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Think Big: A Streets Dept Oral History with Cathy Harris, Director of Community Murals at Mural Arts Philadelphia

July 26, 2018

Post by Streets Dept Contributor, Phillip Reid, photo above by Conrad Benner, all photos below by Steve Weinik or Mustafah Abdulaziz

Welcome to the Streets Dept Oral History Projecta new 20-week series created by Streets Dept’s first-ever intern, Phillip Reid. Over the course of this series we will be collecting and sharing the stories of a mix of 20 street artists, graffiti writers, muralists, and public arts leaders all working to shape and create the art in Philadelphia’s public spaces. Read more about this new temporary series in our announcement post here.

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Cathy Harris has devoted her life to practicing and supporting the arts in Philadelphia. From attending classes at area art schools when she was a child, to working at various other of the city’s diverse arts organizations before beginning at Mural Arts Philadelphia, Cathy has always been deeply involved in sustaining and amplifying Philly’s vibrant cultural scene. During her 16 year tenure at Mural Arts she has helped facilitate the organization’s expansion into a range of new communities and issue areas, including restorative justice and mental health awareness. As Director of Community Murals, Cathy approaches the joyful and the challenging aspects of her position with equal diligence, always eager to do whatever she can to craft projects that will best serve the specific audience she is working for.

I’ve been around art and artists all my life, and I’ve always done it and practiced different things… Being able to provide jobs and opportunities for artists has always been so important to me.

(Mural by artist Parris Stancell, located at 32nd and Cumberland, photo by Steve Weinik)

I was born in Philadelphia and I’ve always lived here. I grew up in Wynnefield, in a house that I’m now back in because my father left it to me when he passed away. When I did own my own home, that was in Overbrook Park, which was like ten minutes away from my childhood house *Laughs* So I really haven’t strayed too far outside of that circle. Most of my family, who is still here, all live in West Philadelphia too, so we’re all pretty close. Wynnefield is nice, quiet. It was very Jewish when I was a kid, and it became more African American over time. Now, because of our proximity to St. Joe’s University, it’s becoming a lot more diverse with more students moving into the neighborhood, so it’s changing up again. It’s been good to watch all those transitions, there’s never been a really bad time to live in Wynnefield. I enjoy it, I feel safe there.

I probably started taking art classes at Moore College and at University of the Arts when I was around 10. I’ve been around art and artists all my life, and I’ve always done it and practiced different things. In high school, I went to Girl’s High and was an arts major there. My brother was a photographer, and he sold art. Muralist Parris Stancell was one of my brother’s best friends, I’ve known Parris since I was 7. After high school I went to Penn State, where I majored in illustration and ceramics. Left there, went to University of DC, got into graphic design, then I came back here started Graphics & Print, my business at 31st and Spring Garden, a building my brother owned. But I early on realized that I didn’t have a particular voice that was *Laughing* going to make me any money, or sustain me. So that’s when I got into the administration. Read more…

Join Us for An Artist Talk with #ArtAtMission’s First Exhibiting Artist, Calo Rosa

July 19, 2018

Join us for an afternoon chat between Art at Mission‘s first exhibiting artist, Calo Rosa, and curator Conrad Benner (aka me)!

WHEN: Saturday, August 11 from 2-4pm
WHEREMission Taqueria (1516 Sansom Street, 2nd Floor)

We’ll have some small snacks available, you can grab a marg (or two!) – and we’ll hear from Calo about his life and career, including his mural work around Philly and his stunning new four-paneled mural, titled “Tropicalizada,” that’s currently installed in the outdoor courtyard at Mission Taqueria.

Calo will also have prints and a few small works on paper available for purchase! Read more…

Rebel Propaganda and Deep Doodles by a Wild Pessimist: A Streets Dept Oral History with Marisa Velázquez-Rivas, Philadelphia Street Artist On the Rise

July 15, 2018

Post by Streets Dept Contributor, Phillip Reid, photos by Conrad Benner

Welcome to the Streets Dept Oral History Projecta new 20-week series created by Streets Dept’s first-ever intern, Phillip Reid. Over the course of this series we will be collecting and sharing the stories of a mix of 20 street artists, graffiti writers, muralists, and public arts leaders all working to shape and create the art in Philadelphia’s public spaces. Read more about this new temporary series in our announcement post here.

