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Streets Dept Projects: 2021 Review

December 30, 2021

When people ask what I do or ask what Streets Dept is I can keep it simple, but the truth is that it’s all pretty robust. The simplest answer is that I’m a civically engaged public art and public space advocate. And that Streets Dept is a multi-tiered platform which includes a photo-blog, print magazine, Patreon, podcast, collection of social media channels, and curatorial projects that each support a mission of documenting and celebrating Philly art and public space. If you can consider that a simple explanation. 

The fact is, over the 10 years of running this blog it’s evolved into so much more than just a WordPress-hosted street art fanboy journal. So as 2021 comes to an end, I thought it’d be fun to create a list of all the Streets Dept projects I’ve created, co-created, and/or worked on this year that live outside writing for this blog. 

Thank you to all the wonderful artists, collaborators, funders, and everyone I’ve had the honor of working with this year! Thank you to our Pateron subscribers, blog readers, and social media followers for your constant support–I’m beyond grateful! And special thanks to Eric Dale, who I’ve worked with as a contributor on this blog for several years now, but who’s really become just part of the fabric of this larger Streets Dept effort this year helping me create our Patreon and first-ever print magazine, as well as always reminding me that I can’t spell. (P.s. Eric is on vacation this week, so forgive what I’m sure will be many grammar errors below, and possibly above.)    

Without further ado, here’s a review of all the 2021 Streets Dept projects! Y’all, I could not ask for a better career: 

NOVEMBER 2021 – The Love + Grit Storefronts Project: Celebrating Local BIPOC & LGBTQ+ Owned Philly Businesses with Public Art

Collaborators: Ginger Rudolph and Visit Philadelphia 

Artists: Jonai Gibson-Selix, Derick Jones, Fabiola Lara, Manny Hernandez, Illkya Acosta, Kathy Chung, Nazeer Sabree, Mz. Icar, Cindy Lozito, Lauren Lopez, Tiff Urquhart, and Tash Billington

Excited to work with Philly artists, Visit Philadelphia, and co-curator Ginger Rudolph for our Love + Grit Storefronts Project this fall, which celebrated local Black, brown, Asian, Indigenous and/or LGBTQ+ owned Philly businesses with original public art! For the project, 12 artists with Philly roots each created two original artworks inspired by two local BIPOC and/or LGBTQ+ businesses of their choice. We installed those artworks in the windows of empty storefronts around the city, where they remained on view for at least a month. (But many are still up!)

PRESS:

Read more about the Love + Grit Storefronts Project on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/11/15/the-love-grit-storefronts-project-celebrating-local-bipoc-lgbtq-owned-philly-businesses-with-public-art/ 

Read an article about the Love + Grit Storefronts Project by the Philadelphia Tribune here: https://www.phillytrib.com/news/local_news/storefront-art-exhibition-uplifts-black–and-brown-owned-businesses/article_d20efd9c-277f-5066-bc0d-521903f3437a.html 

And see a video report about the Love + Grit Storefronts Project by 6 ABC here: https://6abc.com/philly-small-businesses-black-owned-business-love-grit-storefronts-project-events/11220774/ 

OCTOBER 2021 – Exploring the Possible Future of Rail Park For DesignPhiladelphia

Collaborators: Friends of the Rail Park and DesignPhiladelphia

This fall I was honored to be invited to host a series of tours with the Rail Park and DesignPhiladelphia to daydream with neighbors and community members about what the future phases of these dynamic public spaces can be! 

@streetsdept

New mural by Nile Livingston, Marisa Velazquez-Rivas, @lace_in_the_moon, and myself!

♬ Cinnamon Bun – Prod by Rose

OCTOBER 2021 – Finding Our Happy Mural Celebrates LGBTQ+ Joy

Collaborators: Nilé Livingston, Nicole Nikolich, Marisa Velázquez-Rivas, Philly AIDS Thrift @ Giovanni’s Room, and Mural Arts Philadelphia

This project came out of many conversations with myself, Nilé Livingston, Nicole Nikolich, and Marisa Velázquez-Rivas. As LGBTQ artists and creatives who all work in Philly’s public art/ street art worlds, the four of us wanted to create a project centering LGBTQ+ joy in the public space. Huge thank you to Mural Arts for funding this idea, and to Giovanni’s Room for giving us space. I think we’re all hoping that this is just the first of many queer public art collaborations to come from us!   

PRESS:

Read more about Finding Our Happy on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/10/08/new-center-city-mural-celebrates-lgbtq-joy/

AUGUST 2021 – The Vax Up Philly Parade

Collaborators: Jefferson Health, Radio Kismet, Snacktime Philly, The Bul Bey, Worldtown Soundsystem, FDR Park, Center City District, and Philadelphia OIC

How could I say no to being the media partner for an event that brought Philadelphia’s healthcare community together with our creative community in a massive effort to excite and inform anyone who had yet to get the Covid vaccine by August 2021. This was a no brainer for me to say yes to, and the results were fantastic! Perhaps it’s time for a booster parade? 

