Philadelphia’s Magic Garden

Located on South Street in Philadelphia, this urban work of art is impossible to miss. Mosaics are everywhere in this few block radius, around S. 9th, 10th, 11th Streets: the sides of buildings, the facades of row houses, inside entryways of these buildings.  It is incredible. But, if you just catch a singular facade or a small portion of wall that, you would never guess that around the corner there could be an entire alley of mosaic facades. Little did we know that we would turn a corner and find this:

1020-1022 South Street

1020-1022 South Street

From far away it’s almost hard to discern what composes these walls; but up close you can see it’s everything: mosaic tiles, glass bottles, a bicycle wheel, iron, cups, and much more.  

A collection of materials compose the walls.

A collection of materials compose the walls.

What is this place? That was the question my sister and I had, anyway. It is Philadelphia’s Magic Garden.  Read the website to find out more about its history, which is truly amazing. It is part of the South Street Renaissance, a piece of Philadelphia’s history amidst the chaos in the world and a story of what happens when local residents join forces in hopes of defeating (in this case) an interstate through their neighborhood. 

Enter the Magic Gardens.

Enter the Magic Gardens.

According to the website, Philadelphia’s Magic Garden [501(c)(3) organization] hosts monthly workshops where students learn the techniques and construct a mosaic on nearby building wall, donated by someone. The work is pro-bono, but donations are appreciated. The man who leads the workshops is Isaiah Zagar, who began this ever growing work of urban art. On the website, you can look inside the Magic Garden with a 360 degree video.  One photograph cannot possibly capture the entire garden. Unfortunately, the day I walked by, it was closed and I did not have the chance to visit, aside from outside of the gates and the facades throughout the neighborhood. 

View through the gates on South Street

View through the gates on South Street

Urban art has recently received new appreciation from the general public, from such types as graffiti, mosaics, installations, stickers on poles, and much more. This UK website, Urban Art, defines some of the types. Urban Arts Magazine addresses FAQs that people may have about urban art, though in comparing its content to other websites, there doesn’t seem to be any limiting qualities about urban art. [Clearly, urban art is new to me.  However, it also seems to be a field that would be available for new scholarship, particularly because the public has long ignored urban art.]  Graffiti is the most common form to most people and this article in New York Times [Graffiti Celebrated by Josh Barbanel on May 25, 2008] explains how graffiti is appreciated and increasing home values in one New York neighborhood. Of course, as the opening line suggests, gentrification may one day be an issue.  For now, it is nice to see people opening their minds to all types of art displays. You may say it’s also folk art in its modern twist.


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