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Let Us Discuss: Is the Avenue of the Art’s Newest Public Art Installation A Prank? 

December 16, 2019

UPDATE (12/17/2019): After this post went live, a few commenters on Instagram connected us to the artist, Mark Anthony Addison, who’s an University of the Arts Sculpture major. Over Instagram direct message, Mark offered the following about the artwork and its placement: “It’s a life cast about police brutality, a personal experience that I’ve actually went through myself. I always leave work up and down Broad street, so I figured I might as well just leave this one there too. The street median seemed like the best place.”

This week a mysterious new public art installation popped up on the median strip of The Avenue of the Arts on South Broad street at Pine street. What’s more peculiar is that it’s not clear that the artwork was even created for the street and that fittingly underscores one of the avenue’s bigger flaws.

Streets Dept was first notified of this installation on the evening of Friday, December 13th, 2019. That’s when we were tagged in an Instagram story by Tracy Buchholz (aka @tlbtb). Tracy tagged us to ask if we knew anything about the artwork. We didn’t, but we found the possibility of a new public artwork on this median curious.

While the Avenue of the Arts promotes itself as “Philadelphia’s signature street”, it famously lacks art. Not performance art of course, which is housed behind the walls of the buildings along the avenue. But it very much lacks public art and a curatorial eye for the streetscape that the majority of Philadelphians and tourists alike use. Those who can’t or won’t ever breach the street’s walls. No, as of today there’s little for those folks save for a few colorfully lit buildings closer to City Hall.

The lack of public art on a street named “The Avenue of the Arts” may not be surprising to some, but it certainly is to this Philly-based blog that celebrates art on the street. And this blog’s confusion grew even greater in recent travels, where we discovered that cities much smaller than ours work to really value and invest in the streetscape. On a drive through Grand Junction, Colorado this month we discovered the city’s Art on the Corner program that features 100+ works of sculpture along their main street. This affirmed for us just what Philly’s Avenue of the Arts could be doing, something we speculated about in a tweet in September of this year.

Monday afternoon, December 16, 2019, roughly four days after being notified of this possible new public art installation on the median of Philly’s Avenue of the Arts, Streets Dept went out to investigate. We found what appeared to be a plaster shell mold in the shape of two human figures, one laying down and the other sat atop it. It’s not clear to us what the mold is meant to represent, if anything. What is clearer is that the installation was in much worse condition than it seemed to be in the original Instagram story that brought it to our attention. This, along with the fact that the work was not affixed in any way to the median and could be pushed around; it all added up, to this blog, that the artwork in question was less likely the first in a new series of median sculptures that was going to start to bring the Avenue of the Arts to life and much more likely placed there by a local University of the Arts student.

A prank, littering, whatever the case may be with this plaster mold artwork, Streets Dept hopes that it and the excitement it started to draw in its short life can work to illustrate the possibilities of public art for the Avenue of the Arts and ultimately energize the avenue’s key holders who can make it happen!

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