When visitors come to the Fashion District, they are welcomed with a new art project, featuring the work of 11 local artists.
The Streets Dept Walls, curated by Philly street art blogger Conrad Benner, is a collaborative installation of 10 temporary murals that is on view on the Concourse level of the Fashion District through the end of the year. The location makes the art accessible to the many commuters that pass through Market East on a daily basis. When the Streets Dept Walls project ends at the end of December, another art installation will take its place.
The project brings together an array of artistic media including yarn bombing, light installation, oil painting, and poetry to one public space.
“A lot of the work that I do end up curating often goes outside,” Benner said. “This was a unique opportunity to have a gallery of murals indoors.”
Erika Erb, director of marketing at the Fashion District, had followed Benner for a few years on social media, where his Streets Dept account has 142,000 followers on Instagram, and attended his “To The Polls” exhibit, which encouraged civic engagement through voting, last September.
After attending the event, Erb said a lightbulb went off in her head. She knew then that she wanted to work with Benner on a project for the Fashion District, building upon the million-dollar art program in partnership with the Philadelphia Redevelopment Authority’s Percent for Art project. The 60-year-old program requires developers to allocate one percent of construction costs toward commissioning original artwork on-site.
“We will always want to make sure there’s a new experience where we’re staying up with current trends,” Erb said. “We think art is a great way for us to constantly provide something new and fresh because there is so much local talent in Philadelphia."
The street artists commissioned for the project have been on Benner’s radar for some time. The artists participating are Marian Bailey; Uriah Bussey; Dora Cuenca; Manuela Guillén; Tim McFarlane; A’Driane Nieves; Nicole Nikolich’ Symone Salib, who collaborated with poet Quinn Rodriguez; Chad States, and Meg Wolensky. For many of the artists, these are the largest pieces they’ve ever made.
You Deserve It! by States greets visitors entering from 11th Street. Bold letters spelling out the title slowly but smoothly change from green to yellow to orange to red. Covering four panels, it is the largest of all the murals.
Nikolich’s I Change is a large flower with bright pink and peach crocheted petals turning darker as they extend outward and the phrase “I Change with the Season” in the center. The artist uses color and repetition to explain how crocheting has been used as a meditative practice.
Wolensky’s Winged Victory (Work in Progress) was inspired by Philadelphia’s under construction status, as well as the queer experience being a work in progress.
The mural incorporates a bright pink cast of the Winged Victory of Samothrace, which depicts the Greek goddess of victory, Nike. Monstera and Bird of Paradise leaves emerge behind the goddess and her wing extends to the asphalt, glittering as construction work is being done. Smaller details like a rainbow and a Trompe L’oeil sticky note saying “In Progress” are included on the left-hand side.
“I really wanted to participate in a project that I could be out in,” Wolensky, a West Philly based oil painter, said. “It just feels right to reinforce my queer identity through a medium that made sense for me.”
Much of Salib’s portfolio consists of portraiture and her mural depicts Rodriguez and their poetry.
“A lot of my work is about making people feel seen and heard,” Salib said. “Quinn is kind of a newer poet, so for them to have a piece made of them like this is a big deal, which is so humbling for me to be a part of.”
Bailey, a self-taught visual artist who created a self-portrait for her mural, hopes that her art can spark joy in visitors and that people feel represented as she changes antiblack narratives.
“There’s a lot of art surrounding black pain and black suffering,” Bailey said. “I’m just out here creating art that’s supposed to make you feel happy and for people who don’t see themselves.”
Benner notes that blank spaces on walls are often filled with advertisements. For him, it’s a nice change to see art by local artists displayed instead.
“You can experience any number of things at a mall,” Benner said. “It’s refreshing to have a number of those walls just be used for artists creating and reflecting humanity back toward the viewer.”