Friday, December 14, 2007


By: Peter Richman

“Taking understanding into action is dependent upon seeing that we are profoundly interconnected with the world. The notion of ‘I’ is emancipated. It becomes ‘we,’ integrated into a networked society in which we see ourselves in relation to ‘the other,’ a part of the world rather than a consumer of it.” – Anne Douglas and Chris Fremantle (1)

“Wow, I haven’t used my brain in such a long time,” Danielle, who works at a large insurance company, realized aloud. Twirling her pencil, she announced in a part-joking, part-earnest, part-urgently-serious voice, “Thanks you guys for making me use my brain again!” After a collective round of nervous laughter, Rashida looked up from writing in her notebook and said, “I wasn’t gonna come tonight – I’ve got a million things to do at home, but I told myself I had to come and be here for myself. This is important and my work can wait.”

The Project
Collective Imprints is a work of conceptual art, a sociological experiment, a social gathering, a healing process. It’s a public intervention and an intervention by the public, both a highlighter and a mitigator of difference. What I mean to say by this is that the complexity of the project resists a simple definition, or, more pointedly, that I myself am still struggling to figure out what, exactly, Collective Imprints is.

The brainchild of community artist Michael Schwartz in conjunction with West Philadelphia arts space The Rotunda (2) , Collective Imprints is a ten-week, community-based, participatory visual arts collaboration. The ultimate goal – but not the ultimate purpose – of the project is to create two 4’ x 40’ murals on masonite panels to be installed in front of the venue’s two overhanging balconies.

According to the invitation to participate, offered as an open call to all of Philadelphia, the project aims “to bring together diverse groups and individuals who make The Rotunda the vital venue that it is. In doing so, we will discuss The Rotunda’s mission statement,” which reads:

“Fueled by the belief that art is a catalyst for social change and that the arts can lead to the formation of meaningful partnerships between the University of Pennsylvania and its surrounding community, The Rotunda is a community gathering place for the promotion of arts and culture.”

What distinguishes Collective Imprints from most murals – a distinction especially relevant in Philadelphia, the mural capital of the world – is that it is not a paint-by-numbers project. Rather, all ideas are generated and converted into visual artwork by the participants. “We want people to broadcast here,” said Executive Director of The Rotunda Gina Renzi. “We want to know what they think of this city, what it needs, what their street sounds like on a Saturday night, and what The Rotunda’s commitment to community-based programming means to them.”

A Critical Approach
Community artists are often considered artist-activists, artists who use their craft as a tool to promote a certain kind of social change. This approach regards their art as purposive – hinging on and limited by its political concerns – and thus unavoidably suppressed, albeit in the name of reform. Rather than viewing arts-activism as merely diluted art, however, I argue that the artist-activist should instead be seen as a synthesizer – an artist and an activist – for although the two roles are inextricably linked, they are nevertheless two distinct, discrete roles.

To properly mark this distinction, community art demands critical assessment from two different angles: (1) that which focuses on the participants, the art they create, how they create it, and the effects the project has on the communities involved, and (2) that which focuses on the artist facilitator as navigator and captain, coordinating individuals (of their own free, and generally eager, will) into a grand artwork of an eerily divine scope and stature. The first approach is more apparent, more discussed, and, unfortunately, more often a reason for community art’s silent dismissal from the higher ranks of the art world. What many fail to see, however (the view through the second lens) is the artist facilitator as an artist crafting his medium – human beings. Community artists are sociologists, certainly, but they also extend beyond the reaches of sociology, for their work is an actively engaged, real-time, non-analytical, non-repeatable practice. Community arts, then, can be seen as a humanist extension of process art, for in their work, the facilitator’s people and management skills are his or her artistic skills, the very happening of the project the piece itself.

Collective Imprints: An Experiment in Democracy
Bill came to each session with a different instrument – one week a banjo, another week a zither, yet another a balalaika customized with parts from a sitar. He told us how he built instruments, how he engineered instruments, how he collected instruments. And while he was one of the few participants to come to almost every session, he never once touched the mural. Instead, he played, and he played wonderfully. While we worked on the panels, he transformed Collective Imprints into a concert.

Far from resenting or even dismissing the music, Schwartz – and the whole group – enjoyed and encouraged Bill’s playing. His music became ingrained into Collective Imprints, his contributions no more or less than anyone else’s, and it is this openness, this egalitarian stance towards people and their ideas that truly defines the project. Collective Imprints is space – physical space, social space. It is a weekly time and location and community that anybody can take advantage of any way they like. Most people do, in fact, decide to work on the mural, but if they choose otherwise, they are no less of a participant.

One week, a school teacher brought a group of students from low-income, high-problem homes to Collective Imprints, and one of the boys spent the two hours sitting by himself in the corner. He wouldn’t introduce himself during the icebreakers, he didn’t participate in the discussions, he didn’t even sit with the group.

And it was completely okay.

Nobody coerced or pressured him to participate; he wanted to sit in the corner, and so he did. “Who knows what he’s gone through today just to get here,” Schwartz remarked after the session. “This is a safe space, and that’s how he chooses to express himself.”

Another week, a different teacher brought a group of high school girls from North Philadelphia. Most of them spent the time chatting, but one girl sat to the side and drew a detailed boom box with a winding stream of musical notes going into the left speaker and out the right. Schwartz encouraged her to transfer the image onto one of the panels, and after feebly protesting, she took a seat in front of the boards and began to draw. Another woman was drawing a winding bike path on the same board, and soon their sketches began to overlap and intersect. They decided to work as a team – while some of the other high school girls stopped chatting and started listening to their iPods – and after an hour of collaboration, the two had fused their ideas into one inspired image. The boombox became a building with a group of dancers bursting through its cassette-deck doors, and the bike path – now with both bicycles and musical notes – winded through the building’s speakers. In the open space of Collective Imprints, these two strangers – a black teen and a white adult – were free to work together, and the inventiveness of their joint effort testifies to the potential of such freedom.

