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The Top 10 Street Art Moments of StreetsDept.com’s First 10 Years

February 10, 2021

Two weeks ago, this here blog turned 10 years old. 10 YEARS OLD! I don’t know how either. But as I mentioned in a celebratory Instagram post, I have so much to say about it all. I’ve got so many memories to share and perspectives to offer. I’m going to be reflecting on this milestone in a couple of different ways over the next few weeks and months. And today that means looking back at some of the most talked about street art (aka non-commissioned) and public art (aka commissioned) installations I’ve documented over the decade.

Longtime followers of this blog know I’ve done annual roundups like this every year since the beginning in 2011, and the same rules will apply here. Namely that this is by no means meant to be a list of the most important pieces of public art produced in Philly over the last 10 years. No, this is a countdown of the top 10 most read and shared articles about artwork that I’ve blogged since the launch of this website. I’m just one person and this blog is curated, so I can’t and don’t cover everything. And moreover y’all always surprise me when it comes to which installations end up attracting the most interest. So with that said, this list may very well surprise you. It surprised me.

One way it surprised me is that it’s not a list of all the pervious years Top 10’s number ones. That’s because a lot of posts, a lot of artworks, continue to earn interest long after they were new. In fact, some year’s number one’s don’t even make this list at all! Surprises like that aside, building this Top 10 is was like a walk down memory lane, and I think in all this list does a pretty good job of looking at many of the artists and artworks that have made this blog and this city so special. I wish I could have done a top 50, but truth be told I have a little something else up my sleeve for this milestone year that might quench that.

For now, I hope you enjoy this Top 10 list of the most talked about StreetsDept.com posts of the last 10 years, a list I’ve been imagining creating for a decade. And yes, I’m starting with two ties because this is fun and why not, and because there truly were a couple of posts so close to the end here that I couldn’t bare to cut.

#10 (Part B): Nicole Nikolich and Symone Salib Celebrate the Queer Eye Cast

In the summer of 2019 the cast of Netflix’s Queer Eye was filing their upcoming season in Philadelphia, and they were met by wheatpaste/yarnbomb portraits of themselves installed around the city. Created by Philly-based artists, Nicole Nikolich (aka Lace in the Moon) and Symone Salib, the artworks were so well received that the Queer Eye crew even went out to film them and they appeared in one of the Philly season’s episodes. Nicole and Symone have quickly become two of my favorite new street artists to keep up with, and it’s been so exciting to see their careers rightfully accelerate.

#10 (Part A): The Start of Amberella’s Goth Hearts

Ok, so I use this blog to talk about all kinds of artworks created for the public space in Philly, including commissioned projects from bigger arts organizations with tens of thousands of dollars to non-commissioned installations from individual artists creating with relatively inexpensive paper and paste. And to see this simple post from the spring of 2016 about a singular wheatpaste from Philly/LA-based artist Amberella so high in my site stats as I worked to build this post, all I can say is that I love that it is. The wheatpaste documented here, in fact, the first time I blogged about one of Amberella’s now ubiquitous street art hearts. And of course the artist has gone on to push and grow the series into neon, wood, and even mosaic (photos of that coming soon.) Clearly these hearts speak to so many of y’all!

#9 (Part B): Jess X. Snow’s Breathtaking Mural in Kensington

(Photo by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

Mural Arts Philadelphia creates so many murals each year in Philly, but these next two are not only two of the most read blog posts I’ve documented for this blog in the last decade, but also hands down two of my favorite murals in Philly. This first one, titled A Daughter Migrates Towards the Mother Earth, was created in the fall of 2017 by New York-based artist Jess X. Snow with support from curator RJ Rushmore and Mural Arts. Located at Kensington avenue and D street in Kensington, the mural speaks to the movement of immigration, and the way that it intersects with family experience.

#9 (Part A): Amy Sherald’s Portrait of A Young Philadelphian

One of the most talked about murals created in Philly in the last number of years was this five-story stunner completed in the spring of 2019 by Baltimore-based artist Amy Sherald on Sansom street between 11th and 12th streets in the Gayborhood. Amy, of course, became a household name after painting the official portrait of Michelle Obama that’s displayed at the Smithsonian’s National Portrait Gallery in Washington, DC. And for her Philly mural, the artist chose to continue their work of painting everyday people by creating a mural portrait of an everyday Philadelphian: a Mural Arts’ Art Ed student named Najee S.!

#8: Hank Willis Thomas’ All Power to All People Monument Finds a Temporary Home at MSB Plaza

The fall of 2017 saw 20 temporary monuments pop up all around Philly created for the Monument Lab exhibition that sought to inspire Philadelphians to ask themselves about the monuments we’ve inherited and the monuments we think we. One of the stand outs of the project was this installation by a Brooklyn-based artist with Philly roots, Hank Willis Thomas. Titled All Power to All People, the temporary monument served as a public art intervention around identity and representation in Philadelphia. And its placement next to the former Frank Rizzo statue on MSB Plaza was symbolic, the artist added, “to highlight ideas related to community, strength, perseverance, comradeship, and resistance to oppression.”

