Word on the Street (Art): Neighbor Ballads


The Philadelphia’s historic and culturally rich ‘South Philly’ neighborhoods were graced this spring with unexpected newspaper boxes proclaiming the latest edition of Neighbor Ballads. The periodical was the latest off the wall (literally) project by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, in this case they worked with the local poet Frank Sherlock and artist Erik Ruin. You might recognize Erik Ruin’s work from his prolific printing with the Justseeds Cooperative.


Neighbor Ballads came out of a long research and interview process, in the end each issue focuses on one historic or living member of the neighborhood and created a publication about them, drawing attention to the impact grand or quotidian that they had on the neighbors. In edition to an amazing cover portrait by Ruin, Frank Sherlock wrote great poetic portraits for each issue.

Follow the jump to read more.

Mural Arts describes the project (which was funded in part by a grant from the Pew Center for Arts and Heritage as part of a larger Journeys South project),

Every story needs a hero, and for Frank Sherlock, South Philly gets seven. For his part in the project, the poet worked with the Pennsylvania Historical Society, residents and a folklorist to choose seven historical figures from different ethnic groups who had an impact on the neighborhood. He wrote their stories as ballads—the rhythmic, refraining poems that people used to tell stories back when the only way to get news was talking. He chose ballads because “each of these communities is a place where poetry had a very public history in their cultures,” Sherlock says. Along the lines of using old ways to spread news, the ballads will be printed on broadsides, the news sheets that predated modern newspapers. They will be distributed throughout South Philly in boxes. Avant-garde printmaker Erik Ruin will design each figure’s box and illustrate the broadsides.

The project is about the sense of community in South Philly despite a clash of cultures. Sherlock wants to express universality through individual stories. “In a ballad of a Vietnamese woman, there are threads where an Irish-American can recognize his story,” he says. “South Philly has a segregated reputation,” says Sherlock. “What I find is a lot more street-level cultural appreciation among communities than what you’d think or what you hear.” (Ada Kulesza)


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Categories: Interesting Printmaking, Print-related

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