Learn More About Philadelphia Through Its Public Art

Spring is my favorite season in Philadelphia. All the trees in my neighborhood flower and the grass turns a brighter shade of green. I try to bike to new areas of the city or walk routes outside of my daily routine to discover places I haven’t visited before. However, with the stay at home order in place, such meandering is inadvisable. The Association for Public Art’s interactive map of Philadelphia allows you to explore the city from a fresh perspective without leaving your house.

The project maps the location of public art around the city. Clicking on an individual checkpoint take you to a page with images of the artwork and information about the piece and its creator. One checkpoint, located in North Philadelphia further away from clusters of artwork in Center City, links to Ile Ife Park. Ile Ife Park is an art park filled with murals, mosaics, and mixed-media sculpture. The project began in 1986 when choreographer Arthur Hall offered the vacant lot adjacent to Ile Ife Black Humanitarian Center to artist Lily Yeh. The Association of Public Art’s page on the park explores the life of the space to the present day. I had never heard of Ile Ife before looking at the map; it is change encounter like this that make the mapping project a powerful substitute for physically exploring Philadelphia.

Green checkpoints on the map correspond to works that are a part of the Museum Without Walls Audio project. These checkpoints feature videos that offer more in-depth information about the artworks, historical context, and conversation scholars knowledgable about the pieces. Some of the more recent pieces, like “The Labor Monument: Philadelphia’s Tribute to the American Worker,” include audio from the artists themselves. This is particularly insightful, as it provides insight into the artist’s process

Although you can freely explore the interactive map, the Association of Public Art has also curated thematic tours. Themes include African American art, functional public art, and the animal kingdom, among others. The thematic tours provide connections between pieces that may be hard to recognize when all the checkpoints are shown together.

Although I still miss walking around the city, interactive maps like the one produced by the Association of Public Art provide one way to explore from home. In some ways, this project opens up new possibilities that you may not discover on foot; I can look at a new piece of art in North Philadelphia and quickly find another interesting work in southwest. It provides the same joy of discovery as stumbling on a new spot, but digital exploring allows you to cover a larger swath of the city. Viewing public art digitally is not the same experience as seeing it in-person, but thanks to the association’s mapping project I have new spots to visit when it is safe to stroll outside again.