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A Conversation with eL Seed & Conrad Benner

November 6, 2017

(Photo courtesy of the artist)

Y’all, the world famous Tunisian-French artist and graffiti writer eL Seed is coming to Philly this month, and I’m so honored to be hosting a conversation with him for Al-Bustan Seeds of Culture and Mural Arts Philadelphia this Sunday (11/12) from 3-5pm at the University of Pennsylvania‘s Perry World House.

You will NOT want to miss this: Join us for a conversation around displacement, community representation though art, and more. Tickets are free, but you’ll need to RSVP and you can do that now here!

Last Chance to See Michelle Angela Ortiz’s Projection Monument to Undocumented Families at City Hall

November 4, 2017

Tonight is the last night to see Philly-based artist and activist Michelle Angela Ortiz‘s Seguimos Caminando (We Keep Walking), a projection tribute to the undocumented mothers and children detained at the Berks Detention Center, a prison outside of Philadelphia for immigrant families.

This installation is one of 20 artist-created “prototype monuments” apart of Monument Lab, a citywide public art and history exhibition that’s asking, What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? (Full disclosure: As I announced in September, I am on the Monument Lab Curatorial Team.)

To create her monument, Michelle worked with the Shut Down Berks Coalition and the mothers detained at Berks. The animated images in her moving monument originate from compiled writings from two mothers sharing their stories while detained at Berks.

Go check it out for yourself at its last viewing tonight, Saturday (11/4) on the north apron of City Hall from 8-10pm!

Learn about other Monument Lab prototype monuments around Philadelphia right now by Tyree Guyton in KensingtonRAIR (Recycled Artist in Residency) in Fishtown, Klip Collective in South Philly, and Hank Willis Thomas in Center City… See a full list here!

Photographer Sheldon Abba Aims to Connect Philadelphians with Abandoned Pay Phones

October 30, 2017

Have y’all seen this new street art series that’s started popping up around Philly? The series converts unused, abandoned pay phones into frames for photography.

After searching Instagram for who might be the creator of this new series, I quickly realized that it’s my friend (and Signs of Solidarity artist!) Sheldon Abba.

Sheldon’s project, which is tentatively titled Cross City Communication, is aimed at highlighting ephemeral moments in our quickly changing city and connecting Philadelphians across neighborhoods.

I spotted one of these installations in Center City at the end of last week, then used Sheldon’s Instagram posts to find and photograph two more over the weekend. This morning I texted Sheldon to find out more about the project, its inspiration, and what he hopes people take from it. His response follows:

“This project allows me to give back to a city that has given me a lot of my identity. It lets me offer a broad view of this place in time via these momentary portals. Center City, North Philly, West Philly, Germantown, Fishtown, Allegheny are not islands to themselves. They all make up this place, and I want people to see themselves that way. Not as individuals siloed to the good, bad, and ugly of their area, but as members of a whole who are experiencing and being affected by our changing city together.”

“I wanted to offer people the opportunity to view single moments of life in a changing city. I really want people to take a moment to appreciate that things are changing fast out here and that the character of the city is found in its people, places, and simple moments that we often overlook or look right past… And a lot of these moments and places might not be around much longer. I want people in different parts of the city to see images of people and things they don’t know and might not even like and realize that regardless they are all apart of it. That being a Philadelphian isn’t defined by supporting a team, it’s done by seeing yourself as a small piece of a much larger community.”

For each of his installations, Sheldon offers greater insight into his inspiration. With the installation that opens this post (the two photographs above,) located on Girard avenue at Lawrence street in Olde Kensington, Sheldon writes: “Front and Girard can be a rugged zone. In the last 10 years there has been a huge increase in ‘young professionals’ walking their dogs, bros, and other signs of gentrification. It’s also not far from K&A and a number of pharmacies and clinics supporting individuals in recovery. It can be pretty brutal walking out there to the train watching someone nodding out while pushing a stroller. It’s not my place to judge anyone because I don’t know the life situation of every person I see in the street but it’s still a heavy bummer. But there is also a lot of love out there, a lot of people catching that train to grind out the day and bring back the bacon OR turkey bacon… A lot of people trying to support each other in recovery and support each other in life. This photo taken under the EL reminds me of that. It’s installed a little further up Girard between 4th and 5th to hopefully remind people of the same. And if your inspired to do something to support the brotherly love vibe in the city maybe high five a rando on the block, buy some candy you don’t need from a young bull on the train, or if you got a couple extra bucks in your pocket donate to Prevention Point Philadelphia, The Village of Arts and Humanities, or any other organization that is supporting the people of our city.”

For the installation in the two photographs below, located at 13th and Market streets in Center City, Sheldon writes: “One of my top two favorite things about Philadelphia is dudes ripping through Center City on dirt bikes. I hear the sound and my ears perk up like a dog and my head swivels to catch site of them… I can’t help but yell ‘Fuck Yeah’ and more recently think of a phrase spoken to me by my friend William about what it means ‘to be free in a carceral state.’ To live in a country that currently and continuously seems to be encroaching on our personal rights and freedoms ripping a dirt bike around City Hall with a gang of your homies is an amazing act of rebellion. Also doing it in a Sproles jersey earns you all the extra Philly love… Yeah I know ‘it’s dangerous’ and yadda yadda, but I can’t hear any of that over the waaaaaaaamp! waaaaaaamp!”

Quick note: The colorful painting on the sides of the abandoned pay phone in the two photographs below are by a Chicago-based artist by the name of ljanet, and you can read more about her project here.

