A public space in Philadelphia is Conrad Benner’s art school.
At this largely outdoor college of murals, sculptures, posters, stickers and graffiti tags, the Fishtown native received a world-class education in street art.
Starting this week, the self-taught photoblogger and curator will be teaching online classes for the Barnes Foundation. The Art of Philly’s Public Space first article is Thursday. His weekly two-hour sessions will last him through March 30th.
“The staff were talking about a new class and I immediately thought, ‘We need a street art class. And no one better than Conrad Benner to lead it,” said Carin Jewell, a senior instructor in adult education at Barnes.
Jewel is one of 150,000 users who follow the Benner’s Streets Dept photoblog on Instagram. Similar to his website streetdept.com, Philadelphia showcases a young, diverse and edgy crew of emerging and established artists who are their inspiration, studio and platform.
“I’m not going to be the guy who talks on screen. and said Benner, 37, who lives in South Philadelphia and has a workspace in the BOK building. She is also part-time project manager for Mural Arts Philadelphia.
“I’m gay and Italian, so I can speak,” he said. “I hope this class will be a great conversation, like one with artists, photographers, writers and podcasters I have worked with or learned from.”
Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts, said: He sees what others do not see and recognizes the artist before others. He has a sixth sense for artists. “
Benner graduated from Kensington High School in 2003 and became interested in art while taking classes at a community college in Philadelphia. When he was in his 20s and worked in the vitamin division of Whole Foods in South Street, he was first in Old Town. We became close.
“It was exciting, different, and fun,” says Benner. “I started freelance writing [the now-defunct] Phrequency.com and some of my beats were on the first Friday show.
First on a flip phone and soon after with a digital camera (a gift from his then-boyfriend), Benner photographed murals and what he called “uncommissioned art” in Philadelphia neighborhoods and in Center City. I started taking pictures.
“I started Streets Dept in 2011 as basically a fanboy photoblog,” he said. “I used to walk to and from work and school with my camera, photographing whatever I wanted.
“But within a few months, street artists like Joe Boruchow and Ishknits contacted me. I started interviewing them and learning about this world.”
In the early days, Benner also worked full-time in social media for clients of marketing firm Quaker City Mercantile. However, he retired in 2015 to devote himself full-time to his Streets Department.
It has since expanded to include an annual print magazine, monthly walking tours (Streets Dept Excursions), and a separate division called Streets Dept Walls.
“It’s the curatorial side of the business,” he said. “We connect artists with the opportunity to create in public spaces.”
From blogger to curator
Symone Salib and Nile Livingston were already well-known Philadelphia artists when Benner posted about them.
“I was working with Northern Liberties Sunkist on a temporary mural in 2018, and Conrad came out to document it,” says Livingston, 34, who grew up in West Philly. told the blog.
“I appreciate Conrad documenting an artist’s work like an archivist. He is very purposeful and focuses on social justice in the projects he chooses,” she said. rice field.
Livingston collaborates with Streets Dept and Mural Arts to create murals for the Philadelphia Ballroom project. It will be built on 13th Street at Gay Barhood later this year to celebrate Philly’s peculiar version of Harlem Black’s queer cultural institution dramatized on the FX show. Pause.
Salib worked with the Street Department to create the mural. summer of introspectionwas set up in the Fashion District of Center City in 2019.
“Conrad was one of the first people to commission me to do a mural, and that was a growing point in my career,” she said.
And when Salib created a mural at Northern Liberties in 2021 honoring Philadelphia’s LGBTQ pioneer Gloria Casarez, Benner was there to document the new work.
Benner sees Burns’ classes as more bonkers, like traditional, monumental public art, such as the sculptures in City Hall, and works by artists who call themselves irregular and often work with mirror shards. I think it’s a chance to increase the audience of the works that break.
“Public art is not a new invention, it’s not a bonus,” says Benner. “It’s part of the arts and culture industry that employs people and attracts people to visit and live in Philadelphia.
“Public art is the story of our city. And it should tell the full story of our city.”