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Current Tours

August 16, 2018

2nd Saturday Street Art Tour: Art at PHL Airport
Saturday, September 8, 2018 (1-4pm)
For this, the sixth 2nd Saturday tour of our 2018 Season, we’ll be taking a very special walking tour of Art At The Airport! PHL Airport’s Exhibition Program is a nationally-recognized, award-winning visual arts initiative. The purpose of this program is to provide visibility for Philadelphia’s unique cultural life and to enrich the experience of the traveling public. And, as you’ll see on this tour, in addition to featuring the work of contemporary artists who primarily show in galleries, Art At The Airport showcases the work of many, many Philadelphia street artists and muralists. They also currently have a Streets Dept exhibition that’s up through the end of October.
Learn more and get your tickets here!

Experiential PHL Tour: Paprika Plains + The Art of South Philly
Wednesday, September 19, 2018 (7-9pm)
This walking tour will start by exploring some of my favorite murals and public art pieces found of the more eastern side of South Philadelphia, then take us into Philadelphia’s premiere theatre and dance education center, Philly PACK, to see a special tech preview of Paprika Plains, a performance art piece apart of this year’s Fringe Fest from Natalie Fletcher (Portland-based body painter and winner of Skin Wars Season 1) and Jessica Noel (performance artist, choreographer, and Director of Philly PACK.)
Learn more and get your tickets here!

Philly Artists Replace ‘Cheap’ Barbera Ads with Art to Take Back the Public Space: Announcing #TrashcanTakeover

August 19, 2018

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale; artwork above by Iris Barbee BonnerGianni LeeMarisa Velázquez-Rivas, and Santiago Galeas)

If you’ve been through Philly this summer, chances are good you’ve seen those endless ads for Gary Barbera Autoland selling “Cheap Jeeps.” Overnight, it seemed, the ads were on hundreds of trashcans in Center City. In June, I wrote about how bummed I was about these ads and the apparent lack of thought on the City’s part about the worth of our public spaces, not to mention that the 5% the City actually earns from these ads goes right back to maintenance of the trashcans and that Philly’s pervious City Controller Alan Butkovitz publicly stated that these high-tech trashcans are a costly waste and don’t provide the city the kinds of benefits we were originally promised. So today, I couldn’t be more thrilled to announce #TrashcanTakeover, a temporary art intervention that’s replacing 18 Center City trashcan ads with art from local artists!

#TrashcanTakeover is the brainchild of Brendan Lowry (of @Peopledelphia fame) via his creative consultancy, Rory Creative. It’s being funded by the folks at City Fitness to pay the artists for the use of their artwork and to buy the ad space. And because of my advocacy against the Barbera ads, I’m not only joining the project as one of the artists but also as Media Partner to help get the word out about it and the work of these Philadelphia artists!

There’s nothing cheap about our public spaces. I believe deeply in the value of public space and that what we put there has an effect on the ways we think, feel, and behave. Replacing a number of ads around Philadelphia with art from local artists is big step in the right direction for returning the public space to the public. And it’s a growing trend in cities, following the inspiration of other such projects like the #YeahWeGotKeysForThat ad takeover campaign and New York City’s Art in Ad Places. What can happen when we replace ads with art? When we use our public spaces to center less on consumerism and more on the human experience? I think these are questions worth asking.

Scroll down to see a list of all the artists and artwork involved. And check out the #TrashcanTakeover Map to explore these temporary installations for yourself. The art will be up for at least one month, through September 18, but if y’all are liking this project we may be able to secure it for longer and maybe even grow it to takeover more trashcan ads! Read more…

Promoting Mental Health Awareness in Philly with A Yarnbomb

August 14, 2018

A new yarnbomb installation on 11th street between Callowhill and Nobel streets by Nicole Nikolich (aka Lace in the Moon) promotes mental health awareness and hopes to help make people feel less alone. Over email, I chatted with the artist who said the installation actually started out quite differently:

“I had actually made the three flowers with the intention of installing them in the opposite order, starting with the large orange flower and ending with the decaying weed.”

