Summer Learning 4: Street Art in Philadelphia

“When you walk down the street and see something in a crazy spot, there’s something powerful about that. The street will always be an important part of getting art out there for me.” – Shepard Fairey

We went to Philadelphia for a wedding during the last week of June. In the time around the wedding events, my husband, Dick, and I explored the city on foot taking in artworks of all kinds. The second morning we were there we walked around the city in pursuit of Street Art – after a quick stop at Chestnut Street Philly Bagels.

Tie Dye bagels for Pride Month – photo worthy!
First stop: Bagels in John F. Collins Park

The bagel shop was small without much seating, so we went outside hoping to find a bench or something on which to perch. Much to our delight, we stumbled upon a little park with tons of seating right next door to the bagel shop. John F. Collins Park is like a little oasis in the middle of the bustling city. It is well designed with a fountain/waterfall and lush greenery, concrete steps and plant containers. There were several small bistro tables and most were vacant. Lovely.

Fortified, we set out to find some Street Art. Fortunately, a friend who lives in the city had let me know about Mural Arts Philadelphia, an online guide to the murals around the city.

Map at MuralArts Philadelphia

It was a hot day (in the mid-90’s) in the city, so we took our time, following the map from one location to another, sometimes finding the mural right where we expected it to be, other times searching and searching along an intersection, only to wander up a street and spot it in an over-the-shoulder glance. Taking photos was was challenging, especially of the really giant murals. Here they are in the approximate order we found them:

All Very Amazing Fingers by AVAF
Painted Parking Garage, Artist Unknown
Building the City by Micheal Webb
Detail: Building the City by Michael Webb
The Promise of Biotechnology by Erik Okdeh (note the gradually evolving figures across the top and to the right)

This next one is currently the holy grail of Street Art in Philadelphia. This magnificent painting by Amy Sherald was just finished this spring. Amy Sherald is the artist who painted Michelle Obama’s official portrait.

Untitled by Amy Sherald
Artist plaque on the side of the Target building

All of us in attendance at the National Art Education Association Convention in Boston in March had the opportunity to hear her speak about her work. It was an unforgettable experience.

Amy Sherald speaking at NAEA19

Fulfilled by finding the Sherald, we set off to see what other sights we might behold:

Top left: Personal Melody by How and Nosm Bottom right: The Father of Modern Philadelphia by Gaia
Rhythm and Diversity by Shepard Fairey

As amazing as it was to see so many beautiful artworks around the city, the Shepard Fairey stands out simply because of the fame of the artist. This next mural stood out for completely different reasons. Finding Home  by Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis got me. From the imagery to the text to the location to the texture of the front piece, its narrative grabbed me and pulled me in. The mural spans the space from the street to a homeless shelter alongside the St. John the Evangelist church. This juxtaposition was powerful for me because of the social justice work I have been fortunate to be involved with over the years through our church with the youth in my parish. Needless to say, we were there for a while.

Finding Home by Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis “Invisible”
“Home is where I feel a family”
Info guide and texture of the front piece
Detail: At the back near the homeless shelter “Dignity”
Finding Home – the expanse
The cemetery at St. John the Evangelist church right beside the mural

The day was getting away from us and we had a wedding to get ready for, so we started walking back toward Rittehnouse, finding a few more murals on the way.

People’s Progression Toward Equality by Jared Bader
Legacy by Josh Sarantitis and Eric Okdeh

What a treat it was to discover a mural underway – so fresh we can’t find it on any of the rosters! Being painted on a building at the intersection of South 8th and Market Street, is a bright and colorful mural which contains the text “Let Go & Have Fun”. It is hard to piece it together by the pencil sketches alone, but a William Penn figure is discernible, as is a whoopee cushion, a hand holding a ball, and some obscure yet colorful orbs. It was really exciting to see the artists working on it. I can’t wait to see this when it’s finished!

Because I started this post with an image reference to Pride Month, thanks to Macy’s, I’m going to end this post with one, too!

A little Pride Month sidewalk statement by Macy’s

Indeed, art is all around us, all we have to do is take a look. I’m glad to have had some time to explore the Street Art in Philadelphia. The narratives the artists share are often retellings of history from different perspectives. They urge us to consider civil rights, the equitable treatment of others, and diversity as it exists in our country. This is potent material for visual art. I look forward to sharing examples and the ideology of Street Art with my students during the next school year.

This post is part four of a group of posts about my self-directed professional development in the summer of 2019. To see the others, search Summer Learning or 2019 Summer PD.

Leave a Reply