Public Art comes to Life in ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny’

We now live in a time in which the pairing of a smartphone and a wall can bring you into alternate reality.

This technology is now easily accessible for any Philadelphia smartphone owner at the new augmented reality mural at 5300 Lansdowne Ave. With help of an app developed by Blue Design, the user’s view of the mural is superimposed by music and computer-generated images that coincide with the physical artwork.

The mural, ‘Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny,’ is the product of a collaboration between legendary Philly composer/producer King Britt, and artist Joshua Mays. The two visionaries worked with public and private school students to bring this cutting-edge combination of art and technology to the heart of West Philadelphia.

“We were all brainstorming on ideas and what would make this mural be on the next level,” said Britt. “We are all tech geeks and I forget who said AR but one of us did and then it all fell into place.”

At first glance, the mural is a vibrant depiction of a woman holding a seed that is emitting light throughout the surrounding imagery of people and surrealist, futuristic designs. Then, when coupled with the MuralArtsAR app, Joshua Mays’ imagery surfaces from the wall into three-dimensional space.

As you walk along the progression of the mural, each portion of the artwork triggers a different layer in the development of the musical score done by King Britt. It starts with a jazzy, African-sounding melody that leads into a futuristic sound collage combining Hip Hop and Ambient.

The score eventually develops into multiple spoken word pieces, one of which is an interpretation of the mural by a resident of the neighborhood. The poem goes:

This mural at 5300 Lansdowne Ave. is a collaboration between Philly composer/producer King Britt and artist Joshua Mays. It is produced with the help of an app and computer-generated images.

“I see the mural as a timeline leading up to the important now moment. The future is represented by the main figure engaging the seed. The glowing point at the center of the mural is the potential that ultimately unfolds and creates culture and creates a ripple effect into future generations.”

Mural Arts Philadelphia also played a big part in the production of the mural. The program has had been the leading force in the installation of public art across Philadelphia for over 30 years. This is their first project that incorporates augmented reality.

“As it turns out, this project is not only visually stunning, it blends technology and public art-making in unexpected and innovative ways,” said Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts. “And what is most exciting to us is that the young people in our Art Education program are truly the co-authors of a work of public art that is unlike anything else in the city and beyond.”

Students from Mastery Shoemaker Charter School and the Haverford School assisted Mays and Britt in the creation process, helping gather samples and produce visuals for the project.

“It’s of the utmost importance to have the students contribute to their environment and be proud of something they see everyday,” said Britt when asked about the importance of involving high school students in the project.

The artists wanted to contribute something to the community that would be meaningful and impactful for its inhabitants. They sat down together to brainstorm and once the ideas started flowing the rest came with ease.

“We were hoping to provide a different narrative for the community utilizing ideas of Afrofuturism and future possibilities of what your community and environment can look like while paying respect to those who paved the way,” said Britt.

Now that the mural is completed it will stay there for years to come, but that’s not it for the progression of the piece. A plaque is being added to alert the everyday passerby of the corresponding smartphone app. Also, the app itself will always have the ability to be updated and remixed.

“I feel it is an everlasting piece of art that will resonate for generations,” said Britt.

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