CONRAD BENNER Founder of Streets Dept.
1. How long have you lived in Philly?
My whole dang life! I was born and raised in Fishtown, now living in South Philly.
2. How do you describe yourself in THREE WORDS?
Curious. Listening. Wide-eyed.
3. How would your best friend describe you in THREE WORDS?
Funny(?) Never texts.
4. How did you start your career?
I started StreetsDept.com back in 2011 as a passion project to combine my growing interest in photography with my lifelong curiosity about street art.
5. Who’s your mentor?
Too many to list, and new ones for each season of my life. I'll mention one here though, Lansie Sylvia. Not only did she help me take the final step leaving my full-time job in marketing to pursue Streets Dept full-time with an opportunity to freelance for her for a year-long voter engagement project we called Next Stop: Democracy. But she's influenced me greatly over the years as just one of the most tirelessly passionate and driven people I've ever met.
6. What do you fantasize about?
Universal Basic Income, future political leaders that come from the current BLM movement, and Single-payer Healthcare.
7. What keeps you up at night?
Large scale: vast economic inequality. Small scale: right now "Jeopardy" on Netflix.
8. How has the pandemic affected you?
Luckily, none of my close friends or loved ones have contracted it, so I'm grateful for that. But it has made a career in the arts, one that even in normal years can be randomly inconsistent as far as income just that much more unstable. Every single project I was working on or planning changed or was canceled. New projects that responded directly to the moment popped up. In all it's been a whirlwind, but ultimately I'm still pretty well established so I'm finding ways to navigate this. My heart goes to all the folks in the arts who aren't as established yet and may be experiencing even more trouble right now.
9. How has the BLM Movement influenced your life and your work?
Well it's changed the world, so naturally it's changed me in many ways, including ways I'm probably still learning. For one it's made me think way more critically about city budgeting, exactly where we spend our tax dollars and who our politicians choose to invest in. It's given me so much faith in all the young leaders that are building and pushing in this moment. It's renewed my understanding of the power of mass protest as a tool for democracy, justice, and equity.
As far as my work, it's changed the line-up of the end of this third season of my podcast, brining on guests like Fabiola Cineas, a Race Reporter at Vox.com to talk about the movement and general bias in newsrooms, as well as Kris Henderson, the executive director of the Amistad Law Project to talk about ending mass incarceration. The BLM Movement influenced the recent mural by artist Nilé Livingston, titled “Entanglement”, that I helped find the funding and a wall for in Fishtown. It spurred me to volunteer as a media partner along with fellow arts leaders Ginger Rudolph (HAHA Magazine) and Noah Smalls (Rush Arts Philadelphia) in partnership with Jane Golden and Mural Arts Philadelphia on a new annual Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists that has just reallocated $20,000 directly into the hands of 20 Black Philly-based artists.
It's having a big effect on the influences of the artists I'm working with for To the Polls 2020, a temporary mural project I'm curating to excite the electorate this fall. And I suspect this is just the beginning of how my work with Streets Dept will be influenced by the movement in the coming months and years.
10: What's one thing most people would be surprised to know about you?
Despite my usually excited or passionate tone of voice on social media, I have a funny (I think), very dry sense of humor (bone dry). If you ever meet me in real life, you know (but maybe not at first).
BONUS Q: What's your favorite spot in Philly?
Right now, Fairmount Park. Specifically walking from my house in South Philly with a friend to that part of Kelly Drive where it's just grass, finding a spot, eating whatever we packed up, and sipping some wine as the sun sets.
Conrad, we love you and hope our readers have an insight into your uniqueness & amazingness in this series.