Our first Artists in Conversation event is this Wednesday, July 17, and we thought we’d start the conversation a little early with the people behind the scenes. All of the local artists and DJs have been specially curated, and the Skyline Room will be full of books and objects to inspire you—so we sat down with Ginger Rudolph, Starfire, and Susan Conway and Alina Josan of the Free Library’s Art Department, and chatted about what makes this event series special.

Executive Director Jane Golden gets excited at the Artists in Conversation event planning and research meeting at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Ginger: I’d like to start with saying I could not have imagined how the archives at the library worked. I secretly have not used my library card in like, 10 years. I just think this is an amazing collaboration, because it’s gonna make me use the library as a resource even more. I hope other people check out the suggested reading and learn a bit more about the different ways that Mural Arts reaches out to communities.

Starfire: We will be taking applications at the after-party. I want to make it rain library cards on folks.

Alina: It’s true. Everybody does get a library card. If they want one.

Starfire: That’s the thing about partnering with the Free Library—it’s dope because I think people are so used to getting it online. Alina and Susan in the Art Department are amazing. They’re like scientists of finding what you want for your soul.

Susan: We’re thrilled about this partnership. We’re just so excited to be working with Mural Arts. Alina’s an artist, and we have so many unique pieces that you really need to touch, originals.

Artists in Conversation event planning and research meeting at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

People might think, oh it’s the library, it’s another conversation. No, it’s like, a cool conversation with like your two aunties and your mother said you can’t have more candy, so you got to get this chocolate today.

– Starfire

Starfire: Here’s the deal. It’s easy for you to stay in your own cave, but there’s something about going outside and connecting with another human being. The cool thing about this experience—just being in the space together—it is about connecting. The DJs got the work from the featured artists and they’re going to be spinning the vibe of the artwork. So not only do you get to touch, you get to feel, you get to see, it just engages your whole five senses. You know how you go to parties and you’re like, oh, who are you? How can we connect? It’s more about just celebrating the art and the culture that’s in the city. The people that come and can add to the city…it’s tangible. People might think, oh it’s the library, it’s another conversation. No, it’s like, a cool conversation with like your two aunties and your mother said you can’t have more candy, so you got to get this chocolate today. Okay, I’m done.

Alina: Yeah, that’s true. We have some things that are hand-colored, so you can look at the digital version and have a very different experience. The tactile experience, being able to take in something in person is one thing. And also I want to make a case for a serendipitous discovery, which is different in the online space. You know, you may get a recommendation that’s based on an algorithm, like a visual component and Google image. And when you’re at the library, you may discover something just because it’s sitting on the bookshelf next to it, or because the librarian recommended it to you. It’s just a different pool of stuff and one does not necessarily exclude the other—so you should really do both.

Curator Ginger Rudolph gets serious about an archival issue of Off the Wall at the Artists in Conversation event planning and research meeting at the Free Library of Philadelphia. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Ginger: Working in the arts for years, I’ve noticed that people always want to see the artists create. They come out to talk to them on the street as they’re stenciling. And so I could sit here and write an article about it, but I’m sure people have questions that they want to know the answers to themselves and they don’t want to go through me. Who doesn’t want to be there at the moment that these artists are in your city talking about their work? If I had the choice to interview somebody in person or do it over the phone, nine times out of ten I’m going to say, can we meet up?

Starfire: There also isn’t this thing where you’re inside or outside. We’re opening up the flood gates and we’re saying if you love art, if you love culture, come hang out with us for two hours.

Alina: And if you’re just starting out as an artist yourself, hopefully it will inspire you. We tell people that these books belong to you. You’re a Philadelphia taxpayer. This is a municipal library system. It’s a city-funded institution. These are your books. We’re just safe-keeping them for you, and you’re sharing them with everybody else in Philadelphia. They’re the books that don’t fit inside your house, so they’re on our shelves.

Ginger: It’s completely different than sitting in your bedroom, reading a magazine. The loner in me is like, yeah, yeah!

Starfire: Extrovert, introvert, ambivert, no vert. It’s about the energy and that authenticity, that beauty, that dance with what the library provides, with the artist conversation and then the turn up afterwards. It’s energy and spirit and intention. You can come and be a part of something, some tangible intangibility that’s going to leave you feeling inspired.


Each event features a local artist in conversation with an out-of-town artist, followed by time and space and materials for conversation (with beats from local DJs). Hear from Muzae Sesay and Glossblack on July 17; Add Fuel and Hope Hummingbird on August 14; and Ouizi and Roxana Azar on September 11.

Last updated: Jul 16, 2019