Putting Philadelphia’s Public Art Online

“More Than Likes” is a series about social media celebrities trying to do positive things for their communities.

Conrad Benner’s cell phone camera was pinned to artist Niall Livingston standing in front of a blank wall. MX Her Livingston was soon to paint a giant mural, the “canvas” of which was to be the side of an apartment building overlooking a parking lot in Philadelphia’s Gaverhood neighborhood. But MX. Livingston struggled to find the right words to promote TikTok.

“We can do thousands of takes,” Benner said, with warmth in his voice. He chose the place and the artist.

Mr. Benner, 38, runs street part, a photo blog and social media presence dedicated to spotlighting street artists. In addition to interviewing artists via video and photographing their work, Benner selects the artists. philadelphia mural art, says it is the largest public art program in the country. Known for both its rich cultural and cultural institutions, the city that public art scene“I want to serve artists in every way,” Benner said.

“He’s a bridge to the public art community,” says Mx. Livingston said. “He stops, slows down, observes his surroundings and really cares about the city of Philadelphia.”

Livingston before meeting Mx, Benner’s camera was locked on another artist, Alexei MansurBrenner chose someone to paint a mural in real time as part of a street festival. The temperature was nearly 90 degrees Celsius, and Mr. Mansour’s voice, a self-professed ‘boso’ who doesn’t like public speaking, was drowned out by the voice of a giant speaker. People were everywhere, and Mr. Mansoor was struggling with his face red. (“I lost consciousness,” Mansoor later said.)

Mr. Benner took the initiative, instructing Mr. Mansoor to wave his hand in front of his face and cool down. He changed locations, first trying to record Mr. Mansour’s voice in an adjoining building (which was too noisy), then settling in a corner away from the commotion.

“One, two, three,” Mr. Benner said patiently, and Mr. Mansoor began to describe his job.

Mansoor and his team, whose work focuses on queer identity, worked on a mural of the Greek god Dionysus, who some consider to be an early deity. non-binary shape.

Benner, who grew up in the Fishtown neighborhood and usually wears a flat-brimmed hat and moustache, avoids attention when documenting art, letting people see the artists he supports.

“My interest has always been to point the camera outward,” Benner said. “I find great joy and interest in learning about the world around me through public art and the artists who create it.”

Benner first published Streets Dept in 2011. I was new to the world of street art. Rather than being an artist by training, Benner had long planned to pursue a career in architecture. His early posts were what he called a “fanboy blog.” condition.

In June 2011, Time magazine was reprinted and the blog went mainstream. post About the artist who “yarnbombed” the city’s trains and wrapped the seats in colorful knit fabrics. The high-profile Benner took a full-time job in marketing, but retired in 2015 after his Instagram following exceeded 100,000 (now over 100,000). 150k followers and another 34,600 on TikTok) and focused all on the street department. subscription service Through Patreon, a membership platform for content creators.

After nearly a decade of independent curation, Benner said he began selecting artists and locations for mural art in 2020, and that mural art now accounts for the majority of funding for the street department. Stated. on the side.

At the heart of all that work is a love of the city, which he believes is particularly well-suited to its thriving street art community.

“Most of the street artists working today are either decorating abandoned buildings or construction materials,” says Benner. “Almost every neighborhood in Philadelphia has abandoned buildings that were former warehouses and abandoned homes.”

“There was this idea that the industry and maybe some people had left the city, so now this is our playground,” he said of the street artists (the city’s population was about 200 in the 1960s). million to about 1.5 million in 2021). “If you leave a building alone, it will be filled with art.”

A few hours after shooting with the MX. Livingston, Mansoor and Benner stopped at a free artist wall space on a busy street corner. A man drew a woman’s face. Benner had seen the artist’s work for months, but had never met him. He was Sean Durbin, an up-and-coming local artist who was trying to get Benner’s attention with a live painting. He agreed to let Mr. Benner feature his work.

Mr. Benner pulled out his camera. “This is really Kismet,” he said. His favorite part of his job is meeting new artists and sharing their work with the public. “Why are we in this world if we don’t just look around and get excited about what’s around us?”

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