Students Exhibit Artwork Across Philadelphia in “Sights On Site: It’s Monumental”

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Artwork by Liv Coleman ’21

Over the past two years, students in Friends Select’s art department have studied the context and history of a singular building in Philadelphia, participating in “Sights on Site” exhibits at PAFA and The Free Library. This year, the art department will host Sights on Site: It’s Monumental, displaying monument-inspired artwork in over 120 businesses across Center City, South Philly, West Philly, North Philly, Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy, and Germantown. The show will run from April 16th-30th.

“For this year’s ‘site,’ the art faculty and students turned their attention to the outdoors and the role of art in public spaces,” says Director of City Curriculum Margaret Smith. Students created art built to be displayed in public spaces via 11”x17” posters for windows and doors. “Each poster has the work of one student, some brief information about the program, and a QR code that will take viewers to the exhibit website. On the website, there is information about each of the class projects, a map of host businesses in the city, and an alphabetical list of students by grade, so that families can quickly find where a student’s art is hanging,” she adds. 

“Sights on Site” stems from the art department’s desire to do interdivisional and interdisciplinary work.  Three years ago, middle and upper school students began to visit and study PAFA’s history, architecture, and presence within Philadelphia. “This process was so successful for students [that] I began to think about the possibility of turning this site-specific study into an annual event,” says Visual Arts Department Chair Deborah Caiola. According to Deborah, Margaret’s support as Director of City Curriculum has been instrumental to this program. 

Last year, when the focus of the project was specifically on the Free Library of Philadelphia, students produced artwork relating to architecture, literacy, maps, and more. “Looking at a show like that, you realize what a vast impact a public institution has on a city and how powerfully art can reflect that impact,” says Deborah. 

This year’s exhibit allows students to interact with the city and think about the institutions nearby. Last spring, metalsmithing and sculpture teacher Lynda Greenwade proposed an inter-divisional departmental study of monuments for the 2021-22 school year.  Deborah explains that the protests of the past summer helped solidify the monument theme of this project: “many more voices were heard about the negative impact monuments have on communities across the country.” Upon realizing that students could not access resources of the city as they previously had, “the idea of doing a deep dive into public art, its impact, [and] who it does and doesn’t represent seemed like a natural fit for ‘Sights on Site’,” Deborah adds. 

Students ages 8-18 participate in this exhibit, so project themes vary by grade. Some of the projects include: Your Life is a Book and Every Day is a Page: The Difference I Make (second grade); A Monument to the SPICES (Upper School Art Foundations); Trees – The Earliest Monuments and What I Believe in (Upper School Sculpture); and Monument to Our Time (Upper School Advanced Studio, Portfolio Prep, and Digital Art). The exhibit includes digital reproductions of paintings, drawings, sculptures, and screenshots of 3D models in augmented reality.

Liv Coleman ‘21, a member of the Portfolio Prep class submitted a digital piece of her young niece with Black women from varying walks of life imposed onto her hair. “My goal was to create a project that would inspire [my niece] to find pride in her Black identity growing up and to give light to the various role models in our community,” she says. “It’s not often that Black women are highlighted and for the piece itself to feature several of us projected onto City Hall and then for it to be hung up in a business in Philadelphia is beyond exciting.”

This art exhibit also includes a school-wide competition: take a photo of any FSS artwork you encounter in the city and direct message it to @fsscitycurriculum and @fssartanddesign on Instagram or email it to [email protected] The person who sends in the most photos will win a $40 gift certificate to the participating business of their choice. 

There will also be three posters marked with a heart on the corner with FSS written in it. The first person to find each of these posters will receive a $20 certificate to the participating business of their choice. 

Artwork By TJ Hampton ’22

Participating Business, Fond, displays student work in the window.

Artwork by Genevieve Bevenour ’21