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Since she began wheatpasting a few months ago, Marisa Velázquez-Rivas has been turning heads on the streets and social media with her bold, uplifting artwork. Her pastes bring an array of important voices to the public space, shining a light on immigrants, queer communities, and women who stand in resistance of hate during the Trump era. Marisa’s narrative focuses on her multinational upbringing, her strong family, and the role that those influences have played in shaping her as a person and creator. She also delves into the more intimate side of her creative practice, how she doodles as a way to capture memories and cope with the stresses of her day-to-day.

It’s kind of cool what happens when talented people stay after graduating and work their asses off in local agencies before running off. We’re doing this city a disservice by leaving immediately after graduating. So I stuck around.

I was born in Puerto Rico and raised in Venezuela. Spent 8 years or so in each country. Caracas felt like New York to me, y’know? Huge, colorful, stocked full of art in every block—Puerto Rico doesn’t fall behind either. Street art down there is insane. Both Venezuela and Puerto Rico were very huge influences for me. So many great artists—Jesus Soto, Gerardo Fernandez, Alexis Diaz. Art was unavoidable throughout my upbringing.

I lived through a coup in Venezuela that changed my life—our daily activities revolved around protests, uncertainty, violence. Going to school was a gamble sometimes. A lot of anti-govt street propaganda during that time became a huge influence for me. Learned the importance of voting back then. A lot of people I know have fled Venezuela—I’d say “moved”, but it doesn’t seem like it was a choice for many. It’s a dictatorship down there. Food became scarce, violence increased, you can feel the anger and desperation in the atmosphere. I was raised in a beautiful, thriving place that became a nightmare for many in just a few years after Chavez came to power.

I first lived in Blue Ridge, Georgia when I moved to the US. It’s a few hours away from Atlanta, a bit in the boonies, where people say “Git R Done”, call toilets “commodes” and use other terms I had to look up at first but learned very quickly by how frequently they’re used. I was not allowed to speak Spanish at my boarding school and was asked multiple times if we lived in teepees down in Venezuela. I came out (quietly) as queer and had my first real relationship with a woman down there—so despite all its ignorant fucked up shit, it’s an important place for me. I haven’t lived outside a major city since. Read more…

New WRDSMTH Wheatpastes in West Philly

July 12, 2018

(Photos by Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale)

New wheatpastes around Philly this week by LA-based artist WRDSMTH!

A big fan of Philly, WRDSMTH has been putting up work around the city for many years. In fact, I first photographed him installing around town way back in 2014! (You can see photos from that visit here.) This time around, Streets Dept Contributor Eric Dale joined WRDSMTH as he installed namely around West Philly.

The locations to all of the new WRDSMTH wheatpastes featured in this post (in the order they’re posted) are as follows: 54th street and Montgomery avenue, 52nd street and Larchwood avenue, 49th and Catharine streets, 53rd and Warren streets, Fairhill and Kater streets (behind Tattooed Mom!)

Much more below…

Read more…

Curating Art, Curating Life: A Streets Dept Oral History with Philadelphia Street Artist and Muralist NDA

July 3, 2018


(NDA mural inside Honeygrow Headquaters, 2016)

Post by Streets Dept Contributor, Phillip Reid, photos by Conrad Benner

Welcome to the Streets Dept Oral History Projecta new 20-week series created by Streets Dept’s first-ever intern, Phillip Reid. Over the course of this series we will be collecting and sharing the stories of a mix of 20 street artists, graffiti writers, muralists, and public arts leaders all working to shape and create the art in Philadelphia’s public spaces. Read more about this new temporary series in our announcement post here.

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NDA began doing street art with his friends when he was living and working at a print shop in New York City in his mid-twenties. One of his best friends and primary mentors — the Reno, Nevada based muralist and street artist Over/Under — taught him the tricks of the trade and and encouraged him to pursue a career in public art.

