More Than Likes is a series about social media personalities trying to do positive things for their communities.
Conrad Penner’s phone camera was fixed on Nile Livingston, the artist who stood in front of a blank wall. mx. Soon, Livingston painted a huge mural, the “canvas” being the side of an apartment building overlooking a parking lot in the Gayborough district of Philadelphia. but mcx. Livingston was having a hard time finding the right words for his TikTok promotion.
“We could do a thousand takes,” said Mr. Banner, his voice warming. He chose both the location and the artist.
Mr. Banner, 38, runs Street section, a photo blog and social media presence dedicated to spotlighting street artists. In addition to video interviewing artists and photographing their work, Mr. Penner selects artists Philadelphia Mural Arts, which he says is the largest public art program in the country. In a city known for the richness of both its cultural institutions and its public art sceneMr. Benner wants to “serve artists in every way”.
“It’s a bridge into the public art community,” mx. Livingston said. “He stops and slows down and watches things around him, and he really cares about the city of Philadelphia.”
Before meeting mx. Livingston, Mr. Banner’s camera was locked on another artist, Alexi Mansour, chosen by Mr. Brenner to paint a mural in real time as part of a street festival. It was nearly 90 degrees, and too many speakers drowned out Mr. Mansour, who described himself as a “mutterer” uninterested in public speaking. There were people everywhere and Mr. Mansoor also suffered, his face turning bright red. (“I passed out,” Mr. Mansour said later at this point.)
Mr. Banner took matters into his own hands: he ordered Mr. Mansour to wave his hands in front of his face to cool himself. He switched locations, first trying to register Mr. Mansour in a nearby building (also very loudly) before settling on a corner away from the commotion.
“One, two, three,” said Mr. Banner patiently, and Mr. Mansour began describing his work.
Mr. Mansour, whose work focuses on queer identity, and his team’s work on a mural of the Greek god Dionysus, which some consider to be one of the first non-binary appearance.
Mr. Penner, who grew up in the Fishtown neighborhood and typically wears a flat-brimmed hat and mustache, avoids attention when documenting art, directing people’s eyes toward the artists he supports.
“My concern has always been to point the camera out,” Mr. Penner said. “I find a deep pleasure and interest in learning about the world around me through public art and the artists who make it.”
Mr. Benner first published Streets Dept in 2011. A newbie to the world of street art—Mr. Benner is not a trained artist, and had long planned to get into architecture—his early posts took on what he called a “fanboy blog” tone.
The blog went mainstream in June 2011 when it was reprinted by Time magazine job About an artist who “blew up the yarn” of a city train, wrapping the seats in multicolored knit fibres. This interest landed Mr. Benner a full-time marketing job, which he quit in 2015 after he surpassed 100,000 followers on Instagram (he now has more than 150 thousand followers and another 34,600 on TikTok) and devoted all his focus to the Streets section Subscription service Through Patreon, a membership platform for content creators.
In 2020, Mr. Penner began selecting artists and locations for the mural art, which he said now provide the bulk of the Street Dept’s funding, after nearly a decade of independent curatorial work, which he still does. on the side.
At the heart of all of this work is a love for the city, which he believes is particularly suitable for its thriving street arts community.
“Most of the street artists working now take either abandoned buildings or building materials,” said Mr. Benner. “Nearly every neighborhood in Philly has an abandoned building that is a former warehouse or abandoned homes.”
“There was this idea that the industry and maybe some people left this city,” he said of street artists, “so now it’s our playground” (the city’s population dropped from about 2 million in the 1960s to about 1.5 million in 2021). “If you leave a building abandoned, it will be filled with art.”
After hours of filming with Mx. Livingston and Mr. Mansour, Mr. Penner was peeking through an artist’s free wall space on a busy street corner, where a man was painting a woman’s face. Mr. Penner had seen the artist’s work for several months but had never met him. It was Sean Durbin, an up-and-coming local artist who had tried to catch Mr. Penner’s eye earlier in the live painting. He agreed to let Mr. Benner show his work.
Mr. Banner pulled out his camera. “This is very kismet,” he said. My favorite part of his work is meeting new artists and sharing their work with audiences. “Why are we in this world if we don’t look around and get excited about what’s around us?”