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Philadelphia’s Top 10 Public Art Moments of 2017

December 27, 2017

(The world’s happiest raccoon eating the world’s biggest Philly pretzel mural by V.U.R.T. in Port Richmond)

Welcome to Streets Dept’s annual wrap-up of all the most talked about, engaging murals and public art created by artists and institutions around Philly this year!

This year, like last year, there was so much great murals and public art installations as well as street art work that I’ve decided yet again to create two separate ‘Top 10’ lists. So if you’re reading this be sure to also check out the Philadelphia’s Top 10 Street Art Moments of 2017 list!

And if you’re asking what’s the difference between street art, murals, and public art: murals and public art are commissioned, legal forms of art in the public space. And street art is not commissioned (aka illegal) but it’s usually (or at least often) either done on buildings/walls that are abandoned or on construction walls. And sometimes street art is even done in temporary ways that are completely non-destructive, like most yarnbombing for example.

This list and its order were primarily decided by you and your engagement with artists’ and artworks’ related posts on and Streets Dept’s social media channels (aka clicks, likes, comments, and shares,) with just a pinch of curation from me. So without further ado, here’s Philadelphia’s Top 10 Public Art Moments of 2017

10) Al-Bustan Honors the Experiences of Our City’s Young Dreamers, Refugees, and Immigrants with A Brilliant Installation in Center City

This Septmeber, Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture installed large banners all around the Municipal Services Building in Thomas Paine Plaza (at 15th street and JFK boulevard) that explored and honored the immigrant and refugee experiences of many young Philadelphians. The public art installation, titled An Immigrant Alphabet, which will now remain up up through February of 2018,  features the work of artist Wendy Ewald in collaboration with Northeast High School students.

See my video interview with artist Wendy Ewald and Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture’s Founder and Executive Director Hazami Sayed here!

9) More NDA Murals, Please!

Philly-based artist and muralist, NDA, painted his first larger-scale Mural Arts Philadelphia mural this summer at 10th and Brandywine streets, and it absolutely took my breath away! This joins the mural NDA painted on Honeygrow‘s Front Street Walls in the summer of 2016 (at the same time he painted this stunner of a mural on the inside of Honeygrow’s Head Office in Fishtown); and follows the first mural NDA ever created with Murals Arts, a temporary mural on the Fillmore in Fishtown in February of 2016.

Suffice it to say that NDA is one of my favorite artists living and working in Philly right now, and I’d love to see him get some bigger mural work in 2018!

See more photos of NDA’s mural pictured above here!

8) Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition

In December of 2016, at the same time I was working with other artists and organizers planning Collective Action and Signs of Solidarity, I got an email from Britney Norman of Visit Philadelphia asking if I might be interested in curating an outdoor exhibition with them that summer around Philadelphia’s Historic District. That project became Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition, a six-week exhibition of 13 contemporary Philly-based artists installed at 13 historic locations around Old City, Society Hill, and a section of the Delaware River Waterfront.

For ​Revolutionary​, I invited Philly-based artists who were using their art to examine the world around us and challenge our current political and social status quo. From Lisa Kelley’s weavings that connect the struggles, the despair, and the stories of hope surrounding addiction and the opioid epidemic installed at the Arch Street Meeting House. To Yasmine Mustafa and Monica O‘s collaborative poster at the African American Museum in Philadelphia about privilege and the Birth Lottery, the the idea that no one can choose the circumstances they’re born into, so why not work to recognize this more and engage each other with more empathy. To Shawn Theodore‘s installation on Elfreth’s Alley that serves as A Reminder that for those in this nation with ancestors who persevered under the tyranny of slavery before and after colonial independence, that change, that revolution, has truly yet to arrive.

With ​Revolutionary​, I wanted the juxtaposition of contemporary art with social and political themes over historic place and architecture to pull a thread through history to the hopes and challenges of our present day. It was the first large-scale exhibition I ever curated, and I was so honored to work with the caliber of artists and locations we worked with to create what I hope was a thought-provoking exhibition about how we can better use public space to step out of our bubbles, work to understand other people’s struggles and viewpoints, and to actively engage in looking at the people in world around us with empathy first.

Read and see much more about Revolutionary here!

7) Conquer: Amberella and Glossblack Collaborate On A New Mural

In 2017, two of my favorites collaborated for the first time, and I loved the result!

The mural was a collaboration by beloved Philly street artist Amberella and Philly-based graffiti legend Glossblack, and it became the latest of Honeygrow‘s Front Street Walls series of rotating murals in Fishtown.

See more about this collab here!

6) Barcelona-based Artist Rubicon1 Paints Incredible New Murals Around Philly

Ru8icon1‘s new murals around Philly this year are hands-down just some of the best mural work of the year! But don’t take my word for it, see more here and here!

5) Molly Crabapple’s Whimsical New Fishtown Mural

Molly Crabapple painted an incredibly popular (a photo of it quickly became one of my most liked photos on Instagram this year) new mural this fall at Front and Oxford streets in Fishtown, a part of the We The People series curated by RJ Rushmore and commissioned by Mural Arts Philadelphia.

See more of Molly’s mural here, and click the following names to see other murals this year from RJ’s We The People Series by Jess X. SnowNTEL and Tatyana Fazlalizadeh!

4) The Parkway’s Giant, Magical Domes by Jennifer Steinkamp

This winter in Philadelphia, four dream-like domes appeared along the Benjamin Franklin Parkway by artist Jennifer Steinkamp, commissioned by the Association for Public Art. And after the year this country has been having, I am absolutely loving this little escapism right now.

