PURPOSE: Facilitate community involvement in art project for building renovation. 

MAJOR TAKEAWAY: Creating a structure into which all could enter and leave feeling affirmed as artists.

Summer 2010 - Philadelphia, PA

Joy in the City is the ministry building that Spirit and Truth Fellowship Church developed on 6th Street in North Philadelphia. The building committee commissioned me with Orange Korner Arts to invite the community to participate in the beautification of the building by creating a mural project with the theme “joy.” They believed that the neighbors’ investment of time and creativity would help them see this new space for ministry as welcoming and accessible to all.

I had members of the building committee describe joy through the five senses and draw or describe scenes of joy seated in the urban environment. One image that all members were enthusiastic about was the image of children relieving summer heat by playing in the spraying water of a fire hydrant. The committee approved my rendering of a mosaic of that image surrounded by a border of tiles which would be designed and crafted by community residents depicting their own “icons of joy.”

Tile Making Workshop

We invited the neighbors from 6th street and beyond to tile-making workshops. We discussed that the tiles we created would become “icons of joy:” images representing sources from which joy abound. We learned how these images can become visual reminders of all that is available to us when our current situation may threaten to overshadow any possibility of joy.

The results were truly incredible and as diverse as the group of neighbors gathered. The iconic imagery included scenes of an individual’s homeland, significant words or hobbies, religious symbols, and many more. One mother made tiles with the name and dates of her son who had brought her so much joy before had been killed. These powerful images bear witness to an abundance that remains available to us despite our circumstances.

I took advantage of this commission to try my hand at a new method of creating mosaics using a fiberglass mesh. We created a team through partnerships which was essential because of the scope of this project. I was the only person on our team who had ever created a mosaic before. My challenge was to create a structure into which all could enter and leave feeling affirmed as artists.

The installation was frequently visited by many who had worked on the tiles and/or the mosaic. Folks brought others to excitedly point out their work. Some said they felt famous as their creation was becoming a part of this public piece of artwork. The final product remains to this day an icon of joy for all to celebrate whether they helped to create the mosaic or it simply catches their eye as they drive by on 6th Street.

Final Image: Joy in the City Mosaic