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Interview From Streets Dept Magazine, Issue #1: Marian Bailey–Take Up All Of The Space

November 15, 2022

First two quick programming notes:

1) This interview was originally published in December, 2021, in Issue #1 of Streets Dept Magazine. For archival purposes, we’re now republishing it here on the blog.

2) We are thrilled to be in the middle of creating Issue #2 of Streets Dept Magazine, which you can wait to purchase in January 2023 or pre-order now by becoming a Streets Dept Patreon member at the Paper Tier or above. Not only do our Patreon members help us to create these annual magazines with their support, but they are rewarded for that support by getting their magazines mailed to them first! If you become a Streets Dept Patreon member (at the Paper Tier or above) by Monday, November 28 and plan to remain a member for a least three months, we’ll mail your magazine out this December! Click here to become a Streets Dept Patreon member now!

Interview and photos by Conrad Benner

In preparation for shooting the photos for this piece, I met Marian Bailey at their home, sat on the couch, and caught up. It had been a few months since I had seen them, and in that time their career had taken off—to the point that Marian had quit their job to pursue art full-time. This is the dream! But it’s not a surprise, because Marian really has it all. Their art is fun, colorful, inviting, powerful, and personal. And they’re a natural businessperson who thrives at all the admin stuff so many others (myself included) can drag our feet on.

Conrad: I first learned about your work at a Phobymo-curated Time To Pretend art fair. I loved your style and asked if you had ever thought about doing murals. We then worked together for the first year of Streets Dept Walls at the Fashion District, where you painted your first mural! What do you remember about that moment?

Marian: I was at my clinical research monitoring job and I happened to check my personal email. I yelped, jumped up out of my chair, and ran out of the office! The woman that was working with me had no idea what was going on so I had to quickly explain when I came back. I was flooded with so much emotion. I was happy and low-key terrified because I had never worked that big before. I decided to say yes and figure it out later. I’ve told you this before but something told me that connecting with you would lead to really beautiful things. I considered showing up to one of your mural tours and casually mentioning that I was an artist. Thankfully I didn’t end up needing to do that because you found me!

Conrad: Why was it important for you to paint what you did for 2019’s Streets Dept Walls?

Marian: Initially, I didn’t know what I was going to paint. You pulled up a stylized digital self-portrait that I made and said it would be cool as a mural. I’m so glad you pointed me in that direction because it is pretty iconic to have my first mural be of me. Representation is obviously important to me and comes up a lot in my work. That piece is titled Self-Assured and I want everyone to feel so much confidence in themselves and take up all of the space, which is what that piece does!

Conrad: I’ve been thinking a lot about impostor syndrome lately. Did you, or do you still, ever experience self doubt?

Marian: Impostor syndrome and I used to be on a first name basis. As a self-taught artist, it can be really easy to feel like you don’t belong and that you’re not good enough. I’ve put in a lot of work this year to increase my confidence when it comes to my initial project ideas. I used to get really anxious after sending the first draft of something. Over the last few months, I’ve stopped feeling that way. People hire me because they like what I make so where are those nerves coming from? I couldn’t answer that question in a way that made sense so I decided that the worst thing that could happen is that I’ll have to change a few things! So now, I walk with the confidence that comes from experience and knowing that the world isn’t going to crumble if I have to make slight adjustments.

Conrad: You just installed artwork on South Street; can you tell us more about that series and its inspiration?

Marian: My oh my, that project was unexpected. I had just told myself I couldn’t say yes to any other projects and then I received an email through my website about working with Doritos on their Solid Black campaign. It was too big of an opportunity to pass up. They essentially let me do whatever I wanted and just wanted to shine light on Black creatives. That project was a celebration of Black women/Black folks like myself that exist somewhere on the gender spectrum. I wanted to hold up a mirror to my community and show just how beautiful we are. That project was so perfect because it was installed right next to a natural beauty supply store called Marsh and Mane. I got to see so many people interacting with it and they were so happy to see it and to be seen by me through my work. It was a full circle moment and I felt like I achieved what I set out to do.

Conrad: What do you like about being an artist in Philly?

Marian: The Philly artist scene is so DIY. There are many different ways to be an artist and Philly is a great city to be able to explore that. I am constantly coming into contact with incredible artists that want to bounce ideas off of each other, collaborate, and just share space. We all want to see each other win and it is so special to feel that support. I’m not sure how successful I would be as a self-taught artist somewhere else. There are just so many opportunities to learn and grow here!

Conrad: What does a successful artist career look like to you?

Marian: Success looks like holding the door open for other folks. Last year I was able to hire a few people to assist with multiple murals and this year I am doing the same. I want everyone who is interested in doing art in a similar capacity to me to have the opportunity to do so. Success is somewhat hard to pin down outside of that. I obviously want to be able to provide for myself and have room for fun and rest but I am doing that already, so I guess being able to continue to do that as well as making space for others! I also want to get outside of Philly and put up colorful pieces all over the place!

Conrad: Talk to us about your 2021 collaboration with Broad Street Ministry! How do you approach a project like that?

Marian: Thankfully, I had already done the Doritos project so I was somewhat familiar with working within the confines of an Illustrator template. The folks at Broad Street Ministry gave me free rein. They said they liked the people I illustrated and liked how colorful my work is. They told me to go for it and trusted me to make it look nice. I sent them the initial idea and we had some back and forth to get to what folks see on the streets of Philly. We wanted to represent folks from a range of races, ages, body types, abilities, and gender identities. With that information, I was able to come up with a piece that we all really liked. I love when clients trust me to do my thing, and it can be scary initially because you never know if they will like what you send along but in the end, they wouldn’t have hired me if they didn’t like what I create.

Conrad: Who would be a dream collaboration?

Marian: Bisa Butler. She is hands down one of my favorite artists. She uses fabric to make stunning pieces of people. I want to make magic with her because her work is incredible and I feel like the colors that we work with would look amazing together.

This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

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