The Story Behind The Face by Meg Saligman

Philadelphia Muses, 2002, Philadelphia, PA. 

Philadelphia Muses, 2002, Philadelphia, PA. 

Ever wonder what it’s like to be immortalized in a permanent mural? To have your face become a giant city landmark? We feature real, everyday people in our paintings, and although the portraits often become familiar visual icons within the city, very few actually know who these people are in their real lives.

We recently got in touch with one of our most elegant models, Willia McCormick, who posed for Theatre of Life back in 2002.

At the time of the mural’s making, Willia was 18 years old and dancing with the prestigious Philadanco dance company. Willia recalls Meg visiting the dancers’ rehearsals to scout for models and actually missing the first photo session. “I was disappointed I missed it. But when Meg came back a second time, I was glad to be there. Of course, I didn’t know if she would end up choosing my photo or not, but it was such a unique opportunity so I still felt lucky.”

Willia said when she first saw the finished mural, she thought “it would be cool to show this to my children one day. It’s funny, at the time it’s not like I was thinking about starting a family or anything. It was just an idea that came up for whatever reason. But now that I do have kids, I am really looking forward to showing them the mural when they’re a few years older.” Willia’s children, ages two and four, will hopefully connect with the spirit of the mural - they reportedly both love art and dancing.

Since her days with Philadanco, Willia has been dancing professionally on Broadway with The Lion King for 20 years(!). Whenever she revisits Philly, however, she says people still recognize her. “‘Hey Willia, was that you up on that wall?’ I still get recognized to this day.”

Here’s Willia now:

Lets talk about it by Meg Saligman

What if, this week, each of us intentionally talks about something on the signs found in the above photo? Better yet - talk about the photo with someone who does not share your ideology. This is an exciting seven days, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our conversation could contain content other than the mistakes candidates have made in the past?

What if, this week, each of us intentionally talks about something on the signs found in the above photo? Better yet - talk about the photo with someone who does not share your ideology. This is an exciting seven days, wouldn’t it be wonderful if our conversation could contain content other than the mistakes candidates have made in the past?

What do we want from our elected officials in the future?

There are a multitude of questions that need to be discussed. How do we, as a nation, have a meaningful civic discourse? Could we try new things and reserve a place for dialogue?  This idea is how our studio came to creating what we call an artistic intervention into a very tumultuous election year.  Meg Saligman Studios, armed with 12 artists, 10 voter “poles” and a beautiful dialogue den, piled into a truck and headed to our first stop: the RNC in Cleveland Ohio.

I have to admit that creating something beautiful and listening to others is not a terribly efficient way to shift the dialogue at a political convention.  BUT- does this mean there is no place for beauty, contemplation and listening within the current political arena?  No. After our installation, I have given up on great influence, large movement and a big voice (within the political realm at least).  I stand firm in my belief that art is a powerful catalyst and an equalizing force that can be a part of our presidential elections and, more importantly, our continuing civic dialogue.

Before we started Our Common Ground – Vote For the Good Life, I thought our band of merry artists could get us and our agenda noticed  because we were different.  If you want to capture someone’s attention, whisper.  That was my thinking.  Now, two conventions, a gallery show and several thousand participants later, I realize there is little room within our political arena for whispering or listening loudly.  It’s simply not an effective way to promote change.  We, together,  do need to find entirely new ways to move the needle so that our national discourse includes listening.  Art can help us exchange, make discoveries, it can aid us in moving the needle toward efffective dialogue. This movement could eventually lead to forward progress toward a good life for all.  

Our Artistic Campaign for Common Ground this Election by Meg Saligman

Photos from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. 

Photos from the Republican National Convention in Cleveland this summer. 

After traveling to two political conventions and enduring the media coverage for what seems like WAY too long, we at Meg Saligman Studios have had quite enough!  Leading up to election day, we want to provide an alternative narrative to the drama, scandals and distracting news stories.  We're going to share what we've learned this year after sitting, listening and having a dialogue within our work of art. This time the artists will pose the questions.

Photos from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

Photos from the Democratic National Convention in Philadelphia

Look for our posts on social media: @megamural on Instagram, Meg Saligman Studios on Facebook. 

Politics is in the Individual Stories by Meg Saligman

At 18 I have never been to a major political convening nor voted in a general election.

Here I am on Primary Day!

Here I am on Primary Day!

Being a recent high school graduate and first-time voter I was excited to learn that I would be traveling to both the Republican and Democratic National Conventions with Meg Saligman Studios as an intern with the Our Common Ground Installation. It was beautiful timing for me to get to participate in a project that combines art and politics as a first time voter.