Such space, of course, does not just happen, does not exist solely because a group of people are in a room. The space is organic yes, but it is certainly not spontaneous. It requires maintenance and preservation, constant attention but not too much attention, a direction firm enough to ensure its sustainability but also open enough to ensure its sustainability. In short, it needs a gardener, and this is Schwartz’s role as artist facilitator. He cultivates dialogue and fosters creativity, all the while ensuring that his plant – the project, the mural, the participants – continue to grow. Schwartz nurtures people, but to best appreciate the theoretical implications of his work, I find it useful to begin by looking at another community artist.

Tim Rollins Plus K.O.S.
Two artistic practices take place in the Art of Knowledge Workshop: that of Tim Rollins, and that of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. The latter, a collaboration between the artist Rollins and the “learning-disabled” Kids of Survival, is more evident, more approachable, and more acknowledged. The group reads literature from the Western canon, from The Wasteland to The Autobiography of Malcolm X, discusses their reactions, and transfers “these fragments of literary criticism […] onto the large, flat grid, or field, of printed pages” (3) (Tim Rollins + K.O.S. cover their panels/boards with the pages of the book they are exploring).

This side of the workshop – the art of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. – can be seen as the activist side, the political side, and we can easily compare it to Collective Imprints. Both collectives discuss their ideas, distill these thoughts into images, and combine the different pieces into a cohesive whole. One aspect where the two differ, however, is that Rollins brings art to the socially disadvantaged; he provides a legitimate voice to those whose voices are all too often considered illegitimate. In this respect, Tim Rollins + K.O.S. has a greater immediacy, urgency, and sentimentality. Schwarz, on the other hand, gives a voice to those who have been delegitimized for entirely different reasons. The participants in Collective Imprints are not marginalized because of who they are, or how they are (after all, the group is an almost-close-to-representative cross-section of the sixth most populous city in the United States), but rather because of where and when they are.

Tearing Down the Art-Industrial Complex
During one of the earlier sessions, I admitted to Schwartz that I dislike drawing. I told him that whenever I try to draw, or map, or chart my ideas into something visual, I feel like I run into a brick wall. I’m an okay thinker, I said, but when it comes to the visual creative manifestation of my ideas – nothing.

I’m not sure what I was expecting him to do, how I anticipated he’d advise me. I assumed it would be an art lesson, a basic drawing tutorial, maybe even a concession that some people just aren’t visual artists. But instead of teaching and instruction, he offered me a diagnosis and a prescription.

We performed a few technical exercises designed to separate my hand (and the act of drawing) from my mind (and the act of thinking). And after just a few minutes, Schwartz told me the problem – I was too critical, too analytical, too concerned – not even concerned, but obsessed – with what the final image would look like, that before I even picked up my pencil, I had already stifled my imagination.

And he was right. (4)

Schwartz explained that this blockage is the result of what he calls the art-industrial complex, so named because the primary focus is on the finished product, the final piece. Creativity is not an innate talent, but rather a skill to develop, and the art-industrial complex suffocates that development. Instead, Schwartz argues – and this is a crucial component of Collective Imprints – the emphasis should be on the very process of creativity itself. To move towards a more egalitarian society, we need to unlock people’s imaginations, free their minds to envision that such a society could even exist.

The first step to accomplishing this is to unshackle individuals from the confines of that complex, to generate a democratic space free of social, political and economic barriers. And this act of generation brings me to the second artistic practice that happens in the Art of Knowledge Workshop.

Tim Rollins Minus K.O.S.
Tim Rollins + K.O.S. should be considered a work by Tim Rollins. For, as obvious as this claim may be, such a collaboration does not just materialize. From the bureaucratic side of organizing the collective to the pragmatic side of organizing the kids, the very existence of Tim Rollins + K.O.S. is, I believe, a work of art.

What makes the analysis tricky, however, is this: I imagine that Rollins faces any number of issues on any given day when working with his students. I am sure that he has to coordinate, that he has to respond, that he has to maneuver, and while all of these actions are his artistic practice, none of them can be appreciated from an outsider’s perspective. I know that Rollins has to be a captain, but because I am not a part of his team, I can only speculate as to the nature of his leadership (i.e. his art).

Collective Imprints: An Experiment in the Arts
That insider’s perspective, then, is the view through the second lens, the approach that regards the method by which Schwarz guides the group as a processual artistic practice. I can appreciate it because, and only because, I am a part of it, for the work defies any form of documentation. The mural itself is, in many ways, simply a residue of the process – the final product, as it were, deserving secondary attention at best. Photographs miss the interactivity, description misses the vitality, even a video of the group dynamic falls short, for anybody watching would only be seeing somebody else participate in the work.

This evasion of, even indifference to, formal recording comes as no surprise because Schwartz’ work is born of a different artistic framework than that which values documentation. Collective Imprints is not a piece to be seen, or to be understood; it is a piece to experience, and it is this human element – the inconsistency, the unpredictability, not knowing if enough people will show up one week to even have a session – that gives it its life.

An Undocumented Artist?
This inability to document the project ultimately leads to perhaps the most pressing issue – what does Schwartz, as a fine artist, sacrifice to do a project like Collective Imprints? Or, in his own words, “can [this] process produce aesthetically pleasing results?”

These are the primary issues facing community arts today, and they address the necessity of striking a balance between the creative process and the finished product. Community-created murals are often criticized as looking “amateurish,” but is this really such a criticism? A final-product approach to art leaves little room for anything that looks crude, unsophisticated, or disproportionate. But when the finished piece is seen as the result of a certain kind of process, the irregularity in a mural comes to mirror an irregularity in society. A defect here, a peculiar combination there – these deviations from the accepted vocabulary come to signify more than simple visual images. In so doing, community arts can then force us to redefine our aesthetics, to align them not with an institution but with ourselves. As Danielle noted during Collective Imprints, if we’ll allow it, community arts can force us to use our brains.

