“The first day was just a big blue blob,” said Lotits, a local street artist. “Not the nicest thing to look at.”
But only six days later, the mural was done. Located at 22nd and Catharine streets, the city’s latest mural is a homage to Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders.
Max Glass, an arts enthusiast, wanted to produce the installation after being inspired by a different Sanders mural in Philadelphia. Glass, who owns the building, reached out to Conrad Benner, the founder of the Streets Dept. art blog, to help pick out artists to assist with the project.
At the same time, Distort, another Philly artist, and Lotits were looking for a place to create a Sanders mural. Benner posted in a Facebook group and connected with the artists.
“I created a short list, and we picked two of my favorite artists: Old Broads and Distort,” Benner said. “We decided a Kickstarter would create the most money, so we went from there.”
The mural was originally funded out-of-pocket from the artists and producers because “everyone wanted to see this happen,” Lotits said.
The idea of having the Kickstarter was to reimburse the artists and allow the producers to be more serious about the project. The Kickstarter was put up on March 1, with a $5,000 goal set for March 31. It reached its goal on March 11 and still has more than a week to receive more donations.
Glass said the mural is not only there to decorate the neighborhood, but also to get people talking about “an important issue.”
“We’re out here having fun and elevating public support for Bernie,” he added.
The artists and producers involved are all Sanders supporters for different reasons. Glass said he appreciates the senator’s “consistency” and how effectively he communicates.
“He is going against the grain, as far as politics goes,” said Mackenzie Pikaart, an artist and supporter of the mural.
“Being an artist, I don’t make money,” Pikaart said. “I have three jobs and I have my artwork. It’s a hard life. It’s nice to have someone that’s out there being an advocate for you.”
Benner supports Sanders because he is the “first politician who has a history of talking about important issues,” he said.
“He’s the first politician in a long time that is genuine, and he’s more focused on the middle class than any candidate has ever been,” Benner added.
Samantha Hyman, designer of the Sanders’ T-shirt on the Kickstarter, said Sanders is the only candidate concerned for people, not driven by money or power.
Pikaart doesn’t believe all artists are in support of Sanders, however.
“My friend is very fearful to see how Bernie is going to go after Wall Street,” Pikaart said. “You can’t promise anything, and Bernie hasn’t really done that … but it is scary to see how things are gonna pan out.”
The mural is the beginning of a better relationship with building owners in Philly. Lotits said it may give lesser-known artists “more of an opportunity to express themselves on a larger scale.”
“It’s nice that there’s opportunity,” Pikaart said. “So many graffiti artists came out saying, ‘How can I help?’”
Lotits said to engage the community, and more importantly, voters, it’s important to keep “pulling them off the street and creating conversation.”
“It’s creating experiences you wouldn’t have had otherwise without the art being there to be a catalyst to newer things and experiences,” she added.
The mural even includes a portion with chalkboard paint, which resembles the Internet meme and pro/con list pitting Sanders against Hillary Clinton. Passersby can fill in the issue and the candidates responses.
“I love that this mural is different,” Pikaart said. “A lot of murals in the city are about the past. This is something that’s happening right now, and everyone knows who Bernie Sanders is.”
“This is the start of more murals like this in Philly,” Lotits said. “There’s so many buildings that need fresh paint, and there are so many artists confined to small spaces.”
The neighborhood around the building has supported the mural, and the “foot traffic has been ridiculous,” they added.
People even came by and dropped off food for the artists, Benner said—like a bag of Tastykakes, cases of water and even “Bernie cookies.”
“This one night, a woman came by with her two kids and she started tearing up,” Pikaart said. “She was kissing her kids saying, ‘I love you so much, this is for your future.’ I was really touched by how she was fighting for her kids and fighting for a better future for them.”
“This was just passionate people excited by a candidate pooling their resources to support,” Benner said. “Whether Bernie wins or not, we want people to know that Philadelphia sees Bernie as the future.”
Tsipora Hacker can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.