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Conrad Benner on the spirit of revolution

“We’re better as a whole when we look out for each other.”
Conrad Benner of Streets Dept collaborates with Visit Philly on "Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition." | M. Fischetti for Visit Philly
Conrad Benner of Streets Dept collaborates with Visit Philly on "Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition." M. Fischetti for Visit Philly

If you’re visiting Philly’s Historic District from now until July 4, you must make time to experience “Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition,” a joint effort between Visit Philly and Conrad Benner, founder and editor of Street Art website Streets Dept.

“A few months ago, Visit Philly reached out to me and we had a conversation about the Museum of the American Revolution opening up in Old City,” says Benner. “We wanted to work together on a neighborhood-wide exhibition that would be in the spirit of the museum.”

The recently launched exhibit features 13 different artists across 13 locations in the Historic District, which runs from the Delaware River to Seventh Street and from Vine to Lombard streets. Don’t expect to see art that’s stuck in the past, however — these works have their roots firmly in our present moment.

“An easy way to curate a show like this would be to curate Colonial-era paintings,” admits Benner. “But revolutions start with people asking questions — with people looking at the culture and society around them with a critical eye. All of the participating artists are challenging the current political and social status quo."

Take “Birth Lottery” by Yasmine Mustafa and Monica O. The foam-board poster of a stork flying over houses represents the randomness of the lives we’re born into.

“No one chooses the circumstances of their birth,” says Benner. “‘Birth Lottery’ looks at that idea of privilege.”

Michelle Angela Ortiz’s portrait, “Se Siento El Miedo,” explores the fear an undocumented Philadelphia man lives with every day after having a difficult encounter with U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

“Immigrants are people who are trying to live their best life with jobs and families,” Benner explains. “No matter what side of the aisle you’re on politically, you can’t look at one of Ortiz’s portraits and not see the humanity in it. It makes people engage in their own empathy towards other human beings.”

Even the addiction crisis is brought into the conversation with Lisa Kelley’s “Epidemic,” fabric weavings suspended from sticks to symbolize the struggle of addiction.

“Look at the opioid epidemic. Kelley brings humanity to that crisis, which maybe people aren’t talking about enough,” notes Benner.

While these works aren’t what we would typically define as “street art,” Benner explains that the exhibition is founded on the spirit of street art by engaging people in public spaces.

“This exhibition is being put in your face — at La Colombe, in alleyways, in places where the art will surprise you,” says Benner.  “It’s easy to be in your own bubble and not be empathetic at times. But art is a powerful tool — it can help you see things from another point of view and that we’re better as a whole when we look out for each other.”

If you go:
Revolutionary: A Pop-Up Street Art Exhibition
Through July 4
The Historic District
Various locations
visitphilly.com