is an enormous relief for The Colored Girls Museum and her community,” said DuBois in a statement. “We are incredibly grateful to the Zoning Board for recognizing the invaluable role this Museum plays in celebrating the stories of ordinary Black women and girls.”

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The Colored Girls Museum, believed to be the first and only one of its kind, has operated out of a three-story twin on Newhall Street for nearly a decade. It has attracted national and international attention since its opening.

The museum evolved from a show offered through the Philadelphia Fringe Festival in 2015. The exhibit was a tribute to DuBois’ late husband, Albert Stewart, who had died in a car accident not far from Newhall Street a few years beforehand. The show helped Dubois manage the pain of losing Stewart, whom she met in junior high school and considered her soulmate.

The museum now offers tours five days a week with the help of three part-time staffers, a consultant and a handful of volunteers. DuBois, who also serves as executive director, depends on the museum for her livelihood and is the museum’s only full-time staffer.

Under the city’s zoning code, a museum can’t be housed in a semi-detached building without a variance, an approved deviation from the law. A complaint filed with Philly311 raised the issue, resulting in a code violation that threatened to derail the museum amid widespread community support.

“If this museum were no longer at this location, it would not be The Colored Girls Museum,” DuBois told the independent panel during a hearing in November.

The board’s decision does mean DuBois must move. The museum doubles as her private residence, a use that would also require a variance. DuBois, however, did not seek permission to maintain that arrangement and will move out.

She will continue to lead the museum while it seeks “to further concretize its standing as a cultural institution and will embark on a fundraising campaign to enhance exhibitions and fortify infrastructure,” according to the statement.

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Since 2019, the museum has been grant-funded, with each curated exhibit turning over about once a year. More than 200 artists, the majority from Philadelphia, have displayed their work with the museum.

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