Public Art in Philadelphia

With help from the Hurford Humanities Center’s Summer Research Fellowship fund, I have spent the past couple months fully immersed in the filmmaking process.

As a film and media studies major at Swarthmore, I was given the option to do an independent thesis and I immediately jumped on that opportunity. After having worked on multiple documentary projects during my time at Haverford (thanks to the wonderful Vicky Funari), I knew that I wanted to engage my documentary skills and experiences in a topic close to home. Philadelphia has always been an under-appreciated city in my eyes, and having it as a cultural, historical, academic, and experiential resource has been crucial to the development of my thesis.

My guiding question entering this project was something along the lines of, “How does public art delineate and/or subvert socioeconomic and cultural borders”. Since the beginning of the summer I’ve been able to narrow my focus to South Philadelphia, specifically the significant Nepalese, Burmese and Bhutanese refugee populations that have accumulated in recent years.

Southeast x Southeast is a community resource ¬†and arts center for these refugees, which aims to use art as a vehicle for storytelling and community building. With support from the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, the Lutheran Children and Family Service, and the Mural Arts Program, the project has expanded beyond its initial community events and has become a long term project for artist Shira Walinsky. In addition to organizational duties and teaching ESL classes, Shira has been working on related public art projects, including the soon-to-be-completed Language Lab mural at the intersection of 7th and Moore. “Language Lab” deals with important questions of language and identity in the diverse landscape that is South Philadelphia. Although my final thesis film will focus primarily on the attendees of Southeast x Southeast, I thought I would take this opportunity to showcase some of the footage taken during the first few days of Language Lab‘s installation.

I have also been working as part of the Interdisciplinary Documentary Media Fellowship Рalong with Anna Bullard, Nick Gandolfo-Lucia, and David Roza Рon a short documentary about worker cooperatives in Philadelphia. That project is due for completion this summer and will be screened in early September. A final cut of my thesis film will screen this winter.

– Sarah Moses ’16