A new popup exhibition is now open in Philly, designed with the Instagrammer in mind

From the loud colors to the flashy props to the abundance of track lighting, Photo Pop Philly was designed from start to finish with the photo-taker in mind.

A selfie-lover’s dream opened up this past weekend on the corner of 13th and Walnut Streets.

Named Photo Pop Philly, the colorful, five-room popup, filled with photogenic eye-candy in every direction, runs through July 8 and is themed around the colors of red, white, and blue.

“I have glitter all over my office and all over my home,” says Kate Marlys, the founder and curator of the exhibition.

Marlys, who initially drew inspiration from a similar, made-for-Instagram concept found in Los Angeles, says she knew the idea would be prime for Philadelphia.

“We have so many creative and talented artists in the city, and this serves as a great way to bring attention to them,” says Marlys. “Philadelphia is the birthplace of America, so the patriotic theme came to me right away.”

Let’s be clear: This is more selfie spot than art exhibit. And in a world where social media often acts as an addiction for many millennials and beyond, some might question the value of the ostentatious display.

“We’re definitely not labeling it as a museum, and it’s not for everyone. You either get it or you don’t, and that’s OK,” says Marlys. “If you’re not a selfie fan, just come and have fun with your friends.”

One of a dozen contributing artists to Photo Pop Philly, Alloyius McIlwaine stands in front of his piece, “Reach for the Stars”.


Yet, there are visual elements covering inch of the pop-up. Marlys — who almost entirely self-funded Photo Pop Philly, renting the space and paying each artist — worked with a dozen local artists to transform the first floor of 1315 Walnut Street into a world of bright colors, interspersed with balloons, rainbow feathers, vintage cameras, and other photo-ready props that she brought in herself.

Lining the walls are paintings by artists like These Pink Lips, the creator of empowerment and feminist-based works, stenciled quotes by popular street artists like Nero, and installations that range from a sparkling, floor-to-ceiling gold star to a blow up balloon of a Firecracker Popsicle hanging as the backdrop to a vintage 1976 Harley Davidson.

Founder and curator Kate Marlys (above) says she was inspired to create Photo Pop Philly after stumbling upon a similar popup concept in Los Angeles.

Each room is designed to take on a theme, with the first room labeled as the “Freedom of Speech” room, the second titled the “Stars and Stripes” room, the third serving as the “Visit Philly” room — a result of the project’s partnership with tourism agency Visit Philadelphia (Full disclosure: This reporter was previously employed at Visit Philadelphia) — and the fourth named the “Empowerment” room. Lastly is the “Surprise Vault,” a music-videoesque room where all four walls are covered with red balloons and Goldfinger’s “99 Red Balloons” plays loudly on repeat. Designed by local freelance set and lighting designer Michael Lambui, the enclosed space features a 360-degree camera, allowing staff to capture photos that are either Air Dropped to visitors’ phones or sent via email.

“The space is meant to be very positive. We’re patriotic, but not political,” says Marlys. “With all of the craziness going on in the world, that was very important to me. This is simply a place to have fun.”

A wall designed by Nero, featuring a “you belong here” quote surrounded by red, white, and blue paper flowers, takes over the right side of Photo Pop Philly’s third room.

Yet, a scattering of the artworks do embody impactful messaging, ranging from topics surrounding LGBTQ rights to female empowerment.

“I’m not a huge fan of our country right now, so at first I questioned if I could even do this,” says Amber Lynn Thompson, a mixed media and street artist who goes by the name Amberella. “I liked the idea and I love Philadelphia so I wanted to participate, but I decided I needed to talk about a social justice issue that I care about it.”

Ayanna Woods of North Philadelphia strikes a pose in front of a graffiti-style piece created by artist These Pink Lips.

Known for her quote-filled hearts that are wheatpasted throughout the city, Amberella chose to create a version of her “CANT STOP, WONT STOP” hearts for Photo Pop Philly. The words hang in the form of overlapping neon signs that are suspended in front of a wall of paper hearts, each reading “TIMES UP”. The installation acts to address the national Time’s Up movement focused on workplace inequality.

Designed by visual artist AYE!CRTV, a painting of a bald eagle pays tribute both to the iconic American symbol and to the Super Bowl champion Philadelphia Eagles.


“There’s a lot of powerful imagery here, paired with a ton of photogenic spots,” says visitor Ayanna Woods, who sat with fist to the sky before a graffiti-style ‘Future is Female’ quote as her friend captured the moment. “Everyone’s taking pictures with this art, some of which has meaning, so the messages are getting spread.”

Other installations, however, feel purely decorative, like scenes of cotton ball clouds hanging in front of bright blue walls, lined by illuminated stars that spill down to the floor.

Photo Pop Philly draws those of all ages, smiling in phone selfies and striking poses in front of actual cameras.

With people lining up on the street before the 3 p.m. weekday opening time, the popularity of the popup is obvious. Since its opening over Memorial Day weekend, Marlys has seen groups ranging from bachelorette parties to birthday parties exploring the space, as well as couples seeking a pre-dinner activity and families with kids who are immediately drawn to the interactive elements. For those who show up solo, staff are stationed throughout, specifically to help individuals snap photos.

If the demand stays steady, Marlys hopes to re-create a different version of the popup under a new theme later this year.

Red, white, and blue decorations of all kinds fill Photo Pop Philly, along with photogenic props like the 1976 Harley Davidson.



Photo Pop Philly

  • Through July 8, 3 p.m.-8 p.m. Tuesday, 3 p.m.-11 p.m. Wednesday through Friday, Noon to 10 p.m. Saturday and Sunday, The Philadelphia Building, 1315 Walnut St.,
    $25 for general admission adults, free for children 5 and younger, photopopphilly.com