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The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

The Student News Site of St. Joseph's University

The Hawk News

Fit to be king
Lilli Dellheim '25 M.A., Special to the Hawk • July 13, 2024

Artists of color highlighted in new Center City gallery

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This piece, titled “Self-Assured,”was crafted using a combination of bright colors and patterns. PHOTOS: Zach Dobinson ’22

Philadelphia became a little more colorful over the weekend with the opening of the Streets Dept Walls gallery. The gallery featured 10 murals created by 11 Philadelphia artists in the newly unveiled Fashion District in Center City.

Streets Dept, a blog and podcast, was created in 2011 by Conrad Benner to discuss street art in Philadelphia. Benner currated the gallery, located along Market Street to mark the opening of Philadelphia’s Fashion District. The district is a redesign of the space formerly known as The Gallery.

Most of the artists featured are LGBTQIA+ and women of color. According to census.gov, 52.7% of Philadelphia’s population identify as women and 42.6% that identify as black. Benner, who curated the gallery, said that he knows many of the murals done in Philadelphia are not created by LGBT artists or artists of color.

“We’re in a public space and our public space should reflect us and the communities that live here,” Benner said. “I’m just trying to use my role as a curator and use that to better reflect our city.”

Benner contacted many of the artists featured in the gallery after seeing their work on Instagram. Through Instagram, Benner was able to find some of the artists’ websites and further contact them.

Marian Bailey was one of those artists. Bailey, the creator of “Self-Assured,” said she was amazed with Benner for discovering her, even more so after being offered a spot in Streets Dept Walls.

“He told me that some of my pieces really resonated with him so he reached out to me,” Bailey said. “After I stopped crying, I said I would love to participate.”

“Self-Assured” is “a bold declaration of confidence” that was years in the making for Bailey. Fighting against insecurities and societal perceptions, Bailey used bright and vibrant colors to fill her 8 feet by 8 feet blank canvas with a self-portrait.

“I said what would be really iconic would be if my first and biggest piece was myself,” Bailey said. For other artists, they decided to fill their blank canvases with more abstract murals. For A’Driane Nieves, creator of an untitled piece, her mural was born out of the combination of her Philadelphia heritage and her Southwestern upbringing. While both her parents are originally from Philadelphia, Nieves was born and raised in San Antonio, Texas.

“It’s very representative of that shifting landscape that’s out there in the South West, that’s in the desert,” Nieves said. “It’s very representative of the city and the urban environment.”

A’Driane Nieves lets her artwork, like this untitled piece, speak for itself.

Nieves explained that the color palette of her piece is directly influenced by the colors of the landscapes of Texas, New Mexico, Arizona and other Southwestern states her family would drive through on road trips.

“If you go up to it you can touch it and you’ll see that there’s different textures,” Nieves said. “It’s kind of gritty, kind of tough, it’s got a lot of scratches and things of that nature.”

Dora Cuenca, creator of “Beneath Our Feet,” feels that there’s something about abstract that no other art style can offer. Cuenca said that creating the curved lines and blends of colors was meditative for her.

“Since it’s abstract, I can tell you exactly what I was thinking when I made it, but when you see it you’re gonna feel whatever you’re gonna feel,” Cuenca said. “That’s what I’m going for here.”

Dora Cuenca uses art as a form of meditation to cope with her struggles with mental health.

Another element that makes Streets Dept Walls unique is that its artists are a blend of up-and-coming and well-established. Nieves said she began teaching herself how to paint in 2012 on advice from a therapist. It wasn’t until 2015 that she began pursuing art professionally.

“To have this kind of opportunity at this point in my career feels really special and it’s very exciting,” Nieves said.

For someone like Cuenca and Bailey, art has been always been present just in different ways. Cuenca said she always used watercolors for their simplicity and easy clean up when painting with her kids. It wasn’t until completing mural work for a friend that she felt murals were her new obsession.

Having been the fourth of eight children, Bailey found herself left to her own devices and subjected to her own creativity.

“I feel like I’ve always been an artist,” Bailey said. “Ever since I was a little kid I was tucked away in my room creating something.”

Streets Dept Walls was a full circle experience for Benner. After being fired from an Old Navy that was in the Fashion District when it was called The Gallery, Benner created Streets Dept. Now he has curated a 10 mural gallery in the Fashion District, the same building he previously worked.

“I think the day to day can be so humdrum and you can just sort of toil away, go to your job, go to school, come back,” Benner said. “Art just always pushes you further, open parts of yourself, parts of your community, parts of the world to you.”

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