USA: Philly Spaces

Being here, now–It reminds me to consider what is holy.  My time is concerned with finding and keeping inspiration, both purposefully and by happy accident, in Philly, my city and playground, and beyond. In the geometry of the young though battered and aging skyline. Rust and rebirth. These are lessons in mindfulness in areas with busy intersections that color an appreciation for place and time and for each period as it comes. I’ve learned that the medium is not the point–reach out through as many avenues as possible because every offers stories. The digital face of communication: Facebook, Instagram, WordPress, Tumblr— each is a surprising tool for seeking daily inspiration in a visual capacity.  Through following some of the people I met abroad, I have found an outlet that connects lives and allows for a unique method of story-telling. In sharing small moments, often wordless, there is a disproportionately deep insight into how people of many backgrounds see their surroundings (though, of course, this depth is limited to those with access to smartphones $$$). It demands of me to try to bike or walk on a different street everyday and in the whirl, notice the details on each building and the remnants of motion around me. So I spend a lot of time plugged in and turned on to the glories of the web but it is important to not let it live there, but to apply it to daily functions. In this practice I have found incredible neighborhood projects both local and abroad that remind me of the importance of the creation of units and the simple acts of appreciation. And I still have much to learn from this city before my next move.

For one, I went to an event at artist collaborative 3rd Ward, featuring Hollaback Philly, Pussy Division, and artist Tatyana Fazlalizadeh called Stop Telling Women to Smile.

If you could respond without fear of violent retaliation, what would you say?

I thought she was on point.


This is something that became more apparent when I moved into an area with empty lots, less residents, and groups of men on stoops, where I plan my routes carefully and take my bike more often than not. Something that has become more apparent now that I have more time to be observant and to consider my dawning position as a women’s health educator in what will be a remote area of Guatemala. Why should my name change to “pumpkin” “princess” or “angel” if I serve you coffee drinks in the morning? Why do I hear smooching sounds only after I’ve walked past? Do you really want to “ride wit me”? On my bike, really? Part of self-awareness is learning to understand why your body’s response to these approaches is to become fully alert and on edge, to feel an electric chill trace your spine, to see the power dynamic of being harassed and not being able to respond because you are afraid to. From conversations on slut-shaming (i.e. Miley Cyrus, though that topic has certainly been beat into the ground), to attitudes towards women and especially women of color in female-dominated workplaces, to the awe-inspiring survival of the ancient political antics of the Tea Party in domineering women’s choices in matters of health and home, if you haven’t joined the conversation before now, it is time. And the vulnerable population in these dead spaces are not limited to women or women of color, but to anybody who entered the dead zone at the wrong time.

For one, I visited the 2500-2800 block of Germantown Avenue where Dutch duo Haas & Hahn led a neighborhood initiative of re-beautification. And tied into the previous artist initiative on making streets feel safe, one method of limiting harassment and developing a community is to give empty spaces use. This use creates safer spaces. There are arguments that this site has become a tourist zone, as led by the Mural Arts program, raised property value, and no longer belongs to the people who originally inhabited it. This is up for debate. Unfortunately, my only conversation on the block was short–when I turned to take pictures of one of the walls with my phone, a man turned to me and said “You like that? I don’t like that”.


But on the other hand, many say that the area is no longer a ghost town, and due to interest by developers and non-profits thanks to the facelift, businesses are reopening and people occupy the space. This duo has also established more well-known projects in some of the favelas of Rio de Janeiro –> where they are planning yet another project. Here is their website and kickstarter:

And while we are in Brazil, here is a project led by French street artist JR, using photos and wheatpaste in favelas.

Women are Heroes–JR, Brazil

So one lens I plan to incorporate into my work will be: Giving purpose to space.

I have been finding inspiration in everything recently.

Last week before heading to Charleston to celebrate the heartbreakingly beautiful betrothed Tia Delaney and Steve Wilson, I met up with some couchsurfing German graphic designers for an adventure around the city. Calling themselves “digital nomads”, they travel as a lifestyle, doing their work, networking, and contacting clients on the go. In Philadelphia, incidentally, they were doing their work out of 3rd Ward. I received a call the night before from a strange number and was told by a laughing voice, “we can come find you. We were given a car from a hippie commune in Georgia for the rest of our trip.” And from there I knew I had found kindred spirits and decided we ought to explore the abandoned train trestles down my street before it is transformed into something like New York’s High Line.

Their website:

From there, Grace, Alissa and I took Johann and Marc on a beerxploration of Philadelphia that left me distorted enough to wake up roughly to a chiming alarm clock for a 7 am flight and carry an unpacked bag onboard. Oy. In any case, chatting with these really creative extroverted and down guys pushed me to consider all of the alternatives to stationary positions and to create the life I wish to lead. Cheers to you.







Also, something that I find fitting for a post on seeking inspiration, was shared with me by a friend, a part of a speech given by writer David Foster Wallace:
“If you really learn how to pay attention, then you will know there are other options. It will actually be within your power to experience a crowded, hot, slow, consumer-hell type situation as not only meaningful, but sacred, on fire with the same force that made the stars: love, fellowship, the mystical oneness of all things deep down. Not that that mystical stuff is necessarily true. The only thing that’s capital-T True is how that you get to decide how you’re gonna try to see it.” You choose your lens.

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