Neighbor Ballads

Neighbor Ballads by Frank Sherlock and Erik Ruin. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About the Project 

Throughout history, broadsides—notices printed on sheets of paper and distributed to the public—have been used to communicate newsworthy information. Sometimes broadsides were political treatises. Sometimes they were advertisements. Sometimes they were commentaries on current events. Always there was a sense of urgency: in the most famous of Philadelphia examples, as soon as it had been signed, the Declaration of Independence was printed and distributed as a broadside. With Neighbor Ballads, the stories of seven South Philadelphians are told though poetry and portraits with that same sense of urgency. Their personal histories are the news.

How do we know that something is news? Usually, we are clued in by how it is delivered to us: on our front doorsteps each morning, on the radio as we drive to work, in the evening on television as we eat dinner. In the hands of poet Frank Sherlock and printmaker Erik Ruin, Neighbor Ballads was presented as news by being distributed through newspaper “honor” boxes—metal boxes that distribute the free tabloid-style newspapers that are fixtures of modern urban America. Starting in the Italian Market, and running down Ninth Street to East Passyunk Avenue, and then down East Passyunk Avenue to Morris Street, each of the seven South Philadelphians had their own box, displaying their portrait and announcing the importance of their story.

These stories honor the particularities of an individual’s journey-based narrative, while focusing a lens on that individual’s community. When viewed as a whole, the broadsides illuminate the shared experiences of the ongoing history of a legendary part of the city. When looked at individually, they give voice to the ordinary people who have shaped the character of a unique and culturally rich South Philadelphia.


Journeys South has been funded by The PewCenter for Arts and Heritage, through the Heritage PhiladelphiaProgram.