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Philly’s Top 15 Street Art Moments of 2019 + The Streets Dept Year In Review

December 20, 2019

Welcome to Streets Dept’s annual list of the most-talked-about and most engaging work created by artists throughout Philly’s public spaces! In addition to that rundown, this year I’ve also pulled together a review of many of the other things Streets Dept creates and covers, including the projects we curated, the most-listened-to episodes of our podcast, and even a recap of some of the city-shaping opinion pieces I wrote this year that many of y’all shared.

That makes this is the first ever full Streets Dept year-end review. And if I’m being honest, I was surprised as I created this by just how much we did this year. And I do mean we–avid readers know that in addition to myself (Conrad Benner) this blog’s content is created with contributor Eric Dale and my podcast is created with producer Mike Mehalick.

Before you jump into the review below, I’d like to take a second to remind you how we maintain this blog. You can read about the details here, but the gist is that I rely on you: my Instagram followers, my subscribers, my walking tour attendees, my readers. Yes, I do some curation and I sometimes work with advertisers and sponsors, but your passion for everything Streets Dept does is what allows me to build those partnerships that can sustain our work here. I don’t like to push this very often, but if you’d like to and are able to show your support, now is a great time to directly contribute to Streets Dept by donating to my PayPal! (Yes, my legal name is Joseph Conrad Benner, so don’t let that confuse you.) Every cent you give goes toward paying for my workspace, paying Eric and Mike, and paying my rent so I can keep running this thing full-time!

Thank you all for an incredible year. With 2020, StreetsDept.com enters its 9th year. Nearly a decade, I can’t believe it! This has been an incredible ride, which started while I worked at a gelato shop in Center City and went to Philadelphia Community College part-time and has now grown into a full-time career. And truly it’s all because of your continued readership, because of the incredible artists in this city, and because of Mike and Eric. THANK YOU!

Now, on with our review…

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First up, what street art had Philly talking this year?

Now I’m using the term “street art” super loosely for this list so that I don’t have to do what I did in previous years and create a list for Philly’s non-commissioned street art and then a separate one for the commissioned public art and murals. I like to see how all these works of art in the public space work with each other, commissioned (“legal”) or not. After all, that’s how we experience art in the public space.

This list and its order were primarily decided by you and your engagement with artists and artworks’ related posts on StreetsDept.com and Streets Dept’s social media channels (i.e. clicks, likes, comments, and shares) with just a pinch of curation from me. The only parameters for this list were that the art be in the public space and created this year. And for the purposes of this list I’m defining public space as any place open to all and completely free to enter, because as you’ll see there’s a couple that were installed indoors!

Without further ado, here’s Philly’s Top 15 Street Art Moments of 2019…


 
#15) TEASERS by artist Jasjyot Singh Hans was painted this fall at 5th and South Streets as part of the ongoing series of electrical box murals curated by the HAHA x Paradigm project in the South Street and Queen Village area! “With this piece, I wanted these women to make people smile as they passed by, and to encourage everyone to embrace their inner child,” Jasjyot explained on Instagram. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

#14) With Look Up! Look In, a series of 53 hand-cut Papel Picado installations by Philly-based artist Karina Puente, and Los Trompos, 10 larger-than-life interactive tops designed by contemporary Mexican designers Héctor Esrawe and Ignacio Cadena, the Kimmel Center celebrated Mexican art that invited you to break down walls. (Read/see more about these artworks here.)
 

 
#13) While Philly-based artist Adam Crawford created a number of eye catching murals this year around the city, our blog post about his colorful bike rack mural on South Street between 9th and 10th Streets became one of my most-shared posts of the year! (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

#12) Artist Jason Andrew Turner  painted his largest outdoor mural to date along Frankford Avenue at Master Street in Fishtown this summer with Mural Arts Philadelphia. Titled Persistence, Jason’s concept for the mural was to use it to honor the past, present, and future women of Fishtown’s Lutheran Settlement House, which sits across the street from the wall the mural was painted on. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#11) A powerful new temporary mural from Philly-based artist YOMI worked to educate some Philadelphians, myself included, about the United States government’s devastating, decades-long practice of imprisoning Native American children in forced assimilation “boarding schools.” (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

#10) A spooky, immersive art experience from Klip Collective found next to their studios on the 3rd Floor of BOK in South Philly, Room 303, became such a talked-about surprise installation that Klip has kept it open well after its original Halloween run. In fact, as of publication it was still open! (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#9) This summer, Philly-based street artist Marisa Velázquez-Rivas installed Smash the Fash, a well-Instagrammed series of wheatpastes around Center City. In a public Facebook post about her new series, Marisa wrote: “Respeta existencia o espera resistencia. Filadelfia es antifascista.” Which translates to: “Respect existence or expect resistance. Philadelphia is antifascist.” (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

#8) Anonymous, Philly-based curatorial team Group X and the Navy Yard invited experimental European arts collective Numen / For Use to Philadelphia for their latest public arts project, Tape Philadelphia: Enter the Cocoon, which employed tape to create a massive interactive sculpture inside an unused warehouse at the Navy Yard! (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#7) This summer, in a city with countless works of figurative public art, came a brilliant new abstract mural hand-painted at 12th and Spring Garden Streets by Baltimore-based artists Jessie Unterhalter and Katey Truhn! The mural was created with Mural Arts Philadelphia and curated by Ryan Strand Greenberg, who also curated Jason Andrew Turner’s mural (#12 on this list) as well as this lovely mural by Jim Houser. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