“I struggle with anxiety and depression and some days/weeks are just harder than others. I had been feeling a bit down, and I planned on pairing the dying flowers with a melancholy lyric or somber quote from my journal. But after staring at the flowers for a few days spread out on my bedroom floor, I was like, No Nicole, you’re not gonna spend all these hours creating something that reminds you of how shitty you feel right now. Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s beautiful to create pieces of art that make you feel all different types of emotions, but in this specific scenario, it felt like I would be allowing my anxiety to win by installing it the way it was currently laid out. So, plot twist, I said fuck you to myself, and decided to literally flip it around.”

“I think it’s an important message to let others know that, hey, you know those intense, scary feelings of hopelessness or apathy or self-doubt that you feel from time to time? I feel them too. And I guarantee that guy across the street over there has felt them also. I want people to know that they are not alone, even though it often can feel like it. I hope this piece can open up a dialog amongst those who walk by, and encourage them to talk about these things with one another that are often hard to talk about.” Read more…

Student of the Game: A Streets Dept Oral History with Philadelphia Graffiti Writer Busta

August 13, 2018

Post by Streets Dept Contributor, Phillip Reid, photos courtesy of Busta

Welcome to the Streets Dept Oral History Projecta new 20-week series created by Streets Dept’s first-ever intern, Phillip Reid. Over the course of this series we will be collecting and sharing the stories of a mix of 20 street artists, graffiti writers, muralists, and public arts leaders all working to shape and create the art in Philadelphia’s public spaces. Read more about this new temporary series in our announcement post here.

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Busta grew up in Chía, a working-class suburb of Colombia’s capital city, Bogota. He and his friends lived and breathed skateboarding and hip-hop culture, and as a young kid he roamed the town in an oversized t-shirt, baggy pants, and chunky shoes, earning him the nickname Busta Rimas, after the legendary New York rapper. The name stuck, and he carried it with him as he made his way into Bogota to attend art school and eventually to the United States when he immigrated to Philadelphia in order to study and contribute to the city’s storied graffiti history. Busta has considerable technical ability as a writer and artist. His graffiti writing is constantly morphing as he tries to incorporate an infinite variety of fills, lettering styles, and design tricks. For themed murals and portraits, he does deep research to ensure that he accurately captures his subject matter, whether the work be the latest in his personal series on threatened indigenous peoples in Colombia, or a commissioned piece he’s doing for a client.

We started just going crazy in Chía, and we got a lot of legal walls, illegal walls, abando’s, all the bridges, highways, billboards–we were crazy, we kind of took over the city, like, quick.

I grew up kind of like in the suburbs of New York, but in Colombia. The main city is Bogota, and I grew up in a town called Chía an hour away from there. Colombia is kind of the opposite of suburbs in America. In here it’s like rich people are suburbs, working class in the city. It’s like the opposite in there. Working class is in the suburbs and the city is mixed between everything. Everybody in my town–it was a little town–but everybody skated, listened to hip-hop, did graffiti. So I grew up doing all that stuff and just, y’know, going to the park, tagging everywhere, and learning about that stuff without knowing what I was doing, just having fun with the people around me.

My last name is Bustamante. When I was growing up, because everybody around me listened to hip-hop, Busta Rhymes–Busta (Spanish pronunciation) Rhymes–was like the main dude. And when I was little I was really into the hip-hop clothing, like the big t-shirts, the realllyy big baggy pants with the big chunky shoes, and everybody called me Busta Rimas. I’ve just stuck to that name forever, everybody knows me as Busta there in Chía.

When I was around 8 to 10 I started skating and learned about graffiti through a couple friends who skated with me in the park in the city. The first guy I remember is Duende, “dwarf” in English. He kind of taught me a little bit of hand styles, and like, “Look, you can do like straight letters, bubble letters,” y’know, like the basics. And I started going out tagging with like a couple other people. One of the guys was Tinone. He stopped doing graffiti after he graduated from school, but he did a good amount of work. Then I kind of started like a little crew with my friends, named NMF–that stands for “Natural Mystic Family.” My friends who write Nigha, Rasfo, Harmonia, Westone, Pixel, and Arow2 the seven of us, we started NMF. We started just going crazy in Chía, and we got a lot of legal walls, illegal walls, abando’s, all the bridges, highways, billboards–we were crazy, we kind of took over the city, like, quick.

