For Release: Immediately
Department of External Affairs
Free Library of Philadelphia
1901 Vine Street
Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710
FAX (215) 567-7850
Contact: Communications and Development
For Release: Immediately
Contact: Communications and Development


New works by artists Cooper O’Neil, Ife Nii Owoo, Julia Staples, and Benjamin Volta

PHILADELPHIA, March 31, 2016—The Free Library of Philadelphia is delighted to announce four new site-specific public art commissions at neighborhood libraries across the city. The art will be placed at four of the libraries undergoing renovation and expansion through the Building Inspiration: 21st Century Libraries Initiative: Lillian Marrero Library (6th Street and Lehigh Avenue), Logan Library (Wagner Avenue), Lovett Memorial Library (Mount Airy), and Tacony Library (Torresdale Avenue).

After a competitive process, four artists were selected to engage in a Knight Foundation-funded community immersion process in their respective library’s neighborhood.  These community meetings informed the artistic process and the development of these proposals, which received Art Commission approval in March 2016. The artists for these public art commissions are Julia Staples (Lillian Marrero), Ife Nii Owoo (Logan), Cooper O’Neil (Lovett Memorial), and Benjamin Volta (Tacony).

Support for the implementation of these projects is provided by the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Arts, Culture, and the Creative Economy’s Percent for Art Program, who will co-manage the projects alongside the Free Library of Philadelphia.

Cooper O’Neil will create two stained glass installations at Lovett Memorial, Exploration and This Place. Through his engagement with the community, O’Neil and the library staff developed a vision statement, which led them to think about the library as “the neighborhood’s kitchen table” and “as a home for community literacy.”Both stained glass pieces will draw upon architectural elements from the immediate Mt. Airy community and will be brightly colored and alluring, to create a joyful engagement with the public.  Photo: Exploration, courtesy of Cooper O’Neil

Ife Nii Owoo will create Read: A Pathway for Hope, an indoor mural at Logan Library. The artwork will focus on the importance of literacy in the community. Nii Owoo’s process began with engaging Logan’s diverse community—consisting of African Americans as well as immigrants from the Caribbean, Africa, Cambodia, Vietnam, and parts of South America. Images and colors will be drawn from culturally significant patterns from the community, for example, Madiba shirt patterns from South Africa and Mehindi designs from India.

Additionally, words from internationally-renowned and Philadelphia-based poet Trapeta Mayson will be artistically interwoven throughout the work.  Nii Owoo shares, “My goal for a community portrait located in the newly renovated Logan Library community room is for viewers to feel this community’s vibrancy, see its diversity, and celebrate the act of reading.”  Photo: READ: A Pathway for Hope, courtesy of Ife Nii Owoo

Julia Staples will create a series of large-scale black-and-white portrait photographs of Lillian Marrero community members. Set against culturally inspired background patterns, they will reflect the diverse and multi-generational community of library users. These timeless images pay tribute and respect to the lives and heritage of the community.

Staples has spent a significant amount of time at the library, photographing members of the community and listening to their stories. She says she has found this process “a wonderful opportunity to bring to the forefront the unreported, underrepresented stories of the community.” The trust they felt in her is evident in the images. Photo: Ortiz Family, courtesy of Julia Staples

Benjamin Volta will create Reflect Tacony, a site-specific indoor mural that draws upon the area’s rich industrial history. It will focus on two industrial giants that have left an indistinguishable mark on the neighborhood: the Disston Saw Works and the inventor Frank Shuman’s solar-powered steam engine. In addition to meeting with the community, Volta also spent a considerable amount of time researching with the Historical Society of Tacony to source historical images. An experienced muralist, Volta will collage these images to adorn the walls of the library.  Rendering: Reflect Tacony, courtesy of Benjamin Volta

For more information about Building Inspiration: 21st Century Library Initiative, visit


About The Office of Arts, Culture and The Creative Economy
The Office of Arts, Culture and the Creative Economy’s (OACCE) mission is to support and promote arts, culture, and the creative industries; and to develop partnerships and coordinate efforts that weave arts, culture, and creativity into the economic and social fabric of the city of Philadelphia.

The OACCE manages and oversees city arts programs, provides services to artists and arts organizations and serves as the primary point of municipal contact for local organizations, businesses, artists, and creative entrepreneurs.  As Philadelphia’s local arts agency, the OACCE works in cooperation with the mayor, City Council, and other municipal offices to make Philadelphia a great place to live, work, and visit.

About the Percent for Art Program
Enacted in 1959, the Percent for Art ordinance requires that one percent of the total dollar amount of any construction project that includes city funds be devoted to the commissioning of site-specific public art. The first of its kind in the nation, the program has commissioned over 300 works of art. The intent of the Percent for Art Ordinance is to enhance the city’s public environment by incorporating exceptional site-specific works of art.

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Department of External Affairs, Free Library of Philadelphia, 1901 Vine Street, Philadelphia, PA 19103-1189
(215) 567-7710, FAX (215) 567-7850