#6) A new series of wheatpastes started popping up all over Philly this year calling for a revival of Philly handmade stickers. Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale investigated this summer! (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#5) Replacing the old Johnny Rockets signage (which was in business at 5th and South Streets for 20 years, closed Jan 2018), Philly-based street artist Kid Hazo briefly took over the storefront signage to create a Philly-themed “Jawnny Ratchets”. The owner of the building took down Hazo’s sign nearly immediately, but photos last forever! (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#4) For a few days this July, Philadelphia became home to arguably America’s largest monument to our nation’s failing for-profit healthcare system, a massive mixed media installation of signs hung in the windows of the former Hahnemann University Hospital located at Broad and Vine Streets. And while this work of art was not created by, let’s say, any sort of traditional artist or artist group, it nevertheless created one of the most somber works I’ve ever photographed. One of the many signs read “Medicine was here!” Another called out the simple reason for the hospital’s closure “#Greed”. I was enraged when I saw the building. I had goosebumps all over. And the effect must have been felt by many more people, because like any great piece of art it clearly scared the people it was punching up at enough that none of the window signs lasted more than a dew days. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#3) In celebration of Netflix’s Queer Eye being filmed in Philly over the summer, a pair of Philly street artists, Nicole Nikolich (aka Lace in the Moon) and Symone Salib, created a street art scavenger hunt featuring wheatpaste and yarnbomb collaborative portraits of each of the show’s five hosts. And yes, each of those hosts eventually posted about their Philly street art portrait to their Instagram, spreading these artists’ works to a massive audience. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#2) Since 2015, Philly street artist Joe Boruchow has been one of the strongest critics of Trump and his administration, using wheatpastes to regularly question the current state of the world and U.S. politics. And an ad takeover Joe did last winter criticizing the Union League of Philadelphia for hosting the likes of Mike Pence received a lot of attention. (Read/see more about this artwork here.)
 

 
#1) This year’s top post/artwork is unique for being the first in this blog’s eight year history of yearly round ups for being created by an artist not based in Philly. And that’s Amy Sherald’s stunning 5-story mural located on Sansom street between 11th and 12th Streets in the Gayborhood, created with Mural Arts Philadelphia with supporting artists Arthur Haywood and Emily White! Amy Sherald is, of course, the Baltimore-based artist who famously painted First Lady Michelle Obama’s official portrait that’s displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, D.C. “I paint everyday people and want the images to be recognized as universal,” Amy wrote in a 2018 Time magazine article about her work. “For black viewers, it’s a place of rest and a place to receive love, to walk into a space like a museum and see an image of a person that looks like you looking back at you. People take for granted that not seeing yourself can lead you to not loving yourself.” (Read/see more about this artwork here.)

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As this blog has grow into a full-time effort for me over the last 4 years I’ve been able to invest more and more time into writing longer-form opinion pieces. And this year there were three opinion articles I wrote that seemed to gain a fair amount of support and attention from y’all!

Build No Starbucks on Public Land: Last winter I noticed signs for a Starbucks “coming soon” to Dilworth Park and I wrote this blog post (which got turned into a Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed) and subsequently created a petition that gained more than 8,000 signatures and earned a ton of press. After many weeks of consistent online and call-in protest, I met with Paul Levy, the president of Center City District (CCD), who oversees the park. Together we wrote this blog post where we laid out the situation and acknowledged where we did agree and how to move forward. All in all, I trust that CCD never wants to come under the kind of public pressure that we began to mount with our Dilworth Starbucks petition, and I do believe they will work harder to bring Philadelphians in to major decisions about our public space. And if they don’t, they now know we’ll hold them to account.

Ban Outdoor Advertising: As someone who thinks about art and our public space on a daily basis, a gigantic new Five Below mural ad that was installed this summer aimed at Philly kids ultimately lead me to write this op-ed for the Philadelphia Inquirer asking if it was time to start seriously considering the ban of outdoor advertising in Philly.

Create More Space for Expression: This summer also saw the long-delayed removal of a long plywood contruction wall that for years had become the defacto street art freewall in Philly, to which I wrote this farewell. And yes, after this blog post, I got emails from several neighborhood groups asking me to work with them to create the kind of freewall space I advocate for in the article, but as of today there’s no progress to report.

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Our most-listened-to episodes of the Streets Dept Podcast in 2019 are as follows (click the guest’s name to listen): then Philadelphia Councilmember-elect Jamie Gauthier; Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist and architecture critic for the Philadelphia Inquirer, Inga Saffron; and director and founder of BlackStar Film Festival, Maori Karmael Holmes!

Also y’all, we just launched Season 3, so make sure you’re subscribed to the Streets Dept Podcast on Apple PodcastsSpotifyGoogle PlayStitcher, or any major podcast streaming platform to receive new episodes as soon as they’re published!

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This year we really invested in a new street artist interview series created with Philly’s Tattooed Mom and Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale that allows us to chat with an incredible range of legendary and up-and-coming artists here in Philly.

Our most-read interviews from that series in 2019 our are as follows (click the artist’s name to read): Bob Will Reign, SEPER, and Morg!

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Last but not least, there were two Streets Dept-created projects and one more project I helped with this year that I have to mention.

The first, of course, is the ongoing Streets Dept-curated series of arts projects that transform Mission Taqueria’s courtyard into a rotating outdoor arts space! In 2019 alone we hosted exhibitions by Karina Puente, Nilé Livingston, and Amberella. And stay tuned, we’ve got BIG things planned for Art at Mission in 2020!

Then there’s Streets Dept Walls, 10 murals by 11 Philly artists temporarily installed throughout the Fashion District (formerly The Gallery), where I had my first job at 16 at Old Navy (where I was fired for being late, haha.) A full circle moment for me, and an incredible series of murals from some brilliant artists!

Finally, I was thrilled to join Brendan Lowry’Rory Creative for a second time to help strategize and promote Track Takeover, which this time saw all the advertising removed from SEPTA’s Walnut-Locust Station and replaced with art from artists.

What a dang year y’all, see you in 2020!

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