1. Leading Through Practice. March, 2007. Accessed from
2. The Rotunda presents over 250 events annually, ranging from rock, electronic, jazz, and hip hop, to music from around the world, ambient, activist, spoken word, theater, panels, film, exhibits, dance, education, and various experimental forms of art and performance. National acts often perform side by side with local artists, illustrating Philadelphia's eclectic and robust music scene. As an alcohol-free, smoke-free venue, The Rotunda provides a critical social alternative for all ages, and opens its doors to the public [usually for free] for cultural events as well as a meeting, rehearsal, classroom, and workshop space for various West Philadelphia and citywide organizations, after-school, and youth programs.
4. A tangential, anecdotal, but still very-much-related aside: My first (and only) memory of trying to draw is from when I was six or seven years old. I remember it vividly – I wanted to draw a sunset I had seen on the beach in Florida. The image was crystal clear in my head (and it still is), but I struggled to put that vision onto paper. It’s not my happiest memory, to be honest – it ends with me tearing paper and throwing markers, but I’m sure that the clarity with which I still recall it indicates the magnitude of its impact on my psychology. When Michael diagnosed my hyper-criticality, it was the first thing that came to mind.

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Day 6: Collective Design

Today we continued to develop the layout of the project, transferring ideas to panels and painting in lines. The project is really moving along nicely, with many ideas and stories being combined and developed. We also talked about symbolic color and reviewed basic color theory.

Here are some images Bonnie gathered that are being used as source material for one panels. They represent they a few of the many things that happen at the Rotunda.

Next week we will be using music to help design the rhythm and tempo of the work.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Day 4: Drawing Consensus

This week will be a visual essay with images provided by Danielle Hannah.

Working in our journals... combining ideas...

Through dialogue we began to combine ideas.

We started to transfer our images to the panels.

Sunday, November 25, 2007

It's simple. Move.

By Gina Renzi

November 14, 2007

Gina Renzi is the Director of The Rotunda, a vibrant arts and culture community venue in West Philadelphia. The Rotunda is fueled by the belief that art is a catalyst for social change and the arts can lead to the formation of meaningful partnerships between the University of Pennsylvania and the surrounding communities. Over 300 events are presented annually, including live music, spoken word, theater, film, art, dance, and education.

When you were a child, you probably skipped, jumped, and imagined. Now that you are grown, do you pause to pretend that you are a sunflower or a fire engine peeling away to a barn fire? Or do you shuffle sleepily from home to work to home, and, on occasion, a restaurant or theater? If the latter, creative movement will save your life as it will shake loose the ideas that are somewhere in your brain but never reach your tongue or pen. I am not talking about dance. We with no coordination and short legs can still explore our bodies, and not in the way that my 6th grade Health book suggested.

In my work, I witness and/or participate in hundreds of critical events, from ten year olds on African drums, to Central Asian throat singers on stage with Sun Ra members to HIV patients sharing a Thanksgiving meal. These events nourish me, despite the hours spent producing them. I cringe when I imagine living without this constant inspiration.

Recently, my mind was blown during a session of Collective Imprints, a new participatory community arts project at The Rotunda. This project, a first for Philadelphia, is the brainchild of artist Michael B. Schwartz, who has facilitated community-building projects elsewhere in the country. Last year, he approached me with the idea to create at The Rotunda a large art installation that will manifest The Rotunda's mission statement and concepts of community and place. We quickly shared this idea with dozens of diverse groups from the communities that have developed at the venue over the years.

In Collective Imprints, input is crucial and everyone gets to paint, draw, write, and speak. Inspired by this, West Philadelphia activist and artist Jodi Netzer became a facilitator of Collective Imprints and suggested that we use one session of this weekly project to MOVE in order to inspire ideas that we will eventually paint into the piece. While I pride myself on enjoying challenges, I hid from this idea. After all, I'd flunked Ballroom Dance in college. However, when she took us through an hour of movement exercises that were powerful examples of play at work, my mind was so enlivened that I developed a pleasant headache. Instead of dance as so many of us know it, this was the building blocks of dancing, foundation of problem solving, and thought unhindered.

Jodi's exercises were inspired by Viewpoints, a system first articulated by Mary Overlie and expanded upon by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Its principles are tempo, duration, repetition, kinesthetic response, shape, gesture, architecture, spatial relationship, and topography. Sounds scary, right? Each principle is so intuitive that we quickly adapted. Moreover, the shyest of us relaxed in that many of the exercises were done with eyes closed, as the goal is to invigorate one's own space.

Using each principle, we created gestures, mimicked those of the people around us, traced imaginary paths along the floor, bent our bodies into untested shapes, and used movement to act out the themes that we've been developing throughout Collective Imprints. All along, our movements were sharing stories that our words couldn't. Eventually, we formed smaller groups and chose themes such as West Philadelphia's origins, perceptions of the neighborhood, and local Hip Hop. Incorporating the Viewpoints principles, we created movement skits, each of which differed significantly from the last. In doing so, we taught and were taught.

After participating in this freely creative process, we hurriedly tapped our concepts for the artwork that we will eventually create in Collective Imprints. We were abuzz with newly found, or rediscovered, creativity that produced thoughts that we could not have had otherwise. Clearly, Viewpoints was a new concept to most of us, yet we found that it is an important one in that it unlocks forgotten parts of our imagination. The next time your idea well is dry, save your head from the wall, clear your living room or office floor, and, simply, move.

Tuesday, November 20, 2007

Day 3: The Elements of Art

Today we learned about the basic elements of art. For those of you at home try to do a drawing of your idea for the project using these elements:


We used this information in our drawings - mapping and combining ideas while looking for connections between each persons concepts.


1) How does your idea overlap or connect to others?

2) What interconnections do we see?

3) What sort of visual research do we need for this project?

Please bring visual research materials to next session.

