Public art and augmented reality in a West Philadelphia mural by Joshua Mays and DJ King Britt

New Artblog contributor John Morrison fills us in on “Dreams, Diaspora and Destiny,” an Augmented Reality mural co-conceived by hometown hero, DJ King Britt. Here Morrison speaks with Britt's collaborator, Oakland-based painter and illustrator Joshua Mays, about his vision for the future of public art.

"Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny" Photo Credit: Gavin O'Reilly
“Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny” Photo Credit: Gavin O’Reilly

“…and technology is the medium bridging the artist’s consciousness with the outside world.” – Paul D. Miller (DJ Spooky)

In the Fall of 2017, Philly born composer King Britt completed a project in which he crafted new soundscapes sourced from samples created in collaboration with students from The Haverford School and Shoemaker Mastery Charter School.

On October 14th, an ensemble featuring Britt, poet Nina “Lyrispect” Ball on vocals, Chuck Treece on guitar, Heru Sabaka-ra on trumpet and myself on drum machine performed these soundscapes in a live concert in Malcolm X Park as part of the Mural Arts Monument Lab program.


We gathered under the Park Gazebo, where illuminated images created by Oakland-based artist Joshua Mays were projected around the interior of the space. As the community crowded around in a circle, our ensemble set course without the benefit of a group rehearsal. After searching through the a feverish collision of noise, post-bop and active sonic ambience, we gelled and hit our stride. With what seemed like all of 52nd Street watching, we whipped ourselves into a kind of bubbling, exploratory ultra-Black Funk reminiscent of On The Corner-era Miles Davis.

King Britt (left) and Joshua Mays (right). Photo Credit: Monument Lab
King Britt (left) and Joshua Mays (right). Photo Credit: Monument Lab

Waves of light and sound

This event was the precursor to 2018’s Dreams, Diaspora and Destiny a mural project and collaboration between Mays and Britt. Located on the broad side of a massive building at the corner of 53rd & Media, Dreams… is bursting with color and energy. May’s use of flowering shapes and lines suggests dynamic movement around the image of a child with a bright light echoing out from her hand. As waves of light ripple out through the rest of the piece, the child appears to be holding the very spark of life itself between her fingers.

In addition to the colorful imagery of the mural itself, Dreams… offers an added dimension that points to the near future of how we will envision and interact with art in public spaces. Billed as the city’s first augmented reality mural, Dreams… is coupled with the MuralArtAR app, designed in collaboration with Blue Design. When downloaded and launched via smartphone in proximity to the mural, the app projects May’s magical imagery out into the three dimensional world. Observers find themselves in the midst of a swirling cosmos of shapes, colors and sounds as visual portals and heavenly orbs levitate off the walls. As the 3D imagery of the mural pulls observers in, the app plays the otherworldly score composed of samples created by Britt with the Haverford and Shoemaker students.


I always say that I want my murals to be visionary windows onto another world that people fall into and get lost in for a bit before returning to their bodies, hopefully more inspired and curious. Augmented reality extends these possibilities and the medium greatly upgrades narrative immersion capabilities. AR and VR are the latest and most exciting tools for storytelling and we are just at the beginning have exploring their potential.

Talking about the inspiration behind the piece, Mays explains that Dreams… was created for the expressed purpose of tapping into the power of ancestral memory and bringing it to bear in our present lives.

Conceptually, Dreams, Diaspora and Destiny is about the past, the present and the future. The image emphasizes the power of the present moment on our timeline, our ability to draw a vast wealth of ancestral data, laying the path towards a brighter future, and the important role that energized and inspired youth play in this story.


John Morrison is a Philadelphia based DJ, Producer, and music journalist (Red Bull Music Academy, Jazz Right Now, Bandcamp Daily etc.) His debut Instrumental Hip Hop album Southwest Psychedelphia is a cosmic, psychedelic trip through a day in the life in his Southwest Philadelphia neighborhood available now on Deadverse Recordings.

More Photos

John Morrison (left) and King Britt (right). Photo Credit: Steve Weinik
John Morrison (left) and King Britt (right). Photo Credit: Steve Weinik
"Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny" Photo Credit: Steven Weinik
“Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny” Photo Credit: Steven Weinik
"Dreams, Diaspora and Destiny" Photo Credit: David Swanson, The Inquirer
“Dreams, Diaspora and Destiny” Photo Credit: David Swanson, The Inquirer