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Pens Down, Paintbrushes Up


Phillip Adams – Communication Matters Mural Timelapse from Cerrone Photography on Vimeo.

Outside the large hall where the keynote speakers held court, muralist Phillip Adams was easy to spot, with his paint-spattered chinos and rumpled shirt. His clothes weren’t the only thing that set him apart from the assembled crowd; he was at Communications Network #ComNet14 to paint.

“This felt like a good fit,” said Adams of his commission. He liked the connection to others engaged in social change.

For the past decade, Adams has been creating public art through the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. He has a studio practice, too, but relishes how the public art projects he works on take him more deeply into issues he cares about. He has worked with nursing home residents and with post-9/11 vets which, as a self-described army brat, was particularly meaningful for him. There have been many others.

Adams finds inspiration from working in the public sphere, taking cues from the physical space where his works have been commissioned, and often engaging with community residents, or a specific population, on the creative process.

He wanted that for this project, too, and invited conference-goers, in-between their sessions on metrics and measurement and media, to put down their pens (and cell phones and tablets) and put paint to canvas.

“A couple of the first people who did it were so focused,” he said. “You could see they were really into a place of peace for those moments.”

He started the first morning of the conference with three canvases, on which he had penciled in his basic design. A pastel wash gave the background a watercolor effect. At the center of the middle panel is a rock cairn, “which any regular hiker knows… can always help you find your way.”

I think all of us know about looking for markers, signposts, and other guidance as we navigate through the complexities of our work. It’s what brought us to the conference in the first place, seeking the knowledge that we hope can enhance our efforts.

Adams also hoped his mural would help conference goers “think about the beauty behind what they do—not just the cerebral part. I’m hoping to capture that.”

The mural, commissioned with the generous support of Knight Arts, is now residing at the Russell Byers Charter School, where it will inspire students to create their own art.

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Lauren Kay - Lauren photoLauren Kay is the director of communications for Community Partners, a nonprofit fiscal sponsor and philanthropic intermediary in Los Angeles. Follow her on Twitter at @CommunityPrtnrs.

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