The participants in this project are designing and painting Collective Imprints. This project is a unique and refreshing approach to creating art WITH people. As artist facilitator for this project my role is to lead the process and transfer technical knowledge. The participants are the lead artists.

Bring your friends to the workshops. You can use this site to add your ideas and visual contributions. See you Tuesday.

City Harvest Mural

Artist: Michael Schwartz
© 2007 Michael B. Schwartz/ MDO Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

This community mural is a collaboration between the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the Pennsylvania Horticultural Society , and the Philadelphia Prison System. It is located on the health care pod at Riverside Correctional Facility in north Philadelphia. Lisa Mosca and Sharat Somashekara of PHS operate a garden complete with greenhouses at Riverside Correctional Facility and inmates have the opportunity to learn about, group and eat fresh produce. The mural is a part of the educational aspect of this nutrition initiative and depicts the growing cycles of the four seasons. Inmates will be taken to see the mural as part of the training program being coordinated by Lisa and Sharat.

Winter is depicted from inside a greenhouse, depicting hoop house/cold-frame greens like collards, kale and dried garlic's. The image reflects a contemplative, quiet environment perfect for planning a spring garden.

Spring veggie's are pushed up against the picture frame. Represented are peas, scallions, turnips,beets, carrots, radishes and strawberries. As we turn to summer we again see the green house, this time in the distance. In the foreground are abundant gardens with the popular corn and tomatoes taking front stage amidst a field of clover. Finally fall is represented, switching back to large fall chrysanthemums pushed up against the picture frame.

All images © 2007 Michael B. Schwartz/ Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Day 2: Using Movement to Brainstorm Ideas

Tonight performance/new genre artist Jodi Netzer led us in a workshop where we used movement to brainstorm ideas for Collective Imprints. As far as I know this was a first ever for Philadelphia, and it was really fun. One participants commented it made them feel like we were kids playing together. Exactly! We were playing out our brainstorm ideas, developing a collective vision for the project. There were presentations by three groups of participants. Each group combined ideas from Day 1 into a visual movement based narrative. The process really helped synthesize ideas for the group.

The four themes that are emerging are:

1) Rotunda as a Hub (overlapping, meeting points)

2) Music

3) Perception of West Philadelphia (inside/outside)

4) Underground (history, creek, activism, unearthing our story, growing up from the Rotunda)

Will you share your ideas with us?

By Jodi Netzer

We made history this evening in Philadelphia at the Rotunda by creating a movement-based workshop which inspired visual ideas for the mural that will be there. This cross-disciplinary approach was an unique and effective way to generate materials and discussion for the project, which may not have been otherwise realized. It also got people on their feet to play and emerge with engaging and synchronistic actions. The youth was wonderfully well-represented at this session. We are also thankful to have had a banjo player there to provide the space with music.

First, I introduced Viewpoints, a system derived from the natural principles of movement, time, and space first articulated by Mary Overlie and further expanded upon by Anne Bogart and Tina Landau. Originally developed for theatre artists, Viewpoints are also used by dancers, but I believe they could be used by musicians, visual artists, ways of being/seeing, and other educational and creative forms. The principles are tempo, duration, repetition, kinesthetic response, shape, gesture, architecture, spacial relationship, and topography.

After introducing Viewpoints through a series of exercises, we built stories through movement. Here is how it worked: One volunteer picked a theme that was developed from the previous session and created a movement based on that theme. A second person picked another theme and created a movement that was of opposite nature in relation to the first person. Then a third person picked a third theme and created a movement that built story off of the previous two people. The result was a story that none of the people could have created by themselves.

Then we split into three groups to create movement or theatrical shorts. Each group agreed to work on a specific theme or to combine multiple themes. They wrote about the themes, discussed out loud their ideas, combined elements, and created scenarios using Viewpoints as a tool for movement generation. The variety of the group shorts were astounding. One was theatrical, one was abstract, and one was a mixture. The first was a theatrical story about how the youth saw hip hop on TV, went to a party, got drunk, littered irresponsibly, got into a car crash due to intoxification, and then became the smog that polluted the air. Their themes were Hip Hop, the environment, and origins. It was a commentary on the highlights and the pitfalls that hip hop culture manifests. The second group performed an abstract movement piece with a chair representing Rotunda as a central hub. The participants moved in circular floor patterns, occasional crossing paths and occasionally meeting together at the hub. Based off of a Viewpoints strategy, they drew a floor pattern (topography) and responded to each other with focus on tempo, duration, repetition, spacial relationship, and kinesthetic response in relationship to architecture (the chair representing Rotunda). It was a great example of utilizing the Viewpoints principles. Their themes were Rotunda as an activity hub, music and words. Their movement was the music and words. The third group had one person digging, another person who represented the underground (Mill Creek, cemetery, Underground Railroad) growing and transforming into an activist, while the third person was discovering/observing the transformation taking place. Their themes were the underground culture, origins and activism. It was a very visual performance work which inspired many drawings.

There was a moment of disagreement in the process when one participant broke from a group to do her own thing. She did not like the portrayal of Hip Hop with drinking and reckless behavior. To keep her engaged, I encouraged her to write a wise statement about cultural pollution and distinguishing between the positive and negative effects of Hip Hop culture. This is where dialogue about the process can reveal more depth and insight into the topic.

From these scenarios and in combination of the previous exercises, everyone documented their experiential responses in their journals. When discussed as a group, further visual ideas and themes were developed from this process. For example, one person drew musical notes as if they are the sun growing a flower rising from the underground with words such as "growth" in the stem and "coming together" in the petals-- based off of the environmental and hip hop theme of the first group, the floor pattern and musical theme of the second group, and the underground theme of the third group. It is very reassuring that people who have little to no movement experience can make the connection from a time/spatial-dimension to create a drawing on a piece of paper, using Garner's theory of Multiple Intelligence.

This was a very exciting process in which participants had surprised themselves that creating visual forms from movement would be possible. It's not only possible, it can inspire a piece of art that may not be possible any other way.

