At A Glance
Commissioned as part of the New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place program
Received Best Public Art recognition, Americans for the Arts Public Art Network’s Year in Review, 2004
The first permanent public art commission by artist Pepón Osorio
To respond to the changing needs of Philadelphia’s Latino community, Congreso de Latinos Unidos relocated to a larger facility, a former industrial building in North Philadelphia. Through the Fairmount Park Art Association’s (now the Association for Public Art) program New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place, representatives from Congreso worked with artist Pepón Osorio to plan a public art project that has transformed the new headquarters into a community landmark.
To realize the project, Osorio collected photographs from community members and sought images that reflected shared experiences and depicted local events that have impacted community life
Osorio asked members of the city’s Latino community about the issues the project should address. A common refrain was dissatisfaction with the media’s portrayal of the community. As Alba Martínez, former executive director of Congreso, explains, community participants “envisioned a landmark that would pay homage to our community’s sacrifices and struggles and that would combat feelings of invisibility and ‘outsiderness.’ People wanted to see their history, values, strengths, and hopes for the future conveyed.”
To give the community an opportunity to represent itself, Osorio proposed I have a story to tell you . . . To realize the project, Osorio collected photographs from community members and sought images that reflected shared experiences and depicted local events that have impacted community life. “My principal concern,” says Osorio, “is to return art to the community. My creative process is one of listening to stories, uncovering histories, channeling collective experiences, and transforming these into artworks that can serve as reflections of the group.”
Working with Joel Katz Design Associates, Osorio enlarged the photographs, which were transferred onto glass panels by Derix Glasstudios in Taunusstein, Germany. To create a sense of three-dimensionality, Derix developed a brand-new process through which mirror images of photographs were screen-printed with enamels onto two glass panels. These panels were then sandwiched together to create a single image with greater depth and body that is also extremely durable.
The panels were used to construct a casita or “little house” in the courtyard adjacent to the Congreso building. The casita serves as a community gathering space, and the images are visible from both the interior and the exterior. At night, internal lighting makes the casita appear as a glowing “community photograph album.” Working with the renovation project architects, Agoos/Lovera Architects, Osorio also integrated photographs into selected windows of the main building. During the day, visitors inside the building can see these images from the community superimposed on the sky or the local landscape. Illuminated from within at night, the artwork animates the Congreso building and makes it a distinctive landmark.
Adapted from New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place edited by Penny Balkin Bach (Grayson Publishing, Washington, DC, 2001).
Directions by Car:
From North Broad Street, take Lehigh Avenue heading east. Turn left on American Street and continue to Somerset Street. Congreso de Latinos Unidos is located at American and Somerset Streets.
I have a story to tell you… is the first permanent public art commission for Pepón Osorio, an internationally renowned artist who was born in Puerto Rico and currently resides in Philadelphia. Osorio was awarded a prestigious MacArthur Foundation Fellowship in 1999 and was featured in the PBS television series, Art:21 – Art in the Twenty-first Century. His work has appeared in the Whitney Biennial and has been exhibited worldwide, including biennials in Havana and Johannesburg. Among his other honors are a Skowhegan Medal for Sculpture, the Louis Comfort Tiffany Foundation Biennial Award, and the CalArts/Alpert Award for Visual Arts.
Osorio creates installations that incorporate images and artifacts from daily life in Puerto Rico and in Latino communities on the mainland. His work explores the processes of cultural transmission, as well as the construction of social and cultural identity. Seeking to “bridge boundaries . . . that separate the art world and community life,” Osorio has engaged underserved communities around the country in the process of creating contemporary art. His installations grow from a dialogue among community members, social service providers, and the commissioning institution.
Congreso de Latinos Unidos is a multicultural community agency and the leading provider of social, economic, health, and educational services to the Latino community of Philadelphia. Intended to build “human capital,” Congreso’s broad range of programs offers a holistic approach to community development and social services. Although Congreso does not define its constituency geographically, its services focus primarily on the eastern section of North Philadelphia, the area of the city with the highest concentration of Latino citizens in need. The facility at American and Somerset Streets, located in an industrial building donated by the City of Philadelphia, has positioned the organization in the heart of Latino Philadelphia, providing space to accommodate Congreso’s rapidly expanding programs.
New•Land•Marks: public art, community, and the meaning of place was a program of the Fairmount Park Art Association (now the Association for Public Art) that brought together artists and community organizations to plan and create new works throughout Philadelphia.
New•Land•Marks proposals incorporated public art into ongoing community development, urban greening, public amenities, and other revitalization initiatives. These efforts celebrated community identity, commemorated “untold” histories, and offered visionary, yet reasonable, ways to invigorate public spaces.