Free Speech was an interactive news kiosk in Marconi Plaza featuring the stories of immigrant and refugee artists in Philadelphia. Envisioned by artist Shira Walinsky, the kiosk offered free written and artistic materials including postcards, maps, books, oral histories, and recipe cards to passersby. Installed next to SEPTA’s Oregon Avenue subway and bus stations, Free Speech was embedded within a South Philadelphia neighborhood that has long served as a home for immigrant, migrant, and refugee families. Among Walinsky’s projects housed within Free Speech was a stylized, hand-drawn map of immigrant businesses. Walinsky noted, “A small business is often the first big step many new immigrant and refugee families take in beginning their lives in the US. Free Speech is a metaphor for that first step, a symbol of why so many risk their lives to come to the United States.”
The project was informed by over six years of work by Walinsky as lead artist at the Mural Arts Southeast by Southeast community hub in South Philadelphia, in collaboration with Mural Arts Philadelphia, the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, and members of the Bhutanese, Burmese, Nepalese, and other immigrant and refugee communities. For Free Speech, Walinsky collaborated with numerous Southeast by Southeast artists, including Sanctuary Poets, Catzie Vilayphonh of Laos in the House, Laura Deutch of PhillyCAM, Ma Kay Saw, Krishna Tamang, Noor Azizah, and Mayyadah Alhumssi.
Location: Site 10: Marconi Plaza
Vinyl wrapped kiosk, postcards, t-shirts, books, community zine, videos, bus map, South Philadelphia immigration map, and audio
City of Philadelphia, Philadelphia Parks & Recreation, Friends of Marconi Plaza, Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, Furness High School, Northeast High School, and Migrant Education
Free Speech Collaborators
Melissa Fogg (Co-Founder and Programming)
Youth: Bwe Ku, Than Than Nain, Ermyas Sereke, Khin Aye, Pau San Lian, Mnar Shay
Liliana Velasquez, and students at Northeast High School
Teachers: Tiffany Lorch, Amanda Feigel, Diego Bedoya, and Gena Bernal
Artists/Writers: Naw Doh, Tika Bhandari, Thagi Bastola, Lisa Butler Grainge, James Onorfrio, Rorng Sorn, Hitomi Yoshida, Phila Italiana, Leona Pongparnsana, Fariha Khan, Mark Lyons, Sanctuary Poets, Indah Nuritasari, Sinta Penyami, Randy Duque, Jessica Whitelaw, Fernando Chang-Muy, Boone Nguyen, Brae Howard, Senpai, and Kohai
A small business is often the first big step many new immigrant and refugee families take in beginning their lives in the US. Free Speech is a metaphor for that first step, a symbol of why so many risk their lives to come to the US. Free Speech is a news kiosk filled with artwork and writing, created over the past six years with Southeast by Southeast—a converted storefront space dedicated to the needs of new refugee families. The newsstand and its materials celebrate refugee and immigrant stories, and feature the artwork of members of the refugee and immigrant communities. Highlighted work includes books made in collaboration with students and teachers, and videos created with students. Collaborations with other artists are in the exhibit and part of an event series.
About the Artist
Shira Walinsky is a multi-disciplinary artist and teacher who has worked with communities throughout Philadelphia. Her projects are grassroots community projects that work with underutilized spaces in the city. She is compelled by the personal story and modes of representations from the painted portrait to the documentary. Her murals can be seen throughout the city of Philadelphia.
In 2012, Walinsky co- founded by Southeast by Southeast through Mural Arts Philadelphia. Southeast by Southeast is a community center for new refugees from Burma and Bhutan in South Philadelphia. Southeast by Southeast has been presented at the North American Refugee Health conference in Rochester, NY. Her work has also been shown at PAFA, Asian Arts Initiative, and the ICA Philadelphia. She is currently working on a series of short films about the Burmese and Bhutanese refugee experience in Philadelphia with teens in South Philadelphia.