The Mural Arts Program (MAP) knows how much people love the 1987 Keith Haring mural We the Youth at 22nd & Ellsworth. That’s why the city arts organization issued a reassuring heads up on its Facebook page before the beginning of a six- to eight-week restoration, during which there will be scaffolding and workers and other oft-suspicious signs of doom.
You’re walking through the woods, along a path that snakes along the Delaware River. Alongside the path are broken, mysterious structures–ruins of buildings, wood and metal industrial tools that are hard to identify, tree houses with ladders that beg you to climb them. See a canvas rope embedded in sand, follow its length, and discover a wooden bridge that traverses the tidal waters of the Delaware–filled with all the things that have washed up on these shores. Can you guess what they are? A tube of lip gloss. A rubber duck. The hull of a boat. And bottles–dozens, maybe hundreds of plastic bottles.
This installation piece rewards curiosity. For hikers who always stay along a marked trail, the gauntlet is thrown: The only way to assuredly discover each and every one of Ben Neidetz and Zach Webber’s surprises is to let your imagination–and that of your kids, if you’ve got some–take flight.
The pair of Dutch painters known as Haas & Hahn are famous for transforming Brazilian favelas with bold, colorful paint on building exteriors. Last year they began doing the same in Philadelphia on the 2600 block of Germantown Avenue in partnership with the Mural Arts Program, working with neighborhood kids and residents to transform a neighborhood that the two painters characterized as equally troubled as the slums of Rio.
The project was featured in the New York Times’ Style Magazine, which described the area as “a crime-ridden section of North Philadelphia” with “dilapidated storefronts, boarded-up windows, drooping cornices and even a few stray Art Deco details.”Amazingly, the artists also told the Times that Philly is so screwed up, it’s harder to get things done here than it is in Rio’s favelas due to “layers of bureacracy,” among other problems.
You’ve seen them on the buildings along the route of the Market-Frankford El–artist Steve Powers’ “Love Letter” murals, which are evocative, poignant, funny and one of the most inventive projects the Mural Arts Program has ever done. Best seen from the train, with messages that use colloquial language and a mix of type and color, the murals are accessible to a range of people in a way art isn’t always. And what could enliven an El trip more than flashes of mysterious messages that zip by, making riders look forward to the next day’s ride to decode the buildings that often blur like blight?