A few days ago, Brooklyn-based Kenny Scharf — an accomplished disciple of Keith Haring — began painting Philadelphia’s newest mural high above Sampan restaurant in the lately-dubbed “Midtown Village” of 13th Street. The assemblage of goofy-looking (in a nice way) cartoon faces was, he says, inspired by our fair city’s own colorful cast of characters.
During Monday’s blindingly hot lunch hour, he, along with Mayor Michael Nutter, Mural Arts Program Executive Director Jane Golden, assorted city officials, and some dozen or so schoolkids, came to celebrate the mural’s completion — and the success story of 13th Street.
Taking a relative back seat to the proceedings, but looming front and center nonetheless, was developer Tony Goldman, the man widely credited with reinvigorating the area. Commending him for a “vision like no other,” and for his investment, Mayor Nutter spoke of how the street has turned around in little more than a decade. “Thousands and thousands of folks, including myself, spend time on 13th Street,” the Mayor said.
And, he pointed out, it’s not for nothing that the street has been chosen as the northbound traverse (paired with 10th Street going south) of downtown’s newest set of bike lanes. Even though he goes to a mural dedication, seemingly “every week,” Nutter added, this one was special.
Special for Golden, who said the mural served to kick off a new partnership with Goldman (who’s provided not only two walls — the next one, to be created by a difference artist, will rise in late August above Time Restaurant — but the funding for the resident artists and their associated costs).
And special for Goldman, who claimed that from now on all of his projects would have an art component. Most special, perhaps, for the pre-teens who, through MAP’s Big Picture program, attended a few mentoring sessions at Hawthorne Recreation Center with Scharf.
“He taught us that there’s a lot of cool things you can do with spray paint,” said Justice Taylor, a poised young CHAD student. “There are so many ways to make shapes, textures — it’s not just about scrawling your signature.”
And Scharf? Outfitted in a madras shirt and a raffia Panama hat, the 52-year-old artist stood across from Sampan’s own imaginative backyard space — called, what else?, Graffiti Bar, a space that features a spattered alley and similarly normalized street art — and shook his head in wonder. “Philly rocks!” he shouted, before expressing amazement that the Mayor would actually show up for such an event.
Fortunately, a short but very loud clamor involving ambulance sirens soon arose, as if to reassert our claim to bonafide big city status.
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