#7: Joe Boruchow Criticizing the Union League on South Broad

One common thread among many of these Top 10 posts are that they sparked a lot of conversation and conversation that has persisted. For instance, my post about this “ad takeover” installation from Philly-based street artist Joe Boruchow that replaced a SEPTA bus shelter ad at Broad and Spruce Streets for a couple of days in February of 2019 created a ton of conversation when he first put it up, and it continues to get linked back to regularly and shared around social media in various waves. (The same is very much true for #3 on this list, but don’t skip ahead you’ll get there!) For this artwork, you can read more in my original post but the long and short of it is that Joe was criticizing the Union League’s seeming complicity with the Trump Administration, namely in continuing to host fundraisers with and for them. Like this fundraising visit by former Vice President Mike Pence that famously saw dozens of Philadelphians protesting in front of the Union League dressed in Handmaid’s Tale outfits.

#6: Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas Install A Gigantic Inflatable Sea Monster at The Navy Yard

Who can forget the fall of 2018 when UK-based artists Filthy Luker and Pedro Estrellas installed a temporary inflatable sea monster at the Navy Yard?! (I’m noticing a trend with temporary installations on this list, y’all.) This was for the first of what has turned out to be annual artist projects curated by the anonymous Group X at the Navy Yard every year since 2018. And to my knowledge this was the first Philly arts project to ever make it to the second page of the Wall Street Journal, of all places… If you’re curious, I have it on good authority that the members of Group X will reveal their identity in 23 years, so stay tuned for that!

#5: That Time Kid Hazo Gave Those Visit Philly Ads A Run for Their Money

Could I even do a Top 10 list without some representation from Philly-based street artist Kid Hazo? Absolutely not. Hazo popped up in Philly’s street art scene and on this blog in the spring of 2013 and for almost two years straight hardly a month (sometimes a week) went by without a new Kid Hazo installation. And Hazo, so far, is the champion of my year-end Top 10 lists, having claimed the top spot three times: for 2013 (ticking the PPA), 2014 (these Visit Philly spin offs), and 2018 (Gritty meets It). Installed in the summer of 2014, these mock ads created by Kid Hazo played of those then super ubiquitous XOXO Visit Philly ads. Including two of Hazo’s that directly referenced the prevalence of Philly street art. In so many ways, this is Kid Hazo’s blog and we’re just living in it!

#4: Ishknits Yarnboming the Blue Line

Philly-based street artist Ishknits was one of the very first street artists to ever invite me out to photograph them installing new work, and luckily far from the last. And this was one of the very first times I ever photographed an artist installing. Ishknits knew that with the nature of this particular installation that she wanted a photographer with her to document an installation that was almost certainly not going to last more than a few hours. And I had just so happened to start a street art photo-blog, so we linked up and the rest was history. In March of 2011 Ishknits yarnbombed SEPTA’s Market-Frankford line, aka the Blue Line. And within days it was the talk of young social media. This post was reshared by the likes of Wooster Collective, Newsweek, Laughing Squid, Trend Hunter, Juxtapoz Magazine, Etsy.com, and Postsecret. The response blew Ishknits and I’s minds. We were even interviewed about the viral installation/post on Good Day Sacramento.

#3: Kara Springer’s White People. Do Something. Installation at Temple University

Temporarily installed in September of 2016 on the campus of Temple University by a then Tyler School of Art Sculpture graduate student, Kara Springer, this sign installation had four words and two punctuations: “white people. do something.” Kara’s work reads differently and means different things to so many different people. That’s part of the reason this post and this artwork continue to be shared across social media to this day.

#2: VURT and the SEPTA Token Squirrel That Stole Our Hearts

How did a mural of a squirrel eating a SEPTA token become this blog’s second most read post of the last 10 years? My guesses include the superb likeness of both the squirrel and token thanks to the Philly-area mural non-profit, VURT, and their artist Evan Lovett. As well as the mural’s playfulness and outright absurdity. You know, we live in a city with some 3,000+ murals, but few have this much fun for fun’s sake. Painted in May of 2017, Token Squirrel was really quite unlike anything that came before it in terms of Philly muralism. And damn if we didn’t eat it up!

#1: Of Course It’s David Guinn and Drew Billiau’s Electric Mural on Percy Street!

Not unlike Token Squirrel, Philly ate up this electric mural in part because it was so different. We love a surprise, and in this mural’s case so did a lot of international press and other people from around the globe who continue to link back to this post to this day. The Electric Street, as the mural is titled, was created by Philly-based artists David Guinn (mural) and Drew Billiau (lights) in the summer of 2016 for the wider Percy Street Project with support from Mural Arts Philadelphia among others. Almost instantly it became everyone’s favorite Instagram selfie spot, and Philadelphians from all around still come to bask in its glow. The sucess of this project lead to an even larger electric mural from the artist duo that was completed this year, as well as more murals popping up along Percy Street.

Y’all I have a few more big ways I want to celebrate and honor this 10 year milestone and the countless more artists I’ve documented over the years who couldn’t all make it on to this short list, so stay tuned! And thank you. If you’ve been a reader for one month or for this whole time, thank you! I’m so glad you’re here.

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