Read more…

“Be A Nice Human,” New Work by Nero

October 30, 2017

New work from Philly-area street artist Nero around Philly this week, including a brand new stencil Be A Nice Human, which the artist goes on to explain on his Instagram is, “Basic knowledge but sometimes people just need to be reminded.”

Be A Nice Human (photographed above) can be found on Girard avenue at Hope street on the border of Fishtown, and You Belong Here (photographed below) on 2nd street at Laurel street in Northern Liberties!

Readers of this blog may remember that Nero installed a banner version of his You Belong Here wheatpaste for the Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition that I curated this past summer with Visit Philly! For that exhibition, Nero wrote in his Artist Statement that, “You Belong Here signifies that regardless of your ethnicity, gender, religion, sexuality, disability or income, your life is just as significant as anyone else’s.”

P.s. If you’re curious about the Deer Jawn sticker in that first set of photos above, check out this interview I did with that artist here!

Rolling Through Philly: A Look At The Market–Frankford Line El from Above

October 29, 2017

Welcome to the latest video in the 12-part Streets Dept + WeFilmPhilly collaborative #PhillyMinute series!

WeFilmPhilly is a Philadelphia-based (duh!) video production company that specializes in high quality drone aerial photography, aerial 4K video, and video production. Since August of 2017, Streets Dept has been working with WeFilmPhilly to create monthly videos that explore Philly’s public art and architecture from new angles. Each video is shot from above with aerial drone footage and sound recorded from the ground.

For October’s video, our third installment, we’re exploring SEPTA’s Market-Frankford Line El from above. Specifically, the El as it rolls through Kensington.

Philly’s El keeps the city moving and connects dozens of neighborhoods from west to east. With more than 187,000 riders on an average weekday, the El is the busiest route in the SEPTA system. And if you’ve ever ridden the El at rush hour, you know it.

Personally, the El is my main form of transportation (aside from walking,) and I’ve been taking it regularly since I was 14 going to high school. The El, interestingly enough, has also had two pretty significant rolls in helping me to legitimize this blog and the activism work I do. The first, the year I launched, back in 2011, a yarnbomb installation that Philly street artist Ishknits did on the El went viral. And because she invited me along exclusively to shoot her installing the work, when it ultimately got a lot of national and international attention all the clicks were pointed back to my original post driving insane traffic to my 3-month-old blog, earning me a big new audience. The second, a petition campaign I started back in 2014, titled #SEPTA247, which called for SEPTA to reintroduce overnight weekend service to Philly’s el and subway trains was ultimately (over the course of roughly nine months) successful. This energized me like nothing else, and for truly one of the first times, I think, in my life made me realize how possible change is and why it’s so important to never stop pushing.

Suffice it to say, the El means a lot to me as it does to countless other Philadelphians… Keep on rolling, El, I’ll see you tomorrow!

See August’s video here, and September’s video here! If you’re interested in collaborating with WePhillyPhilly, reach out to them here.

Preview: Klip Collective’s One-Night-Only Immersive Monument to Philly Immigrates in South Philly

October 27, 2017

This Saturday, October 28 from 7-10pm, Philadelphia-based experiential art shop, Klip Collective, will host a one-night-only projection monument to generations of Philadelphia immigrants at Marconi Plaza in South Philadelphia (right here to be precise.) This installation is one of 20 artist-created “prototype monuments” apart of Monument Lab, a citywide public art and history exhibition that’s asking, What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia? (Full disclosure: As I’ve announced in September, I am on the Monument Lab Curatorial Team.)

Klip Collective’s prototype monument for Monument Lab, titled Passage :: Migration, is led by video and light artist Ricardo Rivera. The installation will project the surnames of generations of South Philadelphia’s immigrants onto translucent planes of fabric and smoke. An immersive monument, the installation encourages the viewer to pass through the projection to be surrounded by the names of families that came to Philadelphia through the years.

As Ricardo writes in his Artist Statement: “We are all immigrants. A city of immigrants. Waves of people. Taking flight with hopes and fears.”

Read more…

Streets Dept Podcast, Episode 2: An Interview with Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym

October 24, 2017

Episode 2 of the Streets Dept Podcast is now live, an interview Philadelphia Councilwoman Helen Gym!

A grassroots community organizer involved in Philadelphia education reform since 2006, Helen Gym is a first-term councilperson and the first Asian American woman to ever serve on Philadelphia’s City Council. For our second episode, Councilwoman Gym sits down with me to talk about her calls for the removal of a monument to the divisive former Philly mayor, Frank Rizzo, about growing up in the U.S. with parents who are immigrants, and about her thoughts on the possibility of Amazon bringing their 2nd headquarters to Philadelphia.

The Streets Dept Podcast is a bi-monthly (that’s twice a month) interview podcast. I’ll be interviewing artists and creatives from around the world. From street artists to poets, activists to politicians, small business owners to community organizers. The podcast will feature one-on-one, 30-minute-ish interviews with the creative minds who are shaping the world around us.

Subscribe to the Streets Dept Podcast on iTunesSoundCloud, or Google Play to receive episodes as soon as they’re published, and please feel free to rate and write a review of the podcast on those platforms to help others find it. (It really, REALLY helps when y’all rate and review, so it’d mean the world to me if you could do that!)

Season One of the Streets Dept Podcast is brought to you by our sponsors at The Navy Yard and Indy Hall! Each episode is mixed and edited by our Producer Mike Mehalick.

Listen to Episode 1, an interview with R. Eric Thomas, here!

(The art in the recording studio we’re using, which you can see in the photo above, is a collab by Sean Martorana and Saul Rosenbaum.)

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