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The streets of Philadelphia are defined by a proliferation of art. In any given year, the city bursts with new examples. Some are cheerful and colorful, others biting and somber. Some are carefully planned and approved, others impromptu and organic.
The tradition was especially relevant this year, as pandemic and protest responses threatened to turn formerly vibrant blocks into lonely stretches of concrete and glass.
Street art to the rescue.
Whether inspiring hope, spreading health safety, honoring victims of police brutality, or just adding beauty to a neighborhood, Philly artists responded to the year’s challenges by creating new work.
Here are 12 projects that helped tell Philadelphia’s story in 2020.
When the virus first landed, Broad Street Ministry led a cadre of artists and organizations who installed pop-up hand washing stations. They were accompanied by murals to spread the COVID safety lessons we hadn’t yet internalized.
More than 50 artists contributed designs and over 1,000 posters were printed and installed as part of Fill the Walls With Hope, organized by Village of Arts and Humanities’ Mark Strandquist.
Whimsy in South Philly
The Navy Yard and Group X commissioned six works from seven artists around the world for their third annual pop-up art installation, created to be viewed with plenty of physical distancing.
Called #MIMOSANavyYard, it featured gems like a lowrider turned pinata and seaside shack wearing a nameplate necklace.
Messages of justice
When artist Samuel Rodriguez wanted to lend a hand to the Black Lives Matter movement in June, he picked up some paint to do it.
“We’re in the movement, but with a paintbrush,” Rodriguez told Billy Penn shortly after he founded Walls for Justice, a group of artists and volunteers painting murals over the plywood of buildings boarded up to avoid damage after protest marches.
The improvised organization has become a lasting nonprofit.
Philadelphia is the birthplace of traditional graffiti, and plenty of handstyle artists still make their mark.
You can see Germantown artist Nomad’s work all over Philly. It’s the Nomad face, often accompanied by the words “Black is beautiful.” The artist created this colorful ode to Uptown in early June.
Originally installed in NYC, a version of artist Simone Leigh’s “Brick House” bronze found a permanent home on the University of Pennsylvania campus at 34th and Walnut.
To encourage people to cast a vote during the leadup to Election Day, a coalition called United by Blooms created pop-up floral arrangements at more than a dozen USPS mail boxes and city ballot drop boxes.
Graffiti Pier is maintaining DIY culture as plans advance to turn it into an official public park. This year it was filled with new commentary on everything from racial justice to politics.
Philly is known for its urban cowboy culture, so the temporary installation of one of Kehinde Wiley’s “Rumors of War” sculptures fit perfectly on 52nd Street. Members of the storied Fletcher Street Urban Riding Club made a visit during their GOTV rideout on Election Day.
Wiley’s original, a 27-foot-high response to the backlash against removing Confederate statues, is on permanent display at Virginia Museum of Fine Arts in Richmond.
Fighting for justice
In a year defined by loss, the death of 87-year-old Supreme Court Justice Ruth Bader Ginsberg hit extra hard. Artist URQUHART created several wheatpaste commemorations of the Notorious RBG.
Street tree glowup
We’re definitely calling it art. Harrowgate resident Darlene Burton turned a tree in front of her home into a free face mask dispenser. She even added bows alongside the masks for Christmas.
Philly yarn bomber Nicole Nikolich collaborated with wheatpaste heart queen Amberella for this sweet ode to humanity. Installed in Center City, it sent the message that nothing, not even 2020, could stop love.