Wednesday, November 7, 2007

Collective Imprints: On Community and the Rotunda

by Bonnie MacAllister

"Self-Portraits" 36" X 48" oil, spray, ink on canvas

"Chromatic" 9 X 12 oil and spray on canvas

Both of these have hung at the Rotunda at several events.

When first moved to Center City, I was very detached from the people in my neighborhood. I would see them at the grocery store but never at events or shows. My coworkers from the art museum became my only friends, and they were not my neighbors. I was a girl who had never taken the trolley, who hadn’t made it further west past the U Penn animal hospital, and who’d never taken the El past City Hall.

When I met Denice Witkowski (Vitamin D Productions), she invited me to be a part of her festival, Womynsfest at the Rotunda in West Philadelphia. I knew Clarity Haynes, a woman artist who made a powerful impact with her Breast Book, and Vitamin D had collaborated with her on a film. I met Gina Renzi, and I was struck when she said, “It’s amazing that people don’t know that we’re doing these things in West Philadelphia, and that they’re free.” Instantly, I felt at home.

A few of my friends from the Women’s Caucus for Art, Philadelphia Chapter decided to have a table at the two day event at the Rotunda. We would continue to come back at various events including the F-Word issue launch and Zine Fest, and at both events (and many others) I performed my poetry on the Rotunda’s old and new stages. Over the last few years, we hung our artwork on the wooden walls, on the pillars, and once, I even attempted to hang mine from the balconies (though it wasn’t as successful.) The Rotunda always remains a place of which our art group praises, for its ingenuity and openness in art exhibits.

Not even two years later, I would move to West Philadelphia, just a few blocks away from the Rotunda, and my husband and I would come down often to see the free programming and the West Philly artists who had become our friends. We’ve attended everything from experimental music produced by children’s toys, rare films projected high above the stage, minimalist dance, spare drama, performance poetry featuring robotics and puppetry, and art bazaars with crafts both delicate and diverse. How amazing to have a venue so open to personal growth and with a bravery to showcase such rich programming of the fringes and the underground.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Day One: Brainstorming Ideas

We came up with tons of ideas and broke them down into the following themes;

Cultural Fusion's
A fusion of reality and vision
Positive Unity
Neighborhood Bonds
Cancer (cluster)
Penn Power Hmmm?
“Safety” Net
Melting Pot/ Salad Bowl
West Philly Locations
Utilitarian Places
Arti$tic In$piration$
West Philly Music
Origins - of Rotunda/undercurrent
West Philly Activities
Environment (local-global)
Activism/ Rock the Boat
Origins- of neighborhood

Next week we will be making community arts history in Philadelphia. For the first time movement arts will be used in the community input/ design phase of mural making. Movement artist Jodi Netzer will be co-facilitating the workshop as we develop more ideas and images for our group work of art.


You can post your ideas for the project on this site.

Also check back for project updates.

Here are the dates for the project:


You need not be an artists to help design and create this work of collectively produced art. This is a project open to all: Tell us your story about the Rotunda, send in images, poems and share ideas about what YOU would like to see in this project. Then come out in person and help design, then paint the project. You can come to one, two or all of the workshops.

Keep posted to this blog for;

- project updates
- to ask questions
- to post and read comments


Visual Research Information pertaining to our theme such as:
maps, historical information, photographs, magazines, doodles, drawings, paintings, poems, concepts, posters, stickers, newsletters...

What to bring: A smock, clothing you can get dirty, Photographs, images, poems, posters any creative material that best describes your experiences at the rotunda.

Journals: Each session includes time to work individually or as a group. Information in your journals is personal your own. We do ask that everyone leaves their journals from session to session to insure continuity, and fold the corner of the journal to “lock” it.

11/6 Workshop 1 Brainstorming as a group and individually:

Who you are, what you do and favorite food
How would you describe the Rotunda?
What would you like to see in this work of art?

11/13 Workshop 2 Using Drawing and Movement to Combine Ideas

Basic drawing tips
Movement based brainstorming

11/ 20 Workshop 3 Combining Ideas, Developing Design

Expressive Line
Integrating Ideas

11/27 Workshop 4 Transfer Ideas onto Artwork Surface

Working with Consensus to Integrate Ideas
Using Shapes and Forms in Drawing

12/4 Workshop 5 Transferring Ideas, Checking for Consensus .

12/11 Workshop 6 Color Theory Made Easy/ Design Adjustments

12/18 Workshop 7 Painting, Music, Food and Poetry

12/25, 1/1 No Sessions/ Holiday Break

1/ 8 Workshop 8 Painting, Music, Food and Poetry

1/ 15 Workshop 9 Painting, Music, Food and Poetry

1/22 Workshop 10 Final Touches/ Celebration

Unveiling Date Tentatively Scheduled for MLK Day January 21, Times TBA

Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Great Turning Mural Project

Last week my partner Jodi and I traveled to New Hampshire to attend the Great Turning Conference; Education, Leadership and Activism for A Life Sustaining Civilization. The conference was organized by the Audubon Expedition Institute at Lesley University. We honored to be invited to facilitate a group mobile-mural. The goal was to create a visual collective record of the ideas, conversations and spirit of the gathering. The project stared on Wednesday as we gathered ideas and explained the project to people as arrived to register, greet old friends and introduce themselves to new faces. We would have until Saturday afternoon to finish the mural.

The mural was one way for people to contextualize the ideas generated in a series of four workshop strands; Environmental Justice, Environmental Leadership, Ecological Teaching and Learning and the Great Turning. Between attending workshops, or hearing inspirational speakers such as Winona LaDuke, Bill McKibben, cultural ecologist David Abram or the music of Dana Lyons participants would come to eat in the cafeteria next to the mural site. Before or after meals people would add ideas, sketch or map out images and look at and discuss what people had created. The design emerged slowly as people wove their ideas together. Words became images, and images were transferred to the mural. By the end of the day Thursday we were finally painting. It was great during the moments when musicians would come to the site and start playing music and singing truly animated the process. Part of the magic of this process is when people get a chance to paint and talk about the Great Turning, and what it meant to them. By late Friday night the mural was nearly finished.

