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Interview with Plaque To The Future: The Sticker Artist On A Mission To Remember Philly’s Micro Histories

February 16, 2022

The sticker work of Plaque To The Future has long interested me, yet it’s never been documented by this blog before. As readers of our Philly Street Art Interviews series will know, this city has a rich history of handmade sticker art. We’ve talked about this before in our interviews with the likes of El Toro, Bob Will Reign, FaithsFunnn, Under Water Pirates, Morg, Void Skulls, As Above So Below, and others. And while Plaque To The Future is clearly doing something different, it still feels entirely Philly. That’s because the artist is using their sticker project to remember the city’s micro histories. 

By “micro histories”, I mean the histories that are important to an individual or small group, but perhaps not too significant to the larger neighborhood or city. These are lived experiences of all sorts remembered temporarily in sticker through Plaque To The Future’s project.  

As this project enters its sixth year, it’s long over due Streets Dept and our readers learn more. So that’s what we’re doing today in this interview with Plaque To The Future!   

Conrad Benner: Can you tell us how and when did this project get started?

Plaque To The Future: The project started in March of 2016, and it started in a pretty silly way. I was putting myself through the Tinder Philadelphia Dating Experience™ and realized I had been on every sort of date at every single restaurant along Passyunk Ave south of Dickinson. Thinking about all those moments overlaid on top of the stories I had heard from community members and friends–a conversation with my neighbor about the terrible bowl-cut haircut her mom gave her on their stoop in the 80s, histories of a strong Yiddish-speaking community and a vibrant business corridor in South Philly that was almost totally forgotten… It made me wish I could see it all visually and spatially.

CB: What inspired the genesis of this project? Had you been curious about the City’s historical plaques? Were you interested in collecting stories from the city? What pushed you to do this? 

PTTF: Once I had the idea, making the plaques in a visual language that was recognizable to my neighbors and Philadephians as a whole seemed like a good way to make people stop and notice. I also thought that creating a parody of the real Pennsylvania historic plaques was a good way to examine storytelling and history-making as a whole. 

CB: This is a lot of work, what drives you to continue this effort? 

PTTF: I love storytelling, I love Philly, and I love making people happy. That’s why I keep going. My family is a bit infamous for making friends wherever we go, and it’s also a great way to talk to strangers and quickly find common ground. It’s also allowed me to learn from some amazing Philadelphian historians, both academics and grassroots storytellers alike.

CB: How do you find the stories? How can people tell you their stories?

PTTF: Collaboration in the most important aspect of Plaque to the Future! It only works when people submit their experiences to my website or want to create their own with a template, especially because these are temporary plaques and ephemeral compared to any official markers. I also just talk to a lot of people, ask Uber drivers, research Philly oral histories and old newspaper archives, whatever it takes!

One funny thing is how similar the stories people share tend to be. I would say almost 50% of my online submissions are one of two narratives: (1) I met my wife/husband/partner here, and now we are married with kids! Or (2) I got really drunk here and this thing happened. I can’t post them all, and thematically it wouldn’t be very interesting if I did, but it’s interesting what people think of when they search their brains for plaque ideas. 

CB: What do you think it means for people to see micro histories like these in our public space? What does this offer us? 

PTTF: Philadelphia is a diverse, constantly changing place, and I think it’s exciting to be able to provide a platform where unique perspectives about what constitutes history can be told. Obviously, using a template that is a parody of an official history marker is an intentional choice. I think it’s important to ask ourselves, What makes people and places rise to enough “historic importance” (quote on quote) to gain permanent monuments? Are those hallowed moments able to fully communicate the mundane yet beautiful ways Philadelphia is our imperfect home?

CB: What’s one of the most memorable micro histories you’ve made a plaque for before? 

PTTF: People rightfully love the silly ones–someone slipping on a dead possum on Dickinson Street is a crowd favorite and you can’t argue with Four Seasons Landscaping. My two favorites at the moment are one at 10th and Lombard, where a woman who relocated to Philly after Hurricane Katrina noticed a woman in the park, loved her shoes, and then realized she already owned those shoes but that they were probably underwater at that exact moment in New Orleans. The other I haven’t put up yet, but in June of 1937, a CIO strike at a textile mill was briefly interrupted while a striker married his childhood sweetheart on the sidewalk in front of the plant. 

CB: Why are these micro histories important? 

PTTF: At the end of the day, cities are people. Lewis and Clark may have learned botany in Society Hill, but I believe understanding and placing a child’s tantrum, or someone waiting for the bus, on that same level as Lewis and Clark reminds us that cities are the summation of all people, perhaps especially those who don’t get the recognition of the history books. 

CB: Most of this iteration of stickers seems to be in South Philly, have/will you go to more neighborhoods? 
PTTF: Yes, there is definitely a South Philly bias since I work and live here. Not only do I want to expand into additional neighborhoods, but I think it’s important to start making some in languages other than English. My day job gives me the opportunity to speak to so many incredible Philadelphians that speak over 30+ languages and dialects and I think it would be powerful and important to bring plaques to those communities as well.

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