Apr 20, 2016

Understanding the Process: An Interview with Netanel Portier

by: Meg Wolensky

At Mural Arts, we believe it’s important to take a moment to get to know your team and to highlight their strengths. This week I had the opportunity to investigate the way that our projects highlight change in Philadelphia with Netanel Portier, our Director of the Project Management Office.

Meg: Welcome Netanel! Let’s start off with a bit of backstory – are you originally from the City of Brotherly Love?

Netanel: This could be a really long answer, but yes, basically, I grew up outside of Philadelphia but spent almost 8 years studying and working in France.

Meg: Neat. So I’ve heard that if I need to know about what’s happening at Mural Arts, you’re the person I go to. It sounds like a pretty daunting calling considering how much we do – could you tell us more about what your role entails?

Netanel: I’m sort of like the Mural Arts detective. I investigate projects and check back in on progress with the goal of knowing just about everything that goes on here. I regularly meet with all of the project managers and some of our executive staff to collect key information and maintain a “work plan” for each department. Based on all of that information combined, I make suggestions or raise questions about how our goals tie in to our capacity and help match projects to managers.

In tandem with our executive director Jane, I spend a lot of time identifying new projects and also what projects can be trimmed down or built up. Jane holds the artistic vision of the organization and we work together to see where there are overlaps in themes that are developing across the work. We identify upcoming opportunities to pair exciting new projects with artists. I try to structure our projects so that they are measurable, do-able, and balanced while being considerate of the artist’s time and energy. Basically, I’m looking at the bigger picture for the whole organization.

Meg: What is it like to work with artists to impact change at Mural Arts? What kind of relationship does our organization aspire to have with artists that we work with?

Netanel: Pairing artists and projects is kind of like assembling a puzzle along with our executive staff to make a fuller picture for our future. We strive for all of our work to show that art that has the power to ignite change. I think that one of the greatest strengths of our organization is that we empower artists to make that change. Some artists already have a switch turned on inside them – they’ve been actively affecting change with their work. Other artists have less experience organizing change, which is where we come in to help build capacity and resources to help them reach the community at large.

Meg: How do you determine which projects to move forward with? What kinds of conversations are we participating in about change?

Netanel: We often spend time selecting projects that help communities rethink the way they consider or experience their environment, community, each other, and the role of an artist in our society. With art, we bring those conversations to life visually. We ask “does this piece question the role of murals in the 21st century by using new techniques or raising awareness about an important social issue?” Finally, we look at the potential a project has to be innovative in its planning, implementation, or physical creation.

Meg: It’s so interesting to hear the process we use to curate ideas for murals. Speaking of curating, how do you participate in the arts community outside of work?

Netanel: I am an artist with a background in photography and printmaking. I recently exhibited my work at the Gershman Y, which coincided with a partner exhibition I co-curated in the same space. They included photographs of Israeli landscapes, a series I had been doing for over ten years, and works by israeli artists I had been researching for some time. And as far as printmaking goes, I love drypoint and scratching into plexiglass because the physicality of that process helps me remove tension out of my body – I like the act of scratching away at a surface. Now, it’s been difficult to continue an artistic practice. I have a three year old son and I just had a second baby who’s now six months old —

Meg: Who is just so cute!

Netanel: Yes! A lot of my time has been dedicated to my family, work, and making sure we have a healthy lifestyle. I use a lot of my expressive energy when I’m cooking. I love browsing around for new recipes, getting fresh ingredients from the farmer’s market and that’s been a very creative outlet for me recently.

Meg: Thank you for your time Netanel, it was so interesting to hear your insight. I think I can speak for myself and our readers when I say we’re excited to see what projects come from Mural Arts next!


Mural Arts will be doing a multi-part interview series with our staff, so check back every month to learn more about the Mural Arts family!

Last updated: Apr 26, 2016

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