PRESS: 

Read more about Vax Up Philly on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/08/15/vaxupphillyparade/ 

Read a write-up about the parade from WHYY here: https://whyy.org/articles/you-start-to-feel-less-scared-vax-up-philly-parade-draws-residents-for-first-and-second-doses/ 

And see a video report from the parade by 6 ABC here: https://6abc.com/jefferson-health-vaccine-vaccines-covid-19/10985251/ 

JULY 2021 – Streets Dept Curates Mural Project for Wawa Welcome America + City Hall 

Collaborators: Wawa Welcome America and Mural Arts Philadelphia 

Artists: Ash Ryan, Alloyius Mcilwaine, Manuela Guillén, and Jeffy Thomas 

This unique opportunity came to me early in the summer, and I couldn’t pass it up. The idea simple: curate four artists to create four murals live at four different Wawa Welcome America events. After July 4, the four murals are then installed at City Hall. This project gave us two huge platforms to showcase local artists’ work, and I hope to work with them again in future years! 

PRESS: 

Read more about Streets Dept Walls Presents BLOOM on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/07/21/streets-dept-curated-murals-created-by-4-local-artists-displayed-at-city-hall/ 

JUNE 2021 – Streets Dept Walls Presents BLOOM Mural Exhibition At The 2021 Philadelphia Flower Show

Collaborator: Pennsylvania Horticultural Society

Artists: A’Driane Nieves, Dora Cuenca, and Le Josh

For its first two iterations in 2019 and 2020 Streets Dept Walls partnered with Fashion District to create a series of murals from local artists, and in 2021 we worked with Pennsylvania Horticultural Society to bring a mural exhibition to this year’s Philadelphia Flower Show! It was such a pleasure to bring this project to a new space, and I hope it’s just the second of many more brilliant partnerships I’ll be able to build in the coming years to continue to grow what Streets Dept Walls can be. 

PRESS: 

Read more about Streets Dept Walls Presents BLOOM on Streets Dept here:https://streetsdept.com/2021/05/23/streets-dept-walls-presents-bloom-mural-exhibition-at-2021-philadelphia-flower-show/

JUNE 2021 – Summer of Soul: Philly Artist Billboards

Collaborator: Mural Arts Philadelphia, Searchlight Pictures, and Questlove

Artists: Arthur Haywood, Ernel Martinez, and Symone Salib 

This project came to me fully idealized. Mural Arts and Searchlight Pictures with Questlove spawned the idea and selected the artists. I was brought on to support the artists and Searchlight, and to promote the artwork and film. The final artworks were stunning, and the film they promoted a masterpiece! I was truly elated to be invited into this project. 

PRESS:

Read more about this project on Billy Penn here: https://billypenn.com/2021/06/29/questlove-billboard-philadelphia-artists-summer-soul-mural-arts-symone-salib/ 

And you can watch our video interview about this project on Fox 29 here: https://www.fox29.com/video/948400

MAY 2021 – Streets Dept Launches Patreon + Announces First-ever Print Magazine 

Collaborator: Streets Dept Contributor, Eric Dale 

I can’t tell you how incredible it’s been to launch a Patreon this year! Thanks to nearly 100 Streets Dept Patreon subscribers (and growing monthly), we’re now able to create more articles exploring Philly’s art histories, create public art maps, build suggestions for local tourism, offer seats to our virtual (Zoom) audience for live recordings of the Streets Dept Podcast, host monthly tours of Philly’s art world, and last but not least release Streets Dept’s first-ever print magazine.

If you’re not yet a Streets Dept Pateron subscriber, learn more here: https://www.patreon.com/streetsdept

APRIL 2021 – Camden Launches A New View 

Collaborator: City of Camden, Cooper’s Ferry Partnership, the Rutgers-Camden Center for the Arts, and the Bloomberg Philanthropies Public Art Challenge

Artists: DKLA Design, Terreform ONE, SLO Architecture, Tyler FuQua Creations, The Myth Makers, Athena Steen and Josh Sarantitis, Tom Marchetty, and Erik James Montgomery

I was invited onto this project as a media partner with the goal of telling the stories of this massive project. This resulted in a blog post, a number of Instagram and TikTok content, as well as a number of podcasts interviewing most of the artists and a number of the project’s organizers. At its core, this project was answering a big civic problem with art. That problem being the $4 Million+ problem of illegal dumping in Camden’s communities. 

