"How does access to art and arts education shape who's invited to participate in our city's creative place-making? And what role can public art play in sparking conversation, empowerment, empathy and understanding around important social and political issues?"
Above you'll find the question posted by Conrad, on his Twitter page @StreetsDept. This is exactly what we dove into during the discussions across three amazing forums - Artist Talks, Artist Panels, and an Artist Workshop.
Before I continue, I'd like to personally thank Conrad (@StreetsDept) and Cindy (co-founder of @EatUpTheBorders) Temple University and Temple University Libraries (@tulibraries)- Beyond The Page (Sara, specifically) for hosting us with warm and welcoming arms.
I was so hype when I received an email from Cindy inquiring about having me be a part of the Artists Panel and Workshop, especially when I found out it was with Conrad because I've been a huge fan of his blog for years. (#supersidebar: if you haven't already, be sure to check it out.) Conrad is the man behind Streets Dept, which is an amazing blog focusing on discovering art on the streets of Philadelphia - to keep it simple and to the point. The Philly Public Arts Forum was a series of three free events exploring the state of art in Philadelphia's public spaces.
During the series I learned so much about the differences and different styles of street art, its history, the challenges street artists face, how diverse its creators are yet still carrying a very similar underlying message of demanding to be heard through the worlds attempt to silence the minority artists voice, the lack of resources and education made easily and affordably available to young-colored artists and so much more. It even made me eager to learn more about my heritage and our advantages/disadvantages in regards to how much access we have to create in public spaces and it be accepted alongside a paycheck.
Before this series, I was completely unaware of some of these issues artist face. I thought the struggles I was encountering simply come with the territory. Although, this is true, to a degree, hearing some of the back end to why the obstacles we face as artists are present was an eye-opener. Many of the things that can change an artists journey to "success" is hindered by the color of our skin, the neighborhood we live in, the financial backing we typically don't have to pursue art, the resources and education provided for free, and more. And the big question - how do we change this in our city, our community, our neighborhood, our block, and our homes?
Sheldon Abba, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Keir Johnston (of Amber Public Art), Ginger Rudolph (of HAHA x Paradigm), Marisa Velazquez-Rivas, Russel Craig (of Mural Arts Philadelphia), Carol Zou (of Asian Arts Initiative), Blur, and Luis Marrero (aka me, of Voices In Power).
What I'll share next are just some thoughts that come to mind while writing about the series and what I learned and heard. This could be a ramble and unrelated, but I feel it's necessary to share, so here it goes...
First, I want to say you are not alone. Many of us, artist or not, encounter struggles based off things we have no control of - like, the color of our skin, what class we are born in, the neighborhood we grow up in, etc... Find a community, both similar to your differences and different from your similarities, as long as, the foundation is love and you build with purpose.
Second, you are worthy, deserving and capable of so much more that may come against you in this life looking to destroy any piece of you - don't let it discourage you, but if it does from time to time, that's okay, too. I believe you don't have to stay there and know you have the strength somewhere deep inside you to make it through. Keep your head up and keep moving forward.
Third, I want to encourage you to NOT compare yourself to someone else. Not those you know personally, through social media, not your mentors or parents, your friends or followers, none of that, bruh. It's a setup for disaster. I am always online and I know how easy it is to be an artist and to compare. Comparison to an artist is salt to a slug. It will eat away at you until you cannot operate in the way you were created to be. This takes time, and again, that's okay. Be sure to keep people around you to keep you aligned to your purpose and not mimicking another person. Oh, and learn the difference between comparison and inspirational or modeling. It will make this a much easier thing to overcome.
Here's a closing statement to open some thought - God created you in His perfect timing, in His perfect will. The color of your skin, to the time you were born in, to the place you live, to the passion in which you create from and the style in which you create, to the way you speak, etc is all your superpower. You were uniquely and wonderfully made. Don't ever forget that. Just learn it, love it, and give it unapologetically. It all has it purpose...
Thank you for reading and before you go, just a friendly reminder:
YOU ARE LOVED.
YOU ARE BEAUTIFUL.
YOU ARE SUPERDOPE.