Movement immortalized

Showing just how Philadelphia moves at the dedication party for the "How Philly Moves" mural, along parking garages at Philadelphia's airport, dancers streamed past Mayor Nutter, mural arts chief Jane Golden (left), and Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler on Wednesday. At nearly a half-mile long, the mural, of dancing figures young and old, some 60 feet tall, is the largest created in a city with about 3,500 such public artworks.

How Philly Moves, the largest and most complicated project ever attempted by the audaciously ambitious Philadelphia Mural Arts Program celebrated its official unveiling Wednesday night with the 37-year-old department's most unusual dedication ever: A raucous dance party on the sixth floor of Garage F at Philadelphia International Airport.

The horn-blasters from the West Philly Orchestra were there getting their groove on. So was the only drum line I've ever seen featuring a woman shaking a tambourine with a baby strapped to her body. (The infant wore noise-canceling earphones, should you be inclined to judge. Smiled the whole time.)

Deputy Mayor Rina Cutler, who conjured up the two-year, $500,000 "gateway" mural while stuck in traffic, joked, "when is the last time you saw a city project start and end on time?" Mayor Nutter credited Cutler for "dreaming big," reminding the 200 guests that bold thinking is what the city "needs more of," even in tough economic times.

Jane Golden, MAP's indefatigable high priestess, raved that How Philly Moves is the city's 3,665th mural to date. At 85,000 square-feet, it may be the single largest mural ever produced in the country. Or, the planet.

Before the festivities, I caught up with Adeyemi "Yemi" Lewis, the now-5 1/2 year-old ballerina striking the most angelic pose among the 26 featured dancers. Her mother, Sade Olanipekun-Lewis, recalled how the decision to audition for the mural was made on a whim during a stressful day on the job.

"I work for the city Commerce Department and was in the middle of budget season," said Olanipekun-Lewis, of Mt. Airy. "I saw your story about the auditions and sent an email saying, "I'm Yemi. I'd love to dance for you."

On the big day, Yemi, then 3, insisted on wearing her tutu and playing the soundtrack from Disney's "Princess and the Frog" while twirling for photographer JJ Tiziou at the Painted Bride.

"We didn't hear anything for months," her mother said. "Then, we got an email saying, 'Hey Yemi, you made it!"

The kindergartner at Norwood-Fontbonne Academy studies ballet at the Philadelphia Dance Theatre, but was understandably shy surrounded by so many gregarious grownups -- including Mayor Nutter, who crouched down to give the youngster a hug. Yemi's mother beamed.

"I'm totally blown away."

Me, too. I wrote five columns about the epic project over the course of two years and my visual colleagues snapped countless photos and video. The good folks at pulled it all together on a special web page commemorating movement immortal that includes a fun "How Philly Moves" by the numbers. Enjoy!

-- Monica Yant Kinney


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