Fairmount Water Works exhibit examines segregation of public swimming pools – The Hawk Newspaper


At the end of Waterworks Drive, across the river from the Philadelphia Art Museum, a small maze of concrete walls decorated in shades of blue leads to an indoor pool drained in the basement of an apartment building.

The pool, formerly known as the Kelly Natatorium, opened in 1961 as an Olympic training facility and later served as a public swimming pool for the citizens of Philadelphia. It closed in 1972 after flooding caused by Hurricane Agnes.

Earlier this year, this space became home to “Pool: A Social History of Segregation” (POOL), the latest exhibition located on the ground floor of Fairmount Water Works, a museum and environmental center that served as a station of the city from 1815 to 1909. The exhibition runs until September 30.

The 4,700 square foot museum exhibit takes visitors on a curated route of collections ranging from photos, voice recordings and film footage to examine the history of segregated public swimming pools in the United States and how it contributed to current racial stereotypes and incidents of drowning among Black communities.

“Access to water is a right that continues to be contested,” said Victoria Prizzia, Creative Director and Senior Designer of POOL. “POOL brings that

history in the light, so that the next generation can continue to push for positive social change.

Originally slated to open in 2021, the Fairmount Water Works buildings were inundated by the historically high water levels of the Schuylkill following Hurricane Ida in September 2021. The delayed grand opening took place instead during World Water Day on March 22.

Cathleen Dean’s documentary short, “Wade in the Water: Drowning in Racism”, is one of the works featured in POOL.

Dean said his film focuses on the historical, cultural and spiritual relationship that people of African descent have with water. The title of his film is a nod to the organized protest and resistance movements, the “wade-ins”, which took place during the civil rights movement.

During wading, black people accessed water spaces they were prohibited from using because of their race to challenge racist rules and laws that violated their civil rights.

“The most important takeaway that I hope viewers will get from my film is this: When people don’t connect with water, there’s a loss,” Dean said. “This loss is cultural, spiritual and economic. It is also a loss for our health and well-being and it is measurable.

Fairmount Water Works media contact Dionne Watts-Williams said the overall response to POOL has been positive.

“The response has been incredible…there have been hundreds of visitors so far from all over,” Watts-Williams said. “Visitors and long-time supporters are delighted to be back in the building, and new visitors say how much they look forward to returning in the future.”

Longtime Philadelphia resident and retired public school teacher Susan Kattell, who visited the exhibit, said the experience was “complete.”

“This exhibit is absolutely essential for everyone to see,” Kattell said. “Swimming is a life skill, so it should be offered to

all the children.”

The exhibition is open from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. Wednesday to Friday and from 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. on Saturday. Free entry.


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