The Roots’ Black Thought: From graffiti tagger to mural honoree

The Roots MC Tarik “Black Thought” Trotter was nearly speechless this afternoon when he appeared, along with fellow member Kamal Gray, at the Mural Arts Program and Mayor Michael Nutter’s announcement of a mural and multimedia project honoring the storied Philadelphia band.

“This is so ironic and such a blessing,” Trotter said at Headhouse Square. As a youth, his hobbies included summer art camp in Fairmount Park, Saturday classes at the Fleischer Art Memorial –– and “writing graffiti all over these walls,” he said.

Trotter was once court-ordered to paint for the Mural Arts program to atone for his illegal extracurricular activities when it was under the umbrella of the Anti-Graffiti Network. “This represents a 360 degree evolution,” he said. “This isn’t just a great step for art education in Philadelphia, it’s a great step for art education in America.”

Trotter was referring not only to the planned mural, but the educational program that will accompany it, which may be Mural Arts’ most ambitious project yet.

They plan to turn the empty storefront on which the mural is painted into a classroom for Mural Arts arts education students and teach a curriculum called Roots 101, which will be accompanied by an online lesson guide. “[The Roots] will talk about the intersection of art and music, the history of music and have speakers from their band and their music industry friends,” said spokeswoman Cari Feiler Bender. Lessons will incorporate video, music and other multimedia elements to help students learn in a variety of ways.

The program will also include an Internet “making of” video series documenting the mural’s creation, community paint days with the band and pop-up workshops showcasing local artists.

The mural’s design and location have yet to be determined – Director Jane Golden said it will be somewhere between 3rd and 6th streets on South Street and that it will be “very large.” The Program is currently searching for a team of artists to design and create the nine-to-10-month project, and is open to suggestions that integrate the work of musicians and poets.

Work on the mural is slated to begin this fall with an eye toward completion in the summer of 2012. Funding partners include the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Human Services, The Knight Foundation and the Sports & Entertainment Financial Group, LLC.

“What an amazing partnership,” Nutter said. “We have an internationally recognized arts program in the Mural Arts Program and an internationally recognized band in the Roots, both from the city of Philadelphia, the number one city for culture.”

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