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The mural that’s putting Broad Street at center stage during the DNC: A photo essay

The mural is installed along Broad Street. July 20, 2016 Category: FeaturedLongPurpose

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Editor's note: The artist Mat Tomezsko is a friend of the author of this piece.
Where politics divides, art aims to unite.

That’s the reasoning behind a new mural by local artist Mat Tomezsko, “14 Movements: A Symphony in Color and Words,” being installed this week on the South Broad Street median for the Democratic National Convention. The mural will stretch about a mile in length from City Hall to Washington Avenue and includes more than 15,000 square feet of paint.

“We’re at a particular point in our national dialogue and the overarching theme throughout this election cycle has been one of negativity,” Tomezsko said of the piece. “I think the Democratic National Convention has the opportunity to counter that with an alternative message, instead of reciprocating in that conversation, or responding.”

All photos in this series are by Brian James Kirk.

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Above, Tomezsko lays the first vinyl tile with a team of a dozen Mural Arts Program volunteers, while curious drivers and passersby slow around the median at Washington Avenue.

“It feels so good to be in this moment,” he said. “I’ve been looking forward to working outside and I’ve wanted to interact with Philadelphians and have them honk at me, have them yell at me, have them say nice things or react to it.”

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Tomezsko first started working on the Broad Street median project four years ago before it was nixed. The project was revived when Mural Arts and the DNC Host Committee were looking for an installation that could stand out during the Democratic National Convention.

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“14 Movements” is meant to be viewed like a music composition that stretches out in different sections and across a wide area of space and time. It is made of 980 stripes, nearly each one unique in color, which when seen from above appear more like ripples that emanate from central circles of color found throughout the piece.

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Poetry by both Philadelphia poet laureate Yolanda Wisher and Tomezsko himself will lace the mural.

“I think its a time when people are really considering how to feel about one another and how we can work together,” Tomezsko said. “Right now it seems very dire and very negative. And here is a really bold statement of optimism. The story I see is an openness and embrace of different points of view. That comes to me through the abstract nature of all of the gestures and structure of the piece and including the different disciplines of the arts, as well as having Yolanda Wisher’s voice included, as well as my own.”

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Tomezsko spent weeks in a warehouse space in Sharon Hill, near the Philadelphia International Airport, painting the mural. The building was once the the Curtis Publishing Co. printing press, where the Saturday Evening Post was printed and closed in 1969.

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“The format is exactly the entry point, and that’s always the way I saw it,” Tomezsko said. “It’s this massive thing, that’s right in the middle of the city. You come cross it and it catches your attention and you don’t really know right away how big it is. Then you start looking into it and it expands in your mind. There’s no real way to understand it all at once. You can make it mean whatever you want it to mean. Having something like that on a grand scale is in of itself a kind of statement, even though the statement isn’t specific.”

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“Once it’s done, then it belongs to the city,” he said. “It doesn’t end when I put my paintbrush down. It changes again into a work of art that is whatever Philadelphia is right now.”

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