Awardee: Michelle Angela Ortiz

Primary Artistic Medium: Visual Arts, 2 Dimensional

Idea

Our Market” is a community-centered, multi-layered, multi-year public art project focused on supporting the immigrant vendors, business owners, and neighbors that work and reside in the 9th Street Market, my home for 40+ years and one of the nation’s oldest and largest working outdoor markets located in South Philadelphia. The project invests in the 9th Street Market by offering creative community strategies to tackle the issues of gentrification, racism, displacement, and erasure.

The Market was created over 100 years ago from newly arrived immigrants that collectively fought to claim space in the city. This history is the dominant narrative of the Market centered on the Italian immigrant history and labor. The contributions of the Black community, South East Asian refugees, Mexican/Central American/ South American families have not been included in the collective history of this place. The Market is divided by these separate groups that fail to see their common threads. The recent protests have re-surfaced the racial divide and inequities in the Market. Through my project, I am trying to push the boundaries by meeting people where they are through conversations, storytelling, and image making that de-centralizes the dominant narrative and that moves us in seeing ourselves beyond our labor by placing value on our collective spiritual, emotional, and ancestral connection to this place.

The project will happen in these stages:

  • Building Our Base: I will identify fruit vendors, property & business owners, neighbors, local artists, recently arrived immigrants to 3rd generation Americans, and representatives of neighborhood associations. The participation of the community members will be curated with the support of the community connectors that represent the different sectors of the Market.
  • Widening the Narrative: I will facilitate story circles where we will share stories on arrival, belonging, love, humor, tragedy, and triumph. We will also have discussions about claiming vendor stands at risk of being removed, eliminating city rental fees for stands, supporting local artisans to sell in the Market.
  • Claiming Space: There are issues around poor lighting, issues with trash and recycling, deteriorating vendor stands, lack of storage for produce, and businesses in need of exterior repair. In response to these issues, I will be creating with the community vinyl decals, stencils, outdoor murals, and/or light installations depicting portraits, phrases, and symbols connected to our stories. The public artworks are aimed to beautify and repair these spaces as well as claim space as vendors and business owners are being pushed out of the Market. The community members that are often ignored will see their own words and images reflected in the public spaces along the Market.
  • Our Stories, Our Future: By creating a visual map and transgenerational timeline, we can collectively map out ways to dismantle and reimagine new systems that benefit the Market. We will then present these ideas to the neighborhood associations offering other options for the BID. The presentation will also be shared with the councilperson in our district along with city representatives that can work with the community to make these changes.