Philly Public Arts Forum Series Launches at Paley Library

The free three-part series, a partnership between Conrad Benner and Temple Libraries, will explores the state of art in the city’s public spaces

Michelle Angela Ortiz, a visual artist, talks about how her experiences have shaped her art at Philly Public Arts Forum: The Art on Our Streets held at Paley Library on Thursday. Ortiz was one of four artists featured on the panel. | HANNAH BURNS / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The Philly Public Arts Forum held its first event in a free three-part series discussing art in Philadelphia’s public spaces at Paley Library on Thursday.

PPAF: The Art on Our Streets is the first iteration of the series and will examine the work of several artists and muralists, like Keir Johnston of Amber Art and Design, Sheldon Abba, Ginger Rudolph of HAHA x Paradigm, and Michelle Angela Ortiz. The discussion focused on how their art, which can be found throughout the city, serves as a vehicle to promote their activism and community development.

Conrad Benner, the founder and editor of Streets Dept, a Philadelphia street art photography blog, said he organized the forum in partnership with Temple University Libraries in hopes that it may become an annual event. Benner’s career is dedicated to exploring the intersection of art and the use of public space.

“We can use a public space to address our country’s unjust history and the inequities that we have here, instead of just ignoring it or having heated conversations online,” he said.

Cindy M. Ngo, a 2017 communication and media studies alumna, helped Benner organize the event and moderate the artists’ discussion.

They met one year ago when Ngo attended one of Conrad’s discussions on public space and asked him questions concerning gentrification and the lack of diversity in the arts community.

“It’s just more than representation,” Ngo said. “I really wanted this event to happen … I see so many struggling POC artists, and it’s always a thing of like, ‘Well what am I doing comparably to other street artists, and why are they being seen, and why not us?’”

Michelle Angela Ortiz, a visual artist and muralist, spoke in detail about her work, where she strives to give representation to underrepresented communities.

Ortiz’s art reaches out to communities she feels the most connected to, like people of color, immigrants and women.

“The power to tell our stories is so incredibly important,” she said. “Having a space to share our own experiences and to define who we are and how we want to be identified, and how we want to be remembered is so crucial.”

Ortiz wants people to be able to write their own stories, so others can relate and realize they’re not alone.  

“The beauty of [art is] hearing a story and not just feeling moved, but also connecting with someone you thought that you didn’t have a connection with,” she said. 

Eddie Einbender-Luks, a Germantown resident, attended the event after learning about it from social media. He said he left feeling incredibly inspired and assured in his own ambitions.

“I’m very interested in possibly doing street art one day,” he said. “I don’t really know where to start, and there was just a lot of good food for thought in terms of inspiration and affirming values from people I respect.”

On Monday, Sept. 24, the forum will host a panel about using art as activism in public spaces at Paley Library. Featured artists include Marissa Velazquez-Rivas, Russell Craig, Carol Zou of Asian Arts Initiative and Luis Marrero of Voices in Power.

The final event, the building of the Temple Freewall, will take place on Wednesday, Oct. 3. The public will be invited to draw on the wall following a workshop at Paley Library. Benner said he is working to keep the wall up for a prolonged amount of time, anywhere from a week to the end of the Fall semester.

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