Philly Blunt

Freelance writer. Editor and web-video producer. Former Atlantic City Press and Philadelphia Weekly staff writer, City Paper managing editor/columnist and Dougherty for Senate campaign manager. Comments welcome here or emailed to brianhickey9 [at] hotmail. Now on: Facebook (Brian Hickey, in Philly) Twitter at www.twitter.com/brianhickey Flickr at http://www.flickr.com/people/brianhickey/. Be sure to check out Hickey on Divorce Court: divorcecourting.blogspot.com.

29 July 2009

More on Steve Powers


Yo, while I posted a link to today's Metro column in the wee hours, I vowed to go a little more in-depth. So, here's the rough draft of what I'd written before I had to grasp my editing axe and cut the piece down to size.

The Graffiti Rebound
By Brian Hickey

The last time I was at 52nd and Market streets, I watched Michael Nutter shake many an Election Day hand at the El stop. This was rife with symbolism since, for the previous couple months, businesses up-and-down Market had been crying foul. They claimed the behemoth El reconstruction project reddened their bottom lines, shrunk their customer bases by blue-light-special margins and released packs of dust clouds into their lungs.

Yet last week – despite the dreadlocked fellow who punched a car hood so it would “leave me alone!” – it felt like the desperate air was finally lifting. Neither politics nor reimbursements deserve credit, though. If things go according to plan, graffiti will.

Steve Powers was born in Overbrook (1968) and got booted from Archbishop Carroll High (end of junior year). “For being me,” he explained. Last Thursday, we cruised West Philly with his buddy Adam, photographing walls that seemed random to me, but warranted close attention to them. The way Powers sees it, the walls could bring a lot of good to a place that needs a lot of great.

“That train project was bleeding money out of these businesses,” Powers said of what he saw on a trip home from New York City, where well-known graffiti kid “ESPO” landed and developed into renowned artist/Fulbright Scholar adult. “The neighborhood was really hurting.”

Thinking back to 2003, when no fewer than 50,000 additional visitors were compelled to visit Coney Island to witness the flourish of creative painting to signs and rides that he and a team of artists had added, he asked, Why not here? So starting next week, courtesy of Pew, PEI and Mural Arts Program support, Powers and about 40 young, old, novice and world-class painters will descend upon 35 to 50 walls along the El line.

The project’s called “Love Letters,” which is fitting because even MAP-honchette Jane Golden is enamored with its artistic approach divergent from the standard mural scene.

“With every project, we ask how to maximize the impact,” Golden said. “It’s not just a job. It’s a moral imperative.”

Letters and words, not portraits, will teach sign painting which will lead to an operation that can provide advertising signage that mom-and-pop stores can afford; a movie and coffee-table book is also in the mix. One small step by getting blessings from property owners and community groups begets one giant step for community, is the hope.

“What graffiti hasn’t been able to do is represent a community, a mindset, a concrete thought past, ‘My name is ESPO.’ We’re actually making art that has an immediate impact,” Powers said. “We hope that people will see this from the El and actually get off and come to West Philly. Hopefully, by the end, they’ll have a little change in their pockets. We’ll have done more than a lot of people have done for West Philly. For every kid sitting around drawing stuff in a notebook, this will tell them, ‘You can do this. It’s not impossible.”

-30-

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