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One local Philadelphian is bringing the city together through quarantine art-making

Wit interviews Robin Mack-Ward about her growing Facebook group, "One Philly: Corona Virus Public Art Project." Read on to learn more about the purpose of the group, the project, and how Robin even created a map to help catalog the experience!

Robin Mack-Ward. Courtesy Robin Mack-Ward.
Robin Mack-Ward. Courtesy Robin Mack-Ward.

During this COVID-19 global pandemic, many of us are looking for a bright spot in what feels like a bleak existence. In response to school closures and the shutdown of local businesses and establishments deemed “non-essential,” Robin Mack-Ward had the genius thought to create a Facebook group where Philadelphians could post images of art that they’re making on their front windows or in front of their houses. As the group continues to grow, it is bringing folks together, digitally, in the midst of very necessary social distancing.

Wit Lopez: I was invited to a Facebook group by one of my friends and when I got there, I found something so heartwarming that’s bringing people together from all over Philadelphia. There’s even a few folks from New Jersey posting in the group as well! The private group is called “One Philly: Corona Virus Public Art Project,” and it’s really making waves. What led you to creating this group?

Robin Mack-Ward: A week or two ago, as the virus news started getting pretty scary, I was thinking about what we’d all do with ourselves when everything came to a standstill. I had the passing thought that it would be cool if everyone dove into One Book, One Philadelphia. Then when it all got really real this week everyone started posting these schedules for their kids that included daily walks, and it just grew from there. I originally posted it as an idea in a parent’s group.

Since the 2016 election, there’s been such an explosion of public art that I think is like an awesome self-repeating cycle–collaborative efforts like Signs of Solidarity are physical evidence of how we come together in dark times, but they also act as drivers to keep bringing us back together by experiencing it, talking about it, being inspired by it. It’s going to happen–art is going to be born of this. If I hadn’t started it, someone else would’ve, right? And it’s been a very positive thing to pour all this nervous energy into.

WL: Are you an artist or maker? What is your medium of choice?

RMW: I’m not an artist, but I have a creative streak and try to find ways of putting it to use despite not having any technical skill sets to say, draw or paint something or even make passably good crafts. I dabble in graphic design.

WL: Some folks are curating “virtual public exhibitions” or are turning to making video art during the self-isolation. You created a private Facebook group just for Philadelphians to showcase their homemade art. What prompted your selection of this format?

RMW: Well, the group is only private to keep out bots. And as for being for Philly specific–it’s just something I thought my city should do. I think it’s so cool that other groups are forming! I’ve heard from people in the ‘burbs, Jersey and today I walked some people in Boston through how to create the map.

The intention isn’t for it to be an online experience in the same way that virtual exhibits and performances are. This idea is to give us something to DO in our homes, and something to make us feel connected both while we’re working on our projects and are out on our solitary wanderings.

WL: I noticed that you made an accompanying map as a directory to the public art. I think that’s wonderful. What is your reasoning behind the map?

RMW: The map is everything, isn’t it?! As soon as there were more than a handful of homes, I knew it was the only way to do it. I’m kind of a nerd in that I love thinking about how information should be organized and shared, so I was happy to have that be part of this project.

With half the point of this being to see other people’s work, you can’t just go aimlessly wander the city in hopes of finding a window with something up. Plus, at this point it’s mostly families involved, and it pretty much negates the purpose of talking this up as something all the kids are doing if you can’t actually find any other kids’ work. It would certainly be a disaster with my kid if we went out looking and never found any. So if nothing else, the map is a parent’s insurance policy.

The map also gives people something concrete to do: “Today I’m going on an art tour in Point Breeze.” Sure, meandering walks can be great, but I have a feeling it won’t be long before we’re all aching for a concrete reason to go somewhere to do something other than buy groceries.

WL: Do you imagine this project becoming a public exhibition in a post-COVID-19 future?

RMW: Well, remember we’re on day three, so no! I haven’t really let myself think about what the post-COVID-19 future is going to look like. Now that you bring it up, I realize that one day there probably will be people studying Pandemic Art. I just kind of put this out into the universe and am watching to see where it goes.

WL: I think this is an amazing and transformative project. You’ve truly created something that is helping to close the felt gap of necessary social distancing. Do you have any other projects coming up after the quarantine period that Philadelphians should be on the lookout for?

RMW: Again, day three over here 🙂