We called ourselves Natural Mystic Family because we are all into like reggae, hip-hop vibe, and like the spiritual, weed kind of thing. In Chía, there is like a big indigenous culture. Where I used to live was like two blocks from the mountain. So I used to go in the mountains and smoke with the indigenous, and like actually, these things right here? *Points to gauge piercings in his ears* I got them with the indigenous in there, when I was 15 they did the holes to me, because it’s like a ceremony to go into manhood. So I did those kinds of things, had that connection with the indigenous. Read more…

New Series of Philly Street Art Tile Installations Call for Trump Impeachment

August 6, 2018

If you’re a perceptive person, or someone (like me) always on the look out for street art, you may have started to notice a series of three tiles popping up around various Philly intersections over the last few months.

The tiles, from a distance, appear to spell the word “Mom.” Or at least they did to me, though I really might need glasses. But as you get closer, it becomes clearer that the tiles read “M,” then depict an image of a peach, and finally “him.” All of it created with orange paint. Said aloud or in your head, the tiles read “M-peach-him,” or “Impeach him!” Given the political climate and the near constant news of the Russia Investigation, it doesn’t take long to piece together that this is a call to impeach President Trump.

Soon after beginning the “Mpeachhim” street art series, the artist reached out to me over Instagram. She told me where to find installations as she installed them, including the ones documented for this post at 10th and South Street, Lombard and Broad streets, and Bodine and Market streets.

Curious to learn more about the project, I emailed the artist, who wishes to remain anonymous, and the following is her response:

“While I dabble in mosaic murals, this is my first street art. The ‘Mpeachhim’ tile project is an act of political desperation. Over the past winter after each morning bout of reading the newspaper sent me, like many, into anguish, I began to fantasize about making and placing these tiles. Everyone around me was depressed and the despondency was contagious. We know that genocides and lesser evils happen because decent folks, feeling hopeless, quit paying attention. So, I wanted to do something that was part of a circulating script about alternatives to the present, that this dark moment is not something to adjust to, that we must keep vigilant against numbness.”

“Do I think it could happen? Surely not when the majority of Congress has checked their spines at the door. But that could change and if it does this message must still be floating about–if only in front of gutters for downcast eyes. And by the way, every worry about Pence has already happened. Nothing is impossible. Who would have believed that we could convince a large urban population to stoop down and scoop up dog shit on a regular basis? But we did. Worse, who could have imagined that we would come a hairs breath away from women losing the right to choose (and that is exactly where we are now,) that in the face of climate transformation we’d have a president who cancelled a global agreement to minimal confront it, that a self-confessed sexual predator who racializes most policy issues would be deciding who could and could not enter this country or keep children at their sides. No, I have no doubts about the appropriateness of my message, but I crawl around on curbs because I want to feel less lonely and isolated and to be part of some resistance to this astonishing demolition of our already ridiculously imperfect democracy.”

Read more…

The Veteran’s Cut: A Streets Dept Oral History with Street Artist and Muralist Joe Boruchow

August 5, 2018

(Joe Boruchow mural on 33rd street between Girard and Oxford, 2015)

Post by Streets Dept Contributor, Phillip Reid, photos by Conrad Benner

Welcome to the Streets Dept Oral History Projecta new 20-week series created by Streets Dept’s first-ever intern, Phillip Reid. Over the course of this series we will be collecting and sharing the stories of a mix of 20 street artists, graffiti writers, muralists, and public arts leaders all working to shape and create the art in Philadelphia’s public spaces. Read more about this new temporary series in our announcement post here.

