In a world where it can seem like hate is winning, I'm glad he's playing for the other team.
Ever drive by a neighborhood* and think: "I wonder who lives here...?"
Artist Stephen Powers, aka ESPO, did.
And his answer to that question is truly beautiful.
Powers is the man behind the "A Love Letter to the City" public art project.
It started in Philly and has since spread to cities around the world, from Baltimore to Dublin to Brooklyn to ... your town next?
love letter chicago? boston? ardmore? bolivia? paris?
— Steve Powers (@steveESPOpowers) March 4, 2010
When you're just passing through neighborhoods — especially in places that have a reputation as rough or violent, like West Philly or Baltimore, where "Love Letters" have popped up — it's easy to forget there are moms, dads, cousins, and grandmas living there.
Folks who laugh, who cry, who love, and everything in between.
And that's where Powers' project, which began in partnership with Philadelphia's Mural Arts Program, comes in. To remind us about love.
Yeah, it's cheesy, but kind of necessary. There are enough reminders of hate!
Powers is adamant that the art be about the people who live in the neighborhoods where he paints the murals. So, step one: Talk to the people and get inspired.
"I have to go to a city first and talk to people," Powers said to The Atlantic's CityLab. "Then, I try to make those conversations into visual communication. I liken what we do to being a visual sound system. We engage and we learn, and ultimately we head out to a wall and figure out what fits—in every way. Then we paint it. Painting is the easy part."
He says, "It's public art in the way it should be — working with the public."
regram parsons with one from @sredles24. for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. He had his kids lie down on the floor and he called the police. The police wouldnt risk sending officers to his block, instead they told him to move. People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on
In the Instagram, Powers notes:
" ... for my man Milton Eager, words courtesy of Mr Chris. 20 years ago he moved in the neighborhood and not long after heard drug dealers shooting out all the car windows on the block. ... People would ask Mr Chris why he wouldn move, and he said "I am here because its home" Thats a Baltimore Love Letter from Mr Chris to his community and from us to you.
There's nothing quite like reading love letters inspired by complete strangers written large (literally ... on a giant wall in bright paint) to make you realize that our human struggles are the same.
The first of these murals are visible all along the train path running through West Philadelphia, Powers' old hometown neighborhood.
But you can also see them from the ground.
And according to Powers' Instagram, even Pope Francis peeped his work as he rode the elevated train in Philadelphia.
Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention
A photo posted by Prose Appropos (@steveespopowers) on
The caption reads:
"Philadelphia, beautiful muse in well worn shoes. like the guy hauling away a handtruck of left over free water from the pope visit. Thank you Francis for hopping the El to see this refreshed for fall by Mike Levy, freshed in the first place by @thelossprevention"
The aim of "Love Letter" is to take all the incredible humanity going on behind the walls of these neighborhoods and make it visible to everyone by putting it on the outside.
As Powers told BrainPickings:
"The art is secondary to bringing the community together and getting everyone to agree on something. The wall stands as testimony to a unified community, even if the artwork is completely boring."
All of his murals are about one thing: LOVE.
Powers told CityLab:
"Yeah, I'm a romantic! Duh! I'm jealous of musicians, jealous of how music is a medium people integrate into their lives in a way they rarely do with art. I like to think of myself as a visual blues musician — I'm painting love songs. When you pick up a guitar, what else would you want to play? Everything is for love. It's the original motivation for everything. Exclamation point."
Whether you've been in love before, love your mom, or only figure out what love is like by listening to old Motown songs, every human can relate to LOVE.
That's why these murals are so brilliant.
West Philadelphia, where Powers is from, is a bit rough around the edges, and not many folks from outside of West Philly tend to go there.
And if you don't know people, how can you see them as your neighbors?
In a world where we're sometimes so removed from each other, where we watch the news of mass shootings, riots, war, and sadness from behind our individual computer screens, Powers' murals are there to remind us all of just how similar we all really are.
We all love exploring. We love beauty. We love. Period.
In a world where there are far too many reminders that hate is alive and well, I'm grateful for Powers' work. It's a reminder that love is behind every wall, in every neighborhood, and in every heart.