Leadership Philadelphia in partnership with Mural Arts sent me a series of thought-provoking questions and asked me to create artworks that could help people notice the prompts. The project’s greatest achievement (or promise if you prefer that) is that it places unexpected and uplifting messages to process into our daily lives. ‘Move In Closer’ celebrates Leadership Philadelphia’s 60th anniversary. The organization facilitates safe spaces for intense, meaningful and moving conversations among Philadelphia’s leaders.
In Philadelphia’s urban life, I often feel that people move past each other with no intention to offer impartiality to anything that’s not directly relevant to them; they might be immersed in their tasks or set on reaching their destination. As humans, our brains often filter out the majority of events happening around us. We are bombarded with so much information that in order to function we have to ignore things like the hum of traffic and the blurred view of our own shoulders in our peripheral vision. Displaying these designs around the city is not so much about increasing how much we notice, but to invite us to be objective about what we do notice. The questions and keywords are investigatory exercises in attention bias.
My thought process was to place the questions provided to me into familiar snapshots of Philadelphia and then photoshop the keywords from each of the questions such as “imagined” and “stand” into the scene in hopes that it will ease our cognitive overload and allow our mental resources to take notice of these particular words. That way we can then remember past experiences and live more in the moments that the questions prompt. I wanted to use landscapes of Philadelphia that brim with familiarity and novelty but could also offer viewers a chance to see these scenes in a new way. The images for this project invite possibilities to interact and literally move in closer on details that we instinctively glance over as mere decoration or obstruction. The one thing I love most about this project was collaborating with the design review team to think of original and interesting ways to incorporate the keywords into ordinary scenes.
I believe that these 12 questions can challenge our humanity and open our minds to new possibilities. Having the keywords from each question added into the scene gives viewers fresh eyes to previously unimagined aspects of this world. The aim is to foster empathy, connection, compassion, common ground and to encourage people that are passing by the mini-murals to pause, reflect, connect, and to take notice.
A little bit more about Leadership Philadelphia: The non-profit organization was founded in 1959 with the mission to mobilize and connect the talent of the private sector to serve the Philadelphia community. The program serves as a hub for a diverse professional network and enhances civic knowledge, awareness, and leadership skills for participants. It is a deeply trusted convener and thought leader in the region.
The goal of the Move In Closer project is to share our humanity by diving deeper into our diverse stories. The intention of the artworks is to increase trust, mutual understanding and respect among Philadelphians.
The aesthetics used to design the project came from Leadership Philadelphia’s past branding, specifically the banners on their website which uses the blocked san-serif font, helvetica, to frame a keyword in a sentence. They keyword stands out because it’s often a serif cursive font. In most cases the keywords in this series uses snell roundhand bold, unless the background scene already offered a more appropriate font for the keyword. Our minds are use to reading the bombardment of typography on storefronts, street signs, phone screens, etc. so I wanted to play with the notion that typography in itself can set a mood, offering a sense that something is jaunty and can convey an unwritten message based on its shape.
The questions for this project came from a Leadership Philadelphia Master Class in Empathy on March 20th 2018, lead by MacArthur Fellow and National Humanities Medalist Anna Deavere Smith. During the Master Class, Smith guided the 120 Philadelphia-area leaders, including former mayor Michael Nutter and Police Commissioner Richard Ross on what she calls “empathic imagination.” One exercise asked them to pair off to ask each other questions such as “Have you ever been accused of something you didn’t do? Have you ever been close to death? Do you know the circumstances of your birth?” and then perform back their partners’ answers. (what do you mean by perform?)
My idea of Philadelphia is supporting one another to accomplish a common goal. I don’t want to lose wonder for the things around me. I don’t want to simply co-exist with fellow citizens in this city; I enjoy feeling as though I’m actually living with my surroundings with presence, attention and curiosity. For me, this project invites endlessly liberating possibilities to see the word that we live in.