PRESS: 

Read more about A New View on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/04/22/camden-launches-exciting-public-art-project-to-call-attention-to-illegal-dumping/

MARCH 2021 – Streets Dept Presents: 10 Years Photo Show

Collaborator: Bok Building

A photo show depicting a decade of covering Philly street art, murals, and more, this two month long exhibition in the Bok Building offered visitors years of memories and a look at some of my favorite artist installations. 

PRESS:

See more about this show in my 6 ABC interview here: https://6abc.com/timely-art-street-public-spaces/10408169/ 

I also did a 10 Years interview with Grid here: https://www.gridphilly.com/blog-home/2021/8/17/ten-years-into-his-photoblog-conrad-benner-reflects-on-its-genesis-evolution-and-future

And I did a video interview with WHYY about my decade here: https://whyy.org/articles/n-i-c-e-behind-the-scenes-conrad-benner-on-brand-building-audience-development-and-the-future-of-journalism/ 

Lastly, I did a whole hour-long chat about the decade thus far most recently on our Streets Dept Podcast here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/11/22/streets-dept-podcast-conrad-benner-on-10-years-of-streets-dept/ 

JANUARY 2021 – First 100 Days: Artist-created Posters Demanding Action From Biden/Harris

Collaborator: Mural Arts Philadelphia

Artists: Brunofsky, Candy Alexandra González, Derick Jones, Donte Neal, Jenny Scott, Jonai Gibson-Selix, Kah Yangni, Krista Dedrick-Lai, Marisa Velázquez-Rivas, Natalie Hope McDonald, Marian Bailey, Lisa Kelley, and Melita Tirado

So proud to have pitched this idea to Mural Arts and to be able to not only earn their support in creating it, but to be given such leeway with artist selection and ultimately the issues each artist wanted to talk about. We pulled this project together in weeks. The result was overwhelming: huge coverage in the Philadelphia Inquirer on launch day, several free poster hand out events that attracted hundreds of Philadelphians, and ultimately getting this entire project archived in the permanent collection of the Philadelphia Museum of Art. Our hope with this project is to keep people engaged. When voters demand, we get. Our collective voice is powerful. Art is powerful. Persistence is powerful. I hope that these posters continue to remind people to stay in the fight for ourselves, our loved ones, and our neighbors. Progress will be made in time.

PRESS:

Read more about First 100 Days on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/01/24/first-100-days-artist-created-posters-demanding-action-from-biden-harris/ 

Read my launch-day Philadelphia Inquirer op-ed about First 100 Days here: https://www.inquirer.com/opinion/commentary/inq/biden-harris-first-100-days-policies-stimulus-vaccines-cancel-student-debt-20210124.html 

And read my interview with the Philadelphia Museum of Art about First 100 Days here: https://philamuseum.org/pmastories/art-for-the-people 

JANUARY 2021 – We Did That Mural Honors Local 2020 Election Organizers 

Collaborator: Mural Arts Philadelphia

Artists: Symone Salib and Letisha Bindu Golafaie 

As soon as the 2020 Election was over, I knew I wanted to create two projects. One, a project pushing the new administration to work for the people, which turned into First 100 Days (talked about above). And two, a project celebrating Philly voters and organizers. I pitched both ideas to Mural Arts, who I find are super agile when it comes to funding ideas on shorter timelines. For the voters mural, I first reached out to Symone Salib, an artist I’ve long admired. Symone pulled in Letisha Bindu Golafaie. Symone and Letisha then took the general concept from there and came up with this brilliant idea and artwork: “We Did That is a mural celebrating and thanking the resilient organizers of Philadelphia for their consistent dedication to improving the community at large,” Symone and Letisha wrote in their artist statement. “This mural depicts Rasheed Ajamu (Phreedom Jawn), Letisha Golafaie, Samantha Rise, Nikki Grant, and Nelini Stamp, whose efforts we admire.” 

PRESS:

Read more about We Did That on Streets Dept here: https://streetsdept.com/2021/01/14/artists-paint-mural-to-honor-the-countless-philly-organizers-who-helped-get-out-the-vote-in-2020/ 

2021 – TikTok Reinvented The Instagram Star

Last but not least, when it comes to media this year was the year of TikTok. And I’ve found TikTok a really exciting platform to experiment on. It’s truly one of the best storytelling tools we have, if you’re like me and are in the business of trying to communicate information to an audience. So this year, not only have I worked on building a Streets Dept channel on TikTok, but I’ve (not to toot my own horn) gotten good enough at using the platform that I’m now helping Philly organizations I like to build theirs!

So if you’re made it this far on this post, I encourage you to check out my TikTok video work on the Streets Dept TikTok, the Mural Arts TikTok I just helped them launch, and my first of what will be three videos I’ve created for the Discover PHL TikTok.

Thank you again, y’all. Despite this being one of the most challenging years for me personally, this year has allowed me to work on so many incredible projects that not only lifted my spirits but continued to push Streets Dept into its future.

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