The Asian Art Initiative hasn’t hosted the Pearl Street Block Party since 2016 due to ongoing construction on the buildings on Pearl Street between Vine and Wood streets, where the event is typically hosted.
This year, on Oct. 23, was the perfect time to bring the event back for community members to freely express the creative energy they built up during the COVID-19 pandemic while reconnecting with each other, said Anne Ishii, the program director at Asian Art Initiative.
“All of us were feeling this huge exhale from shutdown, and we wanted to do this last summer initially, but then because of the quarantine, we couldn’t do it,” Ishii said. “We knew we had to do it this year just because everybody was feeling pent-up energy.”
Live music from local DJs was paired with performances from local poets, and New York-based artist Josh Cochran unveiled a 178 foot high mural, filling Pearl Street to celebrate a vibrant community.
Event-goers could make buttons with the Asian Art Initiative logo on them, browse the pop-up shop that featured artwork and literature created by Asian Americans and help complete the new mural by Cochran, which depicts partially clothed figures in an abstract composition as a part of a study that Cochran worked on during quarantine.
While the Asian Art Initiative commissioned the mural, Cochran began the project with the goal of making an image that community members could feel honored by and take pride in.
“I wanted to make an image that was celebratory and also had kind of a glorious feeling,” Cochran said. “The Asian community had a really difficult last couple of years, so I wanted to do something in response to that and celebrate all Asian Americans here in Philadelphia and everywhere.”
Although the event was free, organizers encouraged attendees to bring food and other pantry items to donate to the community fridge that the Asian Art Initiatives is operating as part of the initiative’s latest exhibition, Care, which explores themes of caregiving, community, and the future of care.
For Minnie Win, an artist from West Philadelphia, the event helped them feel connected to the local Asian community. When reading “Crying in H Mart”, a book by Michelle Zauner, at the Block Party pop-up shop, Win teared up because she finally felt that her Asian heritage was being recognized in a communal space, said Win.
“As an Asian American, I never really felt like I had a place no matter where I lived,” Win said. “Today, just to see the community come out made me feel like we’re doing something for ourselves, and it’s not just that it’s just like building community, but having solidarity.”