Artists Discuss Ethics and Public Art at Paley Library


On September 20, Temple University Libraries’ Beyond the Page presented the first of three events in a series called “Philly Public Arts Forum.” Four Philadelphia artists discussed the ethics and implications of creating art in public spaces, like neighborhoods. In particular these artists highlighted the difference between gallery art, which they described as inaccessible for members of society who cannot afford the travel and entry costs, and street art, which is generally accessible, but runs the risk of legal issues and social offense.

The artists, Michelle Ortiz, Keir Johnston, Ginger Rudolph, and Sheldon Omar-Abba, described some of the specific ways they have expressed themselves publicly, through art. They also explained that they are constantly learning how to adapt to the various environments where they find themselves working. Johnston collaborated with fellow artists in a commentary on gentrification, or the removal of businesses, homes, and people from neighborhoods, when powerful members of society make efforts to transform said neighborhood into one of “middle class.”

“As places get gentrified, things that were staples slowly evaporate,” explained Johnston. To capture this loss, Johnston set up stalls that looked like the Chinese food stands and mom-and-pop stores that were no longer able to maintain their businesses under gentrified conditions, and invited people in the neighborhood to trade stories or mock money for the goods he provided.

Depending on the project, these artists have each found themselves acting as the documenters, the coordinators, and the creative heads. While each artist explained that making art in the general public is not without controversy, Rudolph talked about how neighborhood associations began contacting her two years ago. “They would say, ‘Hey, we have this thing [something run-down, broken, or dirty]. What can you do with it?’” she said.

If interested in these forums, there are two events left in the series. Both will take place in the basement on Paley Library. Visit “Beyond the Page, Temple University Libraries” for more details.

Featured Image: Paley Library Side View by Dorevabelfiore on Wikipedia