Streets Dept Walls: A New Project from Philly's Own Conrad Benner
By Nick Schon; Editorial Assistant
Streets Dept founder and editor Conrad Benner has been writing about street art and murals since 2011, though he has been attracted to the art form most of his life. Now, Conrad along with 11 Philly artists he’s hand selected, are installing 10 temporary murals in public space under a new project titled Streets Dept Walls. The murals will be installed coincident with the opening of Fashion District Philadelphia and the evolution of the Gallery at Market East.
N: What is the motivation behind Streets Dept Walls?
C: With my street art blog and as a curator, I love asking questions about how we shape and create our public space. And I seek opportunities that let me explore ideas around the power of art in the public space. What effect can a piece of art have on its viewer? Who's creating that art and for what intent? And how can we use art in the public space to connect us to ourselves and our collective humanity in all its many complexities?
N: How did you decide that Fashion District is an appropriate space for these murals?
C: The Fashion District is a widely unique and perfect opportunity for a project like this. Aside from being an exciting new quasi-public space in Philly that'll likely attract a large number of people itself daily, it's also situated in between the networks of a few very well-used subways and regional rail transit stops. In short, the audience for this project will be pretty unmatched compared to most other projects I've ever worked on. It was a no brainer for me to work with Fashion District, to present these artists' works there, and Fashion District has been an incredibly supportive partner in this.
N: Being in such a high traffic area, do you have any intent or hope that these artists works will encourage a larger dialogue around the types of art being brought into public spaces?
C: Yes! It's definitely always the goal to grab the viewer's attention and have them think about the piece. To think about why that piece is there and how it makes them feel. To this about why any of the artworks are there and how they might be connected. And to hopefully continue to carry that observation throughout their day. In fact, that's just what I do with my blog, explore the public space and work to understand what's there and how it affects me.
N: Are you intending to take on more of a curatorial role with this project? What has the process been like?
C: Yes! For me, this project starts with understanding our audience, and our audience for this series of murals are the thousands of people a day that will be moving through Fashion District in addition to the thousands more moving through SEPTA's train stations that are connected to it. It's why I curated Philly artists. This is our space, these are our walls. Let's have those walls be mirrors from Philly artists working to reflect our city, our communities, and ourselves... As far as the plan, I had about four months to organize this, and the artists had roughly 3 weeks to plan and 3 weeks to create their murals.
N: What was your process in selecting the artists for these murals?
C: First and foremost, I wanted to highlight Philly artists. Each and every one of these artists are people I've been wanting to work with for some time, and I'm excited that that time is here. Secondly, I wanted to offer the viewer an array of artistic practices. So with our 11 artists, we have both gallery and street artists, we have artists that work with acrylic paint, oil paint, light, yarn, and poetry...I wanted the walls to pulse with the eclecticism of Philly's art world. Lastly, I wanted to work with some artists who had not yet created at this scale and/or never created for the public space. And for a number of the artists apart of Streets Dept Walls this is their first mural or their largest piece of art to-date and/or their first work displayed in a public space. I find that really exciting, and I think an audience will too!
N: Besides being Philly based, do the artists share a commonality that you want to express?
C: One thing that I think connects all of these artists is that they'd all like to do larger-scale permanent murals in Philly. And in our City of Murals, I know I'd love for any key-holders out there to see these artists work and invite them to create more work around Philly!
N: Do you see this as being an ongoing project spanning other spaces in the future?
C: You know, that's a hope. It's hard to predict the future and I try to be open to opportunities that come, so it's possible for sure. Ultimately it likely depends on the reaction to this iteration. If people seem to like it and there's excitement around it, I think it'd be pretty easy then to build a second iteration!
N: How long will the temporary murals be on display? And will there be any events or activations while the murals are up?
C: The walls will be up through the end of 2019, through December! We'll be having a meetup on the 20th, and there's more info on that here. Then later in the exhibition, we'll be hosting a series of artist talks, but there's no more info on that at this time.