Participants came up with lots of ideas that are represented in the mural. Here is a sample of what people said the Great Turning was to them;

“Agricultural Policy is based on Military Policy/ agriCULTURE vs. aggroCULTURE/ Deconstruct Empire/ sustainability/inclusion/ participation/ democracy/community empowerment/ contemplation/ meditation/ Fire, Challenge, Heat/ Biological and Cultural Diversity/ Culture of Waste/Local Living Economies/ Reallocate War Funds/
Earth is our homeland/ security through Love/ courage in community/Homeland Security /vs insecurity/ Building from the HeartLand/ The great turning: Winona “the most important thing we can do is find a place and be there, stay there, do your work there, (not really a quote but the essence. vigil-presence, becoming part of the story of the place/ transformation/radical shift in perception/ bring your heart into your brain/ cycles of nutrients/ joy/ awakening/ Love Centered/ opening hearts and minds to connect with the truth of interdependence of all life. Humans claiming our animal natures/ ancestors and future beings/ Lake within a Lake/Being Outdoors/ Pollinators/ Trees/ Kids in Nature/ Dance and play together/ rain to river to oceans/ prints/ clarinet playing outrageously”

There are two panels to the project. The first depicts a green blue tree in fall. In the center of the tree is a heart within a heart, a phoenix rising alongside a “Great Turning 2007” banner. On the right we the local Old Country Store, being animated with a mural, in the midst of farms, vessels in the foreground collect maple syrup and corn. On the left we see a rainbow of life emerging from the multi armed monster of addiction and greed.

The second panel has a bear, representing a protective spirit, and based on a participants childhood dream. The bear is holding, and protecting the earth. We see turtle ina a lake within a lake, in the mountains are people building community listening to the earth, on the left we see the web of life binding together the circle of life.

The high light of the process is always watching as people open up their creative minds, There is a buzz that grows around the murals as people combine ideas, becoming engaged with the colors and brushes animating the area. If people say they can’t draw we encourage people to create idea maps, to doodle, to have fun. Its always amazing to see what happens when intelligent warm people join together to create a work of art in a safe, non judgmental learning environment. It is my hope that some of this rubs off into peoples’ personal artistic lives.

Our work in healing and mending the earth, in being part of a great turning, is a lifelong process. Creativity is a vital part of the transformation that is necessary to adapt to the earths changing climate. Like it or not the time has come for significant change in the wy we live our lives. As we imagine the world we want to live in, the process of recovering our understanding of the places we live, in creating new communities and industries, the arts will become part of our daily lives. Throughout this project I was reminded how important it is for artists of all disciplines to be called upon and honored by organizations working towards social, cultural, economic and environmental justice and transformation. Artists are the glue that tie together our many voices, concerns and organizations. This mural was a great illustration of just how effective and powerful that process can be.

Monday, October 22, 2007

Open Studio Oct. 27- 28

My studio at 4007 Chestnut St. will be open both days (12 - 6pm). Refreshments, greeting cards, lots of images to look at and purchase. Also you will get to see some of my latest work in progress. Hope to see you there.

Also you can see some of my work on display at the Green Line Cafe 4239 Baltimore Ave.

For a full list of West Philly Artists Open Studio click here. Thank you to CEVA, JJ Tiziou and Zoe Cohen for all their hard work !

Thursday, October 11, 2007

Collective Imprints: Invitation

pictured: rotunda logo

Dear Friends,

You are cordially invited to participate in Collective Imprints, a once-in-a-lifetime project that will be as much about you as it will be about the other participants.

Over the past few months, visiting community artist Michael Schwartz and I have met with various local activists and artists to envision a project that is like very few in the world.

Our goal is to bring together diverse groups and individuals who make The Rotunda the vital venue that it is. In doing so, we will discuss The Rotunda's mission statement, and then define it through visual art. In other words, we want to create visual art WITH you from YOUR visions of, and ideas about, The Rotunda's place in arts, culture, and community.

We will discuss The Rotunda's success in these areas and the work that still needs to be done. In addition, we will talk about the surrounding West Philadelphia neighborhood, your own neighborhood, and our hopes for a better city. We will then mount the finished product inside of The Rotunda, where it will remain on display for years to come.

To participate in this project, you do not need to be an artist. In fact, you do not need to come with any prior experience. Instead, please share your stories about events you have attended and planned here, what you think the venue still needs to do, how you define community in general, how you support the arts, etc.

You have already left your mark on The Rotunda through your support, so why not leave a larger imprint?

What sets this project apart from so many other participatory arts projects is the following:

• All participants will have the opportunity to draw, paint, glue, etc. You will get to design, create, and finish the art that you want to see. Artist(s) who will be facilitating the workshops will help to instruct you on how to draw that perfect hand or shadow that lovely face, but the pencils and paint brushes will not leave your hands. After all, these are YOUR stories and ideas.

• We will document the process via video and photographs. Each participant will be given a journal in which to write about the project, to ensure that all of us have the chance to tell our stories. In addition, we will submit our video footage to be aired on WYBE, a local public television station.

• We will utilize several environmentally responsible products and practices, such as recycled art supplies, methods that reduce water pollution while cleaning paint brushes, and biodegradable cutlery for our refreshments.

Through this project, you will develop: basic skills in drawing, painting, creating collages, and transforming abstract ideas into tangible works of art; the tools to work successfully within a large group; and the opportunity to inspire and be inspired.

This project will be comprised of 10 workshops beginning on November 6, 2007 and ending on January 22, 2008. These will occur every Tuesday, with the exception of December 25 and January 1. The workshops will begin at 6pm and end at 8pm. All workshops will take place at The Rotunda, 4014 Walnut Street in Philadelphia.

