Frances Galíndez took her three children to the Philadelphia Museum of Art for a family outing six years ago. As evening settled in, the children sat together at the top of the steps and peered over the city’s skyline. Standing behind them, Galíndez took out her phone and snapped a photo. “It was such a beautiful night,” she said.
Now her cherished family photo is one of more than 500 others submitted via the Mural Arts website that are coming together digitally in a “virtual mosaic mural” that exists entirely online. A software program inserts the photo submissions into muralist Nilé Livingston’s digital artwork, Philly Rising — coincidentally, it’s also a skyline view — based on their dominant colors.
Viewers can watch Philly Rising take form this week on the Mural Arts website as part of the 2020 virtual Wawa Welcome America celebration, and there’s still time to submit your own photos, via muralarts.org/artworks/phillyrising. The deadline is 11:59 pm. July 4.
Mural Arts has asked for submissions that embody the spirit of Philadelphia, and executive director Jane Golden says the virtual mural “serves as a snapshot of what people are thinking during this time period that’s been so complex and traumatic.”
“We instinctively wanted to work with [Livingston] because she is a multitasker in her talents,” Golden said. “She is an artist, a designer, and a muralist.”
Livingston, 32 of West Philadelphia, studied studio art at Kutztown University. She’s painted over 20 murals in Philadelphia and has exhibited at Philly’s African American Museum, the Philadelphia International Airport, and has work in the permanent collection of the Pennsylvania Convention Center.
When the coronavirus pandemic first began, Livingston said she knew that more people would be relying on the internet. In partnership with Mural Arts, she wanted to find ways to make public art accessible and “create something that was potentially uplifting and gave everyone the opportunity to insert their voice into the artwork.”
Before settling on the mural’s skyline design, Livingston said she sketched through several ideas. Paintings and drawings of rainbows taped to windows by children caught her eye on trips to the grocery store.
“Initially, one of my first drawings was a kid just holding their artwork up to the window,” she said. “But I wanted to remove the human element and allow other people to step in” and contribute photos.
Livingston kept to her usual aesthetic by using bright and vibrant colors in her rendering of the skyline, which took weeks to realize. But instead of hand painting, as she usually does, she decided to work only with digital software and her iPad.
The Mural Arts team went through multiple rounds of brainstorming sessions to find a name that fit the project’s intention. According to Golden, they wanted something that reflected the pandemic and the protests against police brutality that have taken place around the nation and world.
The name had to embody “how we are honest, responsive, and open to course-correct and listen with empathy and respect,” Golden said. “Because that’s what this mural is asking us to do.”
After submitting the photo of her children, Galíndez uploaded five more photos, including a portrait with her husband at the Academy of Music after seeing Wicked in 2017. She said uploading the photos helps her stay positive during stressful times.