The Light That Fights Crime in South Philly

A dark alleyway is transformed into art, thanks to a chance meeting at a holiday party.

Posted in , Jul 7, 2016

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In South Philadelphia, not far from dueling cheesesteak titans Pat’s and Geno’s, an alleyway once notorious for crime and shady mischief has been transformed into an eye-popping work of art. How did this stunning neon light mural come to be? A random encounter at Christmastime…

According to the Philly blog Streets Dept, the Passyunk Square Civic Association’s annual holiday party brought together two individuals with different troubles. If not for a conversation under the Christmas lights, the collaboration that solved both their problems may never have happened.

Photo courtesy

For five years, Andrew Emma and his neighbors had debated what to do about the issues plaguing Percy Street, a dark, oddly angled thoroughfare that attracted unseemly characters—underage drinkers, drug dealers, prostitutes and the like. 

Meanwhile, artist David Guinn was in a more personal bind—he’d received a lucrative arts grant to create a public mural, but new development wiped out his chosen location. His grant would expire if he didn’t find a place to produce his project soon.

David and Andrew struck up a conversation, and David was inspired to tour the alley himself. “I loved the block,” he told Streets Dept. “It’s an interesting spot because the street bends in a way that is totally unusual in Philly. And I loved the idea of artwork that uses light. It had been a dream of mine to create something that would glow and move at night.”

Photo courtesty

Now Percy Street is attracting a different kind of crowd… one that doesn’t hide in the shadows, but basks in the light (and then shares it on Instagram, of course).

Know of any illuminating sights in your neighborhood? Send your photos of secret spaces and hidden marvels to us and they could be featured in Mysterious Ways! 

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