We are having a planning meeting on Tuesday, October 23 at 6pm at The Rotunda.

If you can attend this meeting, please RSVP to Gina Renzi:

If you are interested in participating but cannot attend the meeting listed above, please contact me so that we can talk on the phone or meet in person. Or just come to the workshops! You do not need to attend the meeting in order to participate in the project, but we would appreciate a sense of how many people plan to attend the workshops, so please reply with your interest and availability.

We invite you/your group to join us in building community through this inclusive, honest, and significant project. We hope that you'll be a part of Collective Imprints.


Gina Renzi

The Rotunda
4014 Walnut Street
Philadelphia, PA 19104

Friday, September 7, 2007

Arizona Labor History Mural

Mural Design: 100 Years of Labor History 1908 - 2008

Sometimes as artists we put many hours into the development of a mural proposal. The Arizona Labor History Mural is one such project. The initial mural proposal made in 1999. The goal remains the same to this day, to have this mural placed on a prominent wall in the downtown of Tucson. Some day the political and cultural climate of Southern Arizona may at last be tolerant of images that vividly portray a living peoples’ history. Ironically the struggle to create this mural in many ways mirrors the struggles of working class people in Arizona, currently a “right to work” state.

In 1998-99 colleagues and I interviewed people from various unions and organizations including Jobs with Justice, Southern Arizona Central Labor Council, Southwest Alliance for Economic Justice and members of the International Union of Mime Mill and Smelter Workers. These interviews took place over a period of several years and became the contextual basis for this project. The Tucson Arts Brigade (TAB) organized a series of popular education workshops revolving around the theme. The research also became the basis for the TAB Community Works project that resulted in the display of a series of bus bench images throughout the city from 1999-2001. The drawings and watercolor images you see here were part of the design phase of the project. The final design is presented in this visual essay as well.

There are several themes represented in these works that come up over and over again. The Bisbee and Jerome deportations of IWW members, the film Salt of the Earth, the massive 1983 strikes in Morenci, Ajo, Clifton and Douglas as well as the contributions of communication and farm workers, teachers and teamsters in literally building Arizona. The struggles for a minimum wage, women's rights, civil rights, a workers bill of rights, a safe and clean works place, affordable health care and housing are also depicted in the images. People like Juan Chacon and César Chávez are represented with regional labor celebrities.

The support for this project all along came from ordinary working people. Everyday people who struggle to make ends meet on a daily basis. It is for them this project is dedicated.

Sketchbook Image: Interior of a cafe in Bisbee, AZ

Sketchbook Image: commemorating miners

Sketch of a lime mine that closed in 2002

Sketchbook Image: Downtown Bisbee, AZ

Friday, August 3, 2007

Philadelphia Freedom School Banner

In this project I worked with twenty 9-11 year old students from the Philadelphia Freedom Summer School to create a participatory banner over a series of eight 2 hour sessions through the Fleisher Art Memorials Community Arts Partnership Program. This summer school enrichment program emphasizes cultural democracy and history through story telling, dance and visual art.

When I started working with this group they though of visual art as “being different", "drawing anything” or said they didn’t know anything. Some of them had art in their schools others had little to no formal art making experiences. Several were particularly resistant.

Over the weeks I struggled to keep the kids engaged and teach them a few solid skills. I know I was being successful when the room was silent and everyone on task if even for a few minutes. Even the camp counselors and the children who had been resistant were enchanted by the paint and pencils once they had a basic understanding of the elements or art.

On the last day I asked what they now know about visual art. They responded: “ I learned the colors’ shades and hues and that my teacher is a colorfully vivid person”. “I’ve learned perspective; one point, atmospheric, eye, worm and bird view”. “I learned that black and white can make different colors of gray”, “How to draw people, bodies, places and roads. I had a great teacher”. “That it was fun for me, doing the mural”, “when you do art you can look at it for many perspective”. All the children said they learned about primary and secondary colors, value and perspective.

We discussed and illustrated the connection between the individual and community through individual drawings, portraits of each other and journal drawings. The connection of their community to the community at large was illustrated through the creation of the banner/mobile mural. Finally the connection to the world was made through drawings of our hands that will be brought to Malawi in Africa by Philadelphia University professor Wendy Anderson as part of the ”Hands Across the Water” community arts project.

While this was a short unit it was very successful and I was asked to teach again with the program. Something I look forward to doing. The banner will be on display at the Philadelphia Freedom School offices and other locations about Philadelphia.

Tuesday, July 24, 2007

Show Someone How You Feel About Something

A public art service project, coordinated by Zoë Cohen
July 19,23,24,30 and 31, 2007
Noon-1 pm
Rittenhouse Square, Philadelphia, PA

A brigade of public art facilitators will be available in the center of Rittenhouse Square on selected Noon lunch hours in July, to encourage the public to show someone how you feel about something.

Clipboards, paper and drawing materials will be available, along with envelopes and a list of addresses of public and elected officials. Participants will be invited to communicate something (anything) that they feel strongly about through drawing, and to address an envelope to someone (anyone). The recipient could be a public official, or a friend, family member, etc. Their drawing will then be stamped and mailed by the facilitators.

The project was conceived and coordinated by Zoë Cohen, who last summer presented Philadelphia with the Listening Station, a public, participatory art project. Show Someone aims to engage the public with their inherent creative abilities and to encourage a different kind of civic involvement than they may usually be presented with. The interaction of the facilitators with the public is as important for the success of the project as the reception of the drawings by their recipients.

Facilitators for the project include Liz Manlin, Jodi Netzer, Michael Schwartz, Leigh Seeleman, and Scott Rigby.

