Celebrate Black History Month through art

"Remembering a Forgotten Hero."
Steve Weinik

February marks Black History Month, and in 2021, Philadelphians have a way to celebrate the occasion through art, or more specifically, with Mural Arts Philadelphia. 

Being an organization that believes “art ignites change,” Mural Arts has launched a month chock full of educational and fun events, tours, and programs intended to celebrate Black artists and the Black community in Philadelphia, including an online marketplace to buy art. In addition, applications will also be accepted for the 2021 round of Mural Arts Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists, providing $2,000 awards to local artists.

The organization first launched the Fellowship for Black Artists last year, at the height of the summer. 

Mural Arts released a statement at the time saying: “As a public arts organization with over 35 years of experience creating works of art across Philadelphia, we recognize that we have a platform and a responsibility to create space for and act as a reliable resource to the Black community.” 

“Peace is a Haiku.” Steve Weinik

Utilizing that platform is exactly why Mural Arts has earned its reputation as not only being the nation’s largest public art program but also helping the City of Brotherly Love itself earn international recognition as the “City of Murals.” The art-based group has always used its services to complete it’s core mission of inspiring changes in people, places and practices while simultaneously creating an opportunity for a more just and equitable Philadelphia. That sentiment rings very true with the Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists. 

During the 2020 Fellowship, Mural Arts helped support 20 artists ranging in an assortment of mediums with $250 in funding. The program also offered the opportunity to share work across Mural Arts channels and connection to a network of local and international artists. Awardees also received dedicated evaluative sessions with Rush Arts Philadelphia, HAHA Magazine and StreetsDept.com to discuss individual needs and methods of support.

2021’s Fellowship will offer the same level of support, but this year is a bit different. According to a release, The 2021 Fellowship, sponsored by TD Bank, offers 20 artists $2,000 each to support their craft. These artists are also given the opportunity to receive consultative sessions with experienced curators who can offer guidance on building powerful portfolios, marketing their work, and networking with fellow creatives from Philadelphia and beyond. Winners will be selected and notified this spring, and applications are simple to complete and can be found, along with more information on the program, at muralarts.org/fellowship beginning Feb. 8.

February will also be the month where Philadelphians can start purchasing art from the 2020 Fellows, as well as hearing what they have to say. The online art market will boast local art and creative services for shoppers to peruse through. There will also be two opportunities (both free as well) for audiences to hear from the 2020 Fellows themselves. The Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists: A Year in Review will be an intimate conversation with the Fellows where they discuss art-making over the past year and plans for their creative futures. The virtual conversations will take place on  two Tuesdays this month, (Feb. 9 and 23) from  5:30 to 6:30 p.m. 

Throughout the remainder of February, more events will also take place surrounding Black History Month. According to the release, Philadelphians can join Mural Arts on foot for a special tour featuring murals that represent iconic Black figures, civic heroes, and insightful social justice issues. A professional tour guide will take guests through Center City neighborhoods to view these impactful murals, hear the stories behind each work of art, and learn about the artists as well as the mural-making process. Tours depart from the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA), Lenfest Plaza Paint Torch Sculpture at 128 N. Broad Street. All guests should note that a proper face covering is required, with no exceptions. Tour groups are limited to 10 people or less and will run Sunday, Feb. 7 and 21 from 2-3:30 p.m. Tickets are $24 per person and must reserve in advance online.

If you prefer digitally touring however, Mural Arts has another option for you. The organization has created a one-hour Black History Month Virtual Mural Tour featuring murals that represent iconic Black figures and civic heroes of the past and present. The tour will be live with a guide over Zoom, and while logged on, viewers will be able to explore different neighborhoods in Philadelphia through the murals that make them special. The tour will explore themes of civil rights, freedom, and equality, and will take place on Wednesday, Feb. 24 at 6 p.m. Tickets are $15 per person and can be reserved online. 

On top of the digital tour, Mural Arts also has short drone videos that spotlight murals. The Murals on the Fly video series will occur throughout the month every Monday, and will highlight different projects from past artists who have worked with the organization. 

“Finding Light Within.” Steve Weinik

Other Black History Month events through Mural Arts include a new project honoring legendary civil rights activist Cecil B. Moore and the Philadelphia Freedom Fighters. The release states that mural artists Felix St. Fort and Gabe Tiberino and Cecil B. Moore Philadelphia Freedom Fighter President Karen Asper Jordan will share the history of the new project where we can be the first to view the design for the mural that will be installed at Girard College. The Philadelphia Freedom Fighters worked to desegregate Girard College in the 1960s, which makes this location perfect to host this new work of public art. This particular event will take place on Friday, Feb. 26.

One popular event, Art of Activism, is also back this year after popular demand. Join moderator Ginger Rudolph and artists Danny Simmons and Noah Kane-Smalls as they discuss the history of art and activism within the Black community and how empowering Black youth with art can interrupt the repetition of history during a free virtual event Thursday, Feb. 18 from 5:30-6:30 p.m.

For more information on Black History Month events with Mural Arts Philadelphia, visit muralarts.org

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