To Signposts and Light Poles, A Winning Essay in the New Art Writing Contest!

Dear readers, this week we are publishing articles by the cash prize and honorable mention winners in the 2017 New Art Writing Challenge. Thank you to all of you who submitted your writing. Co-founder of the New Art Writing Challenge, Matt Kalasky, penned this lovely introduction for you…”I often use the analogy that art writing has become a fixed tool in the service of criticism. Like we are stuck using the same monkey wrench no matter what type of art we are talking about; no matter what type of art viewer we are; no matter what reader we are trying to reach. The winners of this year’s New Art Writing Challenge have, each in their own way, thrown aside the usual tools and have shown us the power of cooked spaghetti — or a flower — or a diary entry to talk about art. The best stopped trying to make sense of the work and started to unravel the art deeper into a personal mystery that epitomizes the experience of two humans looking at each other through art. This contest didn’t generate these new perspectives and manners of looking but rather it has illuminated the spectrum of writing that has always existed. This is an art writing landscape as complex, enigmatic, and empathetic as the art it examines. Get reading!” — Matt Kalasky, Co-founder, New Art Writing Challenge

To Signposts and Light Poles
Street Art in Philadelphia
By Nicole Sonsini

"Questioning Whiteness," Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installation outside of UArts; image courtesy of Streets Dept.
“Questioning Whiteness,” Tatyana Fazlalizadeh installation outside of UArts; image courtesy of Streets Dept.

To all of you.

To the artists whose names I’ve come to know, those I’ve admired near and dear, but mostly from afar. To those of you who’ve paved these streets with the glittering gold of knowledge, power, wit, and whimsy. I see you. I hear you. You save space for artists like me in this moving, gliding, gilded metropolis. To those who rise up and rise above the tide of hate and mud and ugliness. Who tell their stories amid the towering steel and crumbling concreteness of it all; the signposts who lead us home.

To ESPO, only and always a Chinatown bus ride away from where you left us. Your poetry guides us home to the hearts whose claim we stake. Every word a journey, a truth in every inside joke on every outside wall you’ve crawled and climbed and conquered.
To Amberella, for putting hearts in the hopes of others, for softening the hard edges, and hardening the soft edges, and for gutting us to our core in the name and in vain of love.


To Kid Hazo, for allowing us to laugh freely, wildly, wryly with a wink and a nudge. For tickling the stiff upper lips of critics and criticizers. For putting the “fun” squarely inside “dysfunctional.”

To Michelle Angela Ortiz, for pushing back and pushing forward. For giving a voice to the voiceless, the afraid and the unafraid. For painting a portrait of the real us, you, them. For art into action. For believing. For being.

To Aubrie Costello, you’ve got the world on a string, the thing that makes us pause, the cause and the effect. Your words tied tightly around the hearts of the city, unexpected; breathless. Your breakups and makeups, your mess ups, and fess ups, strung and hung for all to see. A documentarian of truth and I believe every word you speak into these streets.


To Nosego, the flash of life, the color bomb, the real and the surreal. Modern totems, joy explosions, carved into the earth of cities with stories not nearly as beautiful as the work you bless them with.

To Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, the city still considers you one of its own, its prodigal daughter and sun. Our fearless truth-teller, our revolution and resolution, our true north when it’s all gone left. Push, pull, repeat. There are no days off in the business of living one’s truth.

To Nero One, succinct, unsettling; sincere and sincerely. For always knowing what to say and when to say it. A bullseye on the end of a crosswalk.


To Shira Walinsky, the optimistic outsider willing to listen, to learn, to stand up and stand down. For always enriching, empowering, envisioning. For shining the spotlight and never stealing it. The stories will live on, new life breathed into them, passed on and around like a shared meal or a family secret. I honor them, I honor you.

To Bruno Guerreiro, the medium, the knowledge-dropper, leaving breadcrumbs and bits and bobbins, the words of those who’ve said it better, of those who’ve come before us. A trusted messenger of truth and insight, notable quotables, messages from beyond the grave.

To Ishknits, the left coast may have tried to court you with its sun-soaked everything, but home is where the heart gets stitched 6 by 6, 10 by 10, larger than life or smaller than a secret. Thank you for telling your story and the stories of others. But especially for those of us too afraid, too un-ready, to not-brave- enough-just-yet to do so.

And to those artists whose names I’ll never know. The youngins repping their set in Sharpie scrawls, a secret written between two SEPTA seats; to 215 Rell and North Philly Banga, your art is a mile-marker, a touchstone, a nod to the culture, to the streets that owe you nothing and everything all at once. You capture time and space, mark-making milestones like love, and life, and loyalty, and death. I see you, I hear you, and I save you space here in this womb and tomb of a city. Raise up and rise above, write your name high atop our makeshift monuments, the trestles and turnstiles, the light poles that guide us home.

To all of you:

In honor of and in homage to.

From all of me.

Nicole Sonsini is an expressive arts social worker living, working, and napping in South Philadelphia. Sonsini studied English at Penn State, and because that story ends similarly for most liberal artists, she found herself thrust (happily) into the world of social services soon thereafter. Sonsini has been working with youth in the Philadelphia foster care system for the past 10 years helping them to find and raise their creative voices through art. In her spare time, she enjoys writing and making art as a means of self-care and reflection.