Community Cultural Engagement: Youth Street Art

By Catherine M. RSS Wed, August 5, 2020

One of the many challenges experienced by librarians and teachers during quarantine has been connecting with the young people in our communities. How are young people feeling? What are they thinking about during this time? What messages might they want to share with their communities?

The Community Cultural Exchange (CCE), a month-long social art practice group at the Free Library, sought to answer these questions and bring Youth art out of quarantine and to the streets.

As one of their weekly art "actions", members of the group put out the call for digital copies of Youth art through social media channels and direct community contacts. Flyers detailing the project were also posted in public places in the neighborhood of the participating libraries, and at food distribution sites and parks. Soliciting digital copies of art was not as easy as the group expected, but they did receive artwork from students at Friends Select School and from neighbors of Whitman Library. Under normal circumstances, librarians and teachers agreed they would be flooded with original artwork. One entry from Ella Newburger, however, came in the form of a thoughtful and extensive photo essay.

The beautiful art was installed using wheat paste, in 6-foot intervals to encourage social distancing, at a number of different sites including Logan Library, South Philadelphia Library, Whitman Library, and Hatfield House. The installation was inspired by Mural Arts’ Space Pads that have helped with social distancing efforts at food distribution sites around the city.

Philadelphia guerrilla performance artist Beth Heinly, who conceived of the Community Cultural Exchange (CCE), describes the group’s practice as,

A tear[ing] away at the precious nature of the art process, fail if we fail, and move forward with an if-not-now-when ethos.

Despite the many barriers during a pandemic, there are so many ways to creatively engage with our communities. For one, we can celebrate the assets that exist: the Youth who create art that can uplift communities and serve as therapeutic expressions in challenging times, the open spaces in our communities that can be canvases for the call for radical (and not so radical) change, and the many organizations who are fighting every day for the dignity and rights of our citizens.

Want to try your own temporary street art installation to encourage social distancing?
Here’s an easy process:

An Easy Wheat Past Recipe

  • 3 Tablespoons white or whole-grain flour
  • 1 cup of water
  1. Mix flour and water, whisking out any lumps. Heat the mixture to a boil. When it thickens, add more water. Continue cooking on low heat for at least a half-hour, stirring constantly so as not to burn.
  2. The mixture can be stored in a refrigerator for several weeks.
  3. Paste artwork to a surface using gloves and a sponge. The smoother the surface the better.

    Note: Artwork will deteriorate over time. Once tattered, the pages can be cleaned off the surface with water and a brush.

Want to learn more about social art practice and artists as activists? Don’t miss Art Department librarian Alina’s social art practice booklist. Also, keep your eye on Cecil B. Moore Library for an installation in the near future.

Have a question for Free Library staff? Please submit it to our Ask a Librarian page and receive a response within two business days.

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