The July series of Show Someone is being presented in conjunction with the festival being coordinated by Philadelphia's Basekamp space:

Documentation of Show Someone How You Feel About Something

can be found at :

Thursday, June 21, 2007

The Pride of Feltonville Community Mural

Click on any image to enlarge

Mural Size: 90’ x 26’ (taller area is 36’)

Location: Feltonville School for Arts and Sciences, 210 E Cortland St. Philadelphia, PA

Sponsors: School District of Philadelphia
Assistant: Erika Matyok
© 2007 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program/ Michael Schwartz

The Pride of Feltonville Mural” embodies the spirit of the neighborhood surrounding the Feltonville School of Arts and Science. I worked with 20 students from the school, their art teacher Trina Brand and my assistant Erika Matoyk. Over the eight weeks we researched the history and theme of the mural; arts and science.

Following colonization Feltonville was primarily a farming community. Fruit trees still volunteer themselves in peoples backyards and along the streets. The school sits between an old factory and a graveyard. The graveyard extends for many acres and is lined with trees. It's a peaceful hilly place. The factory, whose owner Bruce came out one day to introduce himself and compliment the mural, said he was down to a handful of workers. This was once a thriving industrial area. Immigrants poured into the area building track homes and opening hosiery's. Small factories and mills produced clothing, refrigerators and other appliances. Many of the immigrants were Jewish and at least one synagogue was in the area. To depict this I included the Tree of LIfe with the five chakras, as well as King Solomon's Knot - a symbol of wisdom. German, Italian, Irish and English immigrants also populated the area during it’s early history. Now the area is home to immigrant families from Latin America, the Middle East and Asia. The mural depicts the spirit of immigrants working to improve the lives of their children. A figure in the sky, painted in browns and blues represents past generations, the hands are extended, wearing workers gloves. From the hands leap their offspring jumping into open books.

To depict the sciences we decided to depict a student investigating the nature around her. She holds up a magnifying glass amidst a field of insects and flowers. We see several areas that are enlarged to show the interior of plants; Water Carriers, Stiffeners, Class Chlorophyceae and Light Catchers. Students are learning the same information in their science classes. Students also added some of their own imagery to the bottom of the mural including a quetzal, an elf, flowers and insects.

The largest figure in the mural is of a young woman holding a basket of peaches, she has gathered the harvest from the place she lives. This figure is the symbol of youth who go to school and live in the area, who have grown up in this place for some period of time. She suggests that if we get to know and cherish things about the places we live, to look at the small miracles all around us, we can raise to great things. Our dreams can come true, if we work hard and take stock of what is right in front of us. It is then that we can find bounty in our lives, be able to share, grow and learn. Appropriate for a place of learning and friendship.

I think that murals help to define a place. They can become landmarks. I’ve tried in this mural to keep the composition simple, accessible and the narrative universal. The meaning can change with time. The color and space in the mural suggest an inner world of the mural, there are spaces that recede, but much of the subject matter appears to be in a fishbowl - pushed up against the picture plane. The idea here is that the school is in many ways an insulated institution - a safe place where students can learn and make friends in relative peace.

I like to have the community get their hands dirty. In addition to the students involvement in the design process and adding their own touches to the mural we had a community paint day (see below). Over 65 people were involved. People were wonderful during this project; the staff, students, faculty and neighbors. I think this will be a mural that has a long and cherished life in this unique Philadelphia neighborhood.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Feltonville School for the Arts and Sciences Mural

"The Pride of Feltonville"

This project is a part of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Beautifying Schools-Transforming Lives project. Since April of this year I’ve been working with a fantastic group of students a remarkable art teacher, Trina Brand and their dedicated principal Ralph Burnley. On June 1, 2007 we held our community paint day. Over 60 people participated, led by the students I have been working with.

As a teaching muralist with MAP I have observed the changes in students as they take part in this program. These measurable outcomes include;

1) Increased willingness to collaborate and communicate differences.

2) Meeting and exceeding the Pennsylvania Department of Education's Academic Standards for Arts and Humanities including a comprehensive understanding of the elements of art, principles of design and historical context of murals.

3) A feeling of accomplishment and pride resulting in higher self esteem.

4) A feeling of being connected to a larger community, of belonging and connectivity.

5) A unique hands on approach to putting into practice what we have learned in the classroom.

6) A reduction in violence because students learn to collaborate and communicate their feelings, to channel their emotions into something positive.

7) a place where everyone feels included and accepted, where differences become strengths.

8) Students report feeling more connected to their creative and poetic sensibilities, thus
teaching students to be divergent non linear thinkers. This skill set is specifically what many employers are looking for in today's competitive global economy.

I’ll be posting more information and images when the mural is finished.

Just after Community Paint Day I received this letter;

School District of Philadelphia Mural Arts Project
Beautifying Schools-Transforming Lives

June 5, 2007

Dear Friends,

As you may have heard or read, our School District Mural Arts Project has been cut from the School District budget for next year.

I am urging you to write and/or email the people whose names are listed at the bottom of this letter to tell them about the wonderful collaboration between the School District and the Mural Arts Program and how it has benefitted your students and your school community.

It would be a great loss to hundreds of children if this program is cut. The comment that most students wrote on the post-test was that working together as a team to create a work of art was the most important thing they learned in the Mural Arts Class. They learned about the history of mural arts, community involvement, developing skills to make a mural and to respect each others’ opinions and abilities.

We have just completed our third year (60 murals) and were hoping for at least another 2 years….we would have liked this grant to have been available for many more years into the future!

I would appreciate your support in this matter and, as soon as possible (I know how busy you all are finishing things at the end of the school year). It would be a great way for you to show your appreciation for the wonderful piece of public art that you have received.

Please cc the emails or letters to me.

Thank you,

Deborah Zuchman
Project Manager
School District of Philadelphia Mural Arts Project
1729 Mt. Vernon Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130
T: 215. 685.0739
FAX: 215.685.0757
James Nevels, Chair
Sandra Dungee-Glenn
Martin Bednarek
James Gallagher
Denise Armbrister
c/o School District of Philadelphia
440 N. Broad Street
Philadelphia, PA 19130