See and read more about the installations here!

3) Signs Of Solidarity’s City-wide Inauguration Day Public Art Protest of Hate and Divisiveness

After the election of Donald Trump, I was pissed, disheartened, and frankly scared for this country.

The weekend after the election, I had a few drinks at Tattooed Mom‘s (one of the best places to dream up ideas, in my opinion) with some fellow artistic friends who felt similarly. Together, we were fortunate enough to focus our energy into a project that would drop 31 signs of protest from 31 Philly businesses, homes, and institutions on Trump’s Inauguration Day, all created by over 40 Philly-area artists. Co-organized by Eric Preisendanz, Aubrie Costello, and myself, we called the project Signs of Solidarity, an Inauguration Day public art protest in opposition to hate and in protest of any and all that embolden divisiveness.

The idea was simple: to not treat the inauguration of Donald Trump as normal day in the U.S., and to send a message to our fellow Philadelphians and anyone else watching that we are all better than the hatful, divisive campaign that Trump ran.

The artist-created signs hung prominently around the city for the entire inauguration weekend (some even longer) and read messages like “hate won’t make us great” by Nero on a private home in Bella Vista, “build bridges not walls” by Alloyius McIlwaine on the La Colombe across from Dilworth Park, and “you can’t take away our resilience, our beauty, our humanity, our strength: aquí me quedo (here I will stay,)” by Michelle Angela Ortiz on Johnny Brenda’s in Fishtown.

Together with the co-organizers, the artists, and the locations, we planned and executed Signs of Solitary in little more than six weeks. It was an incredible ride that completely drained me and renewed me at the same time. And despite having stayed relatively dormant over this past year, with two small exceptions, while both the co-organizers and artists worked on other projects, we still fully intend on building a second phase of Signs of Solidarity, so stay tuned!

In the meantime, learn much for about Sign of Solidarity’s Phase One Inauguration Day Protest here and here!

2) V.U.R.T.’s Playful New Murals Made Philly Smile

A new Philly-area mural painting non-profit, V.U.R.T., popped up out of seemingly nowhere this year to paint some of the most talked about murals of the year. From a mural of a squirrel eating a SEPTA Token, to a mural of a raccoon eating a Philly pretzel, to that new “Welcome to Fishtown” mural featuring lazy cats, V.U.R.T.’s work is playful, fun, and the definition of Instagrammable!

And while their murals may be lighthearted, behind the scenes V.U.R.T. is working on a couple of initiatives to connect young Philadelphia-area kids and teens with art supplies.

See more of V.U.R.T.’s murals around Philly this year here, here, and here, and learn more about their initiatives here!

1) Monument Lab, Monument Lab, Monument Lab

Momument Lab proved to be one of the most impressive public art projects I’ve seen out of Philly in maybe the entire nearly seven-year history of this blog. Breathtaking in both scale and in content, Monument Lab created a citywide exercise questioning how and why we’ve built the monuments that we have: the answer, namely that small groups of people with political power and money join to invest in telling their chosen histories in our public spaces. Then with that knowledge, asking how we can build monuments in a way that is more equitable and frankly more democratic: by listening to any and all Philadelphians that participated about what histories are important for them to remember and to elevate with monuments in our public spaces.

Monument Lab, which was curated by Paul M. Farber and Ken Lum, and produced with Mural Arts Philadelphia, was a bold and ambitious project to begin with (over five years in the making!) when the events of Charlottesville just weeks before it was scheduled to launch propelled it to a new level of importance. After hundreds of white nationalists and their supporters gathered for a rally over plans to remove a Confederate statue in Charlottesville ultimately ending in the death of a counter-protester, cities and towns around the country started looking at their monuments with an even more critical eye. Meanwhile, Philadelphia was poised to host a two-month, citywide exhibition about the very topic that was now on everyone’s minds.

From Hank Willis Thomas‘s Afro pick sculpture next to Philly’s most polarizing statue (Frank Rizzo) at Thomas Paine Plaza, to Michelle Angela Ortiz’s projection monument to undocumented families at City Hall, to Sharon Hayes’ monument to the lack of monuments to historical women in Philadelphia in Rittenhouse Square, 20 artists were invited to create temporary “prototype monuments” that were installed around the city that answered the project’s guiding question: what is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

In addition to the 20 artist-created monuments, 10 “labs” also popped up around the city that invited Philadelphians to come and record what they thought was an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia. Their answers (over 4,000 total by the end of the exhibition) are currently being pulled together for a Report to the City, which Monument Lab says should be available sometime in late 2018.

As I mentioned in all my posts about Monument Lab, I did have a small role on the Monument Lab Curatorial Team, mostly just helping with social media and helping them break down this massive project into social media-friendly bits. And I’m so thrilled I joined them, because it was such an honor to be so close to a project that I think, again, was one of the most exciting public art projects I’ve personally ever seen in Philly!

See more of the artist-created prototype monuments from Monument Lab’s exhibition here, here, here, here, here, here, here, and here!

BONUS: And lastly, while not exactly public art, and certainly not a mural, I don’t think any post about Philadelphia’s public spaces in 2017 can not include our city’s new (and real, aka permanent!) monument to Octavius Catto, which you can see and read more out here.

What and incredible, incredible year for public art and murals in Philly… Can’t wait to see what 2018 brings!

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