I went to school when I was 19 for animation. I thought I wanted to be a 2-D, hand drawn, classical animator, and then I realized that was too much work and just didn’t do it. But I think as a kid I just always drew comics and stuff like that. Afterwards I went to Brooklyn College to finish up a BFA. But honestly my best training was my friend who got me into muralism. He would just show me how to do things with street art, show me how to do murals and we would work on stuff together. His name’s Erik Burke, but he goes by “Over/Under”. He’s great. And he has skill sets that I don’t have, so I watch him and it’s like watching an alien do something. But we have similar tie-overs in our work, so he was able to help me just by my watching him paint. I’m always jealous of people that have left and right brain. ‘Cause I’m 100% right, I feel like, and technical stuff is a struggle for me. And he just sees it, on both ends, and can also be adaptive and creatively fluid, as well as understanding scale with actually using math *laughs* So, he’s a bit of a wunderkind type. He was a good teacher to have.

When I met Erik I was working at a print shop in SoHo, and his girlfriend at the time was working with me in the press. I can’t remember how we got into talking about art, but she was like, “My boyfriend’s an artist and I think you guys would get along.” Then we were talking about doing some project together, and I think at first I was like, “I don’t know about this guy.” And then we started hanging out and it was just, like, very easy, y’know? And then I think he realized that I could probably do this thing, and pushed me towards it, ‘cause it was not ever something that I had thought about in terms of a context for myself. I didn’t know anything about street art at all. Like I moved to New York, I didn’t know who Banksy was or, like, any of it. Y’know what I mean? And I still don’t, really, I’m a little oblivious *laughs* Like I keep blinders on a little bit. But at that time it was a whole thing that I had never even considered or put much thought into at all, like what it is or how to do it or any of that.


(NDA ‘Ad Takeover‘ at 22nd and Chestnut streets, 2015)

When I was starting out, a lot of it was just fun, drunk nights of just painting at my buddy’s house and then going to put that stuff up. And I’d never really thought of myself as being—I wasn’t into street art, I had no understanding of it when I first started. It was like this weird thing that I fell into. And then once it started happening, I started realizing that working in a large scale, in public work, opened me up socially and creatively. Art for me, before public art, was always a thing that was done in my studio or a room by myself, and then eventually when there was an end product, I might show it to people and I might not. And then public art just opened me up in this way where now I’m totally fine with showing work to people as it’s happening, I’m not self-conscious about it. It’s given me this confidence that I didn’t have before, and it’s been able to link the thing that I feel is my main skill set in life with social stuff, because I’ve gone and travelled and been able to paint murals while I’m working. Really, overall, it’s been one of the more positive things that’s happened to me as an artist.


(NDA wheatpaste at Leithgow street and South street, 2016)

NDA’s creative practice is the most vital part of his strategy for managing depression. For him, the accessible and egalitarian nature of creating in the public space helps to forge meaningful bonds between people and opens up channels for creative expression that larger sectors of society can benefit from. Read more…

Join Me for July’s ‘2nd Saturday Street Art Tour’

July 3, 2018

Excited to announce that for this month’s 2nd Saturday Street Art Tour on July 14 we’ll be checking out the street art, murals, and much more of Philadelphia’s Fairmount neighborhood!

Learn more and get your tickets now – here!

Mural in the featured photo by artists Dietrich Adonis, Carlos Vasquez, and Glenn Hill.

Enchanting New Wheatpastes Hope to Add A Bit of Magic to Philly’s Streets

July 1, 2018

New wheatepastes around Philadelphia hope to bring the concept of ‘animism’ to our urban environment.

A continuation of his his work from 2016, the installations are by Philly-based artist, Doug Nox (aka Harleqvin.)

The definition of animism, by the way, if you’re like myself and weren’t sure, is: 1) The attribution of a soul to plants, inanimate objects, and natural phenomena. 2) The belief in a supernatural power that organizes and animates the material universe.

I reached out to the artist over email to learn more:

“Each piece in the series is my representation of different spirits connected to what I think of as quintessential aspects of Philly…or at least the aspects that I think have the most…character? Vacant lots, abandoned factories, the rivers, and the space between high things.”

“I hope that people get some enchantment out of them…a little bit of magic from the old world resurfacing in the concrete jungle. In one sense they’re intimately connected to the land and it’s history, and in another sense they exist in one’s imagination, and hopefully stir things up there.” Read more…

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