South Street Bridge Opens, Art Follows?


It's clean and new. And bland. But maybe not for long.

Whatever you think of the design of the new South Street Bridge (the general response has been an enervated "well, at least the pedestrian walkway is bigger" whimper), the new stretch is missing one charming and engaging element of the old bridge: art.

For decades, the span between Center City and West Philadelphia was treated as a lively urban canvas. Some of the art was political - like the Pink Soldier project figures - and some less literal. The experience, a gallery walk, really, often left you feeling the bridge had run out beneath your feet before your eyes were ready.

The South Street Bridge was also a place for poetry. Many might remember when, in the early 1990s, an anonymous graffiti poet captured a moment in time. In a messy painted font, he or she scrawled a poem about the men of nearby "Judy Garland Park." Coming at the height of public terror over the AIDS epidemic, and at a time when the several distinct communities using Schuylkill River Park were warring over it, the poem packed a punch.

Not much art has yet appeared on the new bridge. But the poem lives on, in a way. Some anonymous curator - the author, perhaps? - has posted photographs of the poem, as it appeared years ago, between the two towers on the bridge's south walkway. It's an important reminder of what art once meant to this site, and perhaps will once again.