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After fifteen of years of displaying his art on Philadelphia’s streets, Joe Boruchow has garnered significant recognition for the distinct cutout style he employs in creating both large-scale murals and off-the-cuff wheatpastes. Since his early days of using street art practice to condemn the controversial policies of the Bush administration, Joe has remained one of the most dependable political voices within the Philly street art scene, having created some of the most compelling protest art of the Trump era. With most of his time currently focused on raising his young son, Ber, Joe has slowed down his output and is reflecting on the reservations he has about continuing to do street art, his worries about the dangers of social media, and other issues that have been on his mind during a transitional phase in his career.

(Joe Boruchow wheatpasting, 2011)

I don’t feel I’ve finished a piece until I’ve somehow gotten it out to have people set eyes on it, y’know? So you can move on to the next thing. I remember doin’ that with the show posters, ridin’ my bike all around town and puttin’ stuff up. It’s kind of ritualistic.

I came to Philadelphia in 1996 after I dropped outta college, I was two years on my way to being an English major before I decided that school wasn’t for me. My sister was breaking up with her boyfriend in South Jersey and was working in Philly, so she wanted to get a place downtown and I wanted to get out of my parent’s house as soon as possible. So I moved up here, and I’ve been here ever since, 22 years, now.

A year or two after I moved up here, a friend of mine from high school who I used to play music with moved up here for graduate school, and we started a band called The Nite Lights. To promote the band I started makin’ these handmade posters using different mediums. I’d been taking lots of art classes throughout my life until I moved up here, and then we started the band and I wanted to put those–I wouldn’t call them “skills,” but, “interests”–into work for the band. At first I was doing stenciled flyers, where I’d be able to use spray-paint to make 10 or 15 flyers, maybe 25. But as I got better at cutting out the stencils they wouldn’t hold together for as many impressions. They would get impregnated with the paint, get crunchy and fall apart, or the small spaces would get clogged up really quickly. So I came up with the plan to just do a paper cut-out on black paper, put a piece of white paper behind it, take it to the copy shop and run off hundreds of ’em for very little money. I was able to make a really cool, handmade looking flyer, and get a bunch of ’em up.

(Joe Boruchow “Orphan” wheatpaste, 2011; “Bell Jar” and “A Closed System” wheatpastes, 2012)

A couple years after doin’ that I just started getting into doing posters that had nothing to do with the band, and stapling them up. They were mostly just stapled to telephone poles and coffee shops and stuff like that. I loved the feedback I would get. I loved being able to make something, put it out there, get feedback, outrage people *Laughs*. I loved that process, and I still do. It’s still like, I don’t feel I’ve finished a piece until I’ve somehow gotten it out to have people set eyes on it, y’know? So you can move on to the next thing. I remember doin’ that with the show posters, ridin’ my bike all around town and puttin’ stuff up. It’s kind of ritualistic. It was a part of my social life, too. I mean, being out, talking to people, meeting other creative people. People are nice, in general. If they see you’re workin’ hard at somethin’, they’re gonna try to encourage you. I was open to that encouragement. I was looking for those green lights. My first attempt to really integrate something into the landscape was on relay boxes, which are those green mailboxes that you see all over the city. I made a piece of a bird in a cage pulling its feathers out and kinda used the shape of the mailbox as the birdcage. From then on I just expanded on that practice, with making small cutouts, blowing them up to fit into certain spaces. That translated into the murals and that’s where I’m at today. Read more…

New Pyramid Oracle Around Fishtown

August 3, 2018

A handful of new Pyramid Oracle murals and wheatpastes just popped up around Fishtown!

Pyramid Oracle is a transient street artist project, whose work can be seen throughout Europe, the United States, and Central America. The artist has been installing around Philly for many years, and you can see those pervious installations here.

According to the artist’s website, most of Pyramid Oracle’s works is esoteric in nature, “Shrouded in mysticism, and hermetic symbolism. Often depicted through graphic renderings of faces, animals, statues and geometries. There is a strong sense of reflection and psychological pilgrimage captured in these characteristic evocations. Each painting, another fragmented piece in the story of our past, present, and future divination.” (Read more about Pyramid Oracle on his website.)

Pyramid’s new Fishtown murals can be found at Front and Thompson streets and Palmer and Blair streets, and the wheatpastes at Hope street and Girard avenue!

Read more…

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