Dec 16, 2014

Putting Artists in the Driver's Seat

by: RJ Rushmore

This year, the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Philadelphia and artist Phillip Adams embarked on a major project with a new way of conceptualizing our work and putting artists in the driver’s seat. The project is called Industrious Light, and it uses murals to celebrate Philadelphia’s industrial past and present.

At Mural Arts, we are known for our community murals. To most people, that means a process of having ideas bubble up from within a neighborhood, having artists meet with residents to refine and visualize those ideas, and sustained community engagement from the conception of the project until the mural is on the wall. In short, community muralism typically means community-driven.

Adams has experience with that process. He has worked with Mural Arts for the better part of a decade. One of his most iconic Philadelphia murals is Communion between a rock and a hard place, a collaboration with Willis Humphrey. For that project, the muralists worked with veterans to bring their stories to life on the wall, using photographs and text from the veterans as the basis for the design. The popular mural is a fantastic example of what Mural Arts has become so good at, but it isn’t necessarily a representation of what Humphrey or Adams produce in their personal work, and it isn’t intended to be.

Industrious Light is an artist-driven project. The series was Adams’ idea, and he’s working with Mural Arts to find sites and subjects. Although everything still goes through our rigorous design review process for quality control, the Industrious Light murals are his vision for representing Philadelphia’s history. So far, Industrious Light: Ortlieb’s Brewery is the only completed mural in the series, but more are planned for 2015.

So how does this project fit in with what we do? How are these community murals? Community engagement is still happening in Industrious Light. It’s still an essential part of the process, but it’s being done a bit differently.

When Adams finds a potential site or a story he wants to tell as part of Industrious Light, he reaches out to people who can help him learn more about the history that’s caught his eye. For that, project partner Hidden City has been helpful, as has research at the Historical Society of Pennsylvania. Rather than holding big community meetings, Adams is combing through archives and meeting with people one-on-one to gather their highly-specialized insights.

For future Industrious Light murals, The Philadelphia Public History Truck will provide additional context through special community events and outreach, using the murals to teach Philadelphians about our shared history. The events will be opportunities to learn about how our neighborhoods are constantly evolving, as well as to dig into the past.

Finally, as the series grows, Adams plans for the murals to spread out across Philadelphia, creating links between neighborhoods that might not otherwise have obvious connections. If the project’s visuals weren’t artist-driven, it might be difficult to create a cohesive series across multiple neighborhoods. Because the murals will share a common aesthetic, each mural will serve as a reminder of the entire series.

Like many of our projects, Industrious Light is about Philadelphia’s history and would be incomplete without community involvement, but it is also a slightly different format for us, an opportunity for the muralist’s artistic vision to lead the project.


Industrious Light: Ortlieb’s Brewery. Photo by Steve Weinik

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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