When Philly street art blogger and curator Conrad Benner got an email a month ago with his name and “New York Times” in the subject line, he thought it was spam.
Luckily, he opened it anyway — because spam it most certainly was not. Benner, who in 2011 started the blog Streets Dept and grew it into his livelihood, had been tapped for a profile in the nation’s de facto newspaper of record.
Following the email came an hour-long phone call, and a few weeks later, a full day spent with an NYT reporter and photographer, who followed him around as he met with artists across the Philadelphia art scene.
“My work is so hyper local,” Benner told Billy Penn. “It’s so Philly-based that it was first and foremost, a shock. And secondly, it’s just really validating.”
The article about him, published online today, is part of the Times’ “More Than Likes” series, which the outlet describes as covering “social media personalities who are trying to do positive things for their communities.”
Benner, who grew up in Fishtown, launched his blog when he was working in a gelato and coffee shop and attending community college part-time. He started out as a “fanboy” of the Philly art scene, he said, but his writing about hyperlocal niche projects caught on, and allowed him to pursue a career in the arts.
Now, in addition to using his platform to spotlight artists and public art developments around the city, he publishes an annual Streets Dept magazine and booklet, and curates several public art exhibitions, among other things.
He’s also managed to raise his profile on social media, amassing 150k followers on Instagram, 22k on Twitter, 35k on TikTok, and 7k on Facebook. (Most people who recognize Benner when he’s out and about say they’re familiar with his TikToks, these days.)
Although already well-known on the local media scene, Benner’s hopeful the national attention might provide an “opportunity to grow in some way,” whether personally or professionally.
His “easy one quick hope,” he told Billy Penn, is that New York Times exposure could provide a way to find new funding to hire more contributors to produce content for his blog, since advertising revenue dropped off during COVID. Right now, contributions through Patreon help cover blog costs, and the coverage is largely written by Benner and one lead contributor, Eric Dale.
“But yeah, who knows?” he said. “That’s the beauty of stuff like this. This is such a gigantic platform, so many people are gonna see it. Who knows what doors are gonna open? … I’m just open to all of it.”
He’s also happy for the recognition being awarded to the Philly public art scene as a whole: A few weeks ago, USA Today readers named Philadelphia this year’s No. 1 “Best City for Street Art.”
“I think the reason I was able to create this blog and the reason it was able to take off … is because we have such a dynamic street art and public art scene here in the city,” Benner said. “We have incredible artists working every single day to create these beautiful, thoughtful, thought-provoking, fun, creative works of art in our public space that are available for everyone to enjoy.”
He added: “I’m always just so proud of Philadelphia. Whenever we get recognition for our public art and our street art, I’m just so excited.”
You can read the profile of Benner here.
Not a New York Times subscriber, but still want to read the story? If you have a Free Library card, you can get free access in 72-hour increments through the library’s “New York Times Anywhere” service. There’s a link to the service on freelibrary.org’s “Databases” page.