I care about politics in the sense that I want our leaders to be capable and thoughtful and good, and I am grateful to have a say in who I think is most qualified, but I cannot bring myself to be passionate about politics. Most of the time I find it intensely boring. When you talk about what’s best for America as a whole, you tend to lose individual stories, and that’s the most interesting part. Through our common ground, I was able to engage with hundreds of people's personal stories.

I was a little wary of being in a place where there would be so many political people who thought of America in such broad strokes and was prepared to feel out of my depth in conversations about how to change our political sphere. I have only been qualified to vote for a short time, and I felt myself being reserved amongst my seasoned political installation visitors.  I was surprised, however, to find that people who had been voting for decades kept asking for my opinion as if it mattered as much as theirs, and for the first time in my life, I realized it does!

I overheard conversations and spoke to people myself about economic plans and social justice issues. Through my interactions, I found that I not only understood their meaning but had my own feelings on the issues. Being a part of the Our Common Ground Art Installation gave me the opportunity to engage with others as individuals and realize that when talk politics we never really lose the individual story because politics is about working to change as many individual stories as possible.

I have realized that my opinion represents the change I want to see in our country through the selection of our next president. I have been incredibly impressed by the thought that so many Americans put into their vote and after attending both conventions have begun to take my new power very seriously. I didn’t always agree with the people I spoke with at the conventions, but the passion they exhibited for the well-being of our country and its people was universal. For me I feel it is a wonderful thing to live in a country where people want the best for you, even if no one can seem to agree what the best is.



As a painter, I frequently contemplate edges:

Assembled example of edges in my paintings.

Assembled example of edges in my paintings.

At our Dialogue Den, the edge resurfaced, this time through conversation instead of paint: How do edges define conversation? 

I observed that edges in meaningful conversation are layered atop one another. The same is true in a dynamic painting.

An edge is a separation. Though it can be blurry and textured, it is a distinct turning of one thing to another. The pronounced edge of conversation is the interchange between speaking and listening. Surprisingly often, this edge is ignored, which becomes an effective way to erase conversation. Although it sounds simple, preserving this edge in our Dialogue Den filled a void at the quarrelsome political conventions.

By establishing the edge between listening and speaking at the onset of each Dialogue, participants could more freely engage in the subtle complexities between listening and speaking. These complexities made for more thought-provoking edges...

At what point is listening and not replying do we become complicit in the other person's expressed beliefs?

If I'm formulating my next comment while I'm supposedly listening, am I truly listening? Or is this a normal (yet incredible!) ability of human cognition and social coordination?

Does conversation end when the last speaker finishes speaking? Or do conversations fade away at different rates?

Is the I must have the last word mentality ever a good thing?

Back and forth next to the Dialogue Den in Cleveland.

Back and forth next to the Dialogue Den in Cleveland.

- Lizzie Kripke, Co-Principal Artist at Meg Saligman Studios



Ebb & Flow by Meg Saligman

Looking, listening, sharing, and collaborating are inseparable from the paint, the place, and the form. All of my work is site specific. “Ebb and Flow,” the large, central video that’s the centerpiece of the installation in the Crux Space Gallery, had its inception at the Stephen Klein Wellness Center on 21st and Cecil B Moore Avenue. This work began in North Philly, traveled through my studio, where it picked up a few digital portraits and is now on view at the Crux Space Gallery. When you stand in Crux and view the piece, consider this installation a visit from neighboring communities. 

Who defines the identity of a place, person or experience? Is it individual community members? Or is it something more amorphous – a collective voice? I am fascinated by the fluid relationship between the one and the many. The many comprise the large central work, “Ebb and Flow.” The photo frames, scattered about the gallery, tell individual stories and are titled “Sofia,” “Chloe,” “Callie,” “Meg” and “Neighbors.”

When “Ebb and Flow” was created, community members shared pieces of cloth that embodied their feelings of home. These cloths, and the stories behind them, came to represent an interconnectedness of community. Much like a woven cloth depends on each fiber to create something whole, our communities thrive through each and every member. Much like water travels; our lives flow with one another as an undulation of collective force. The organic, healing, flowing, and deeply personal nature of cloth and water was the artistic launching point for this video installation.

In “Ebb and Flow” you see snippets from my life and those of communities I collaborate with. You can see a wedding dress, a cloth my own grandmother hand painted 75 years ago, and a drill team uniform, all shimmering and blowing in the wind. Along with the cloth, water flows as you experience a tide off the back of our family boat, a puddle off a street corner, or a light shimmering in my kitchen sink. Individuals talk on the phone with one another and they interact with the flowing forces.

A painter at heart, I want to push the surface and see what lies beneath. This installation is an extension of my community based painted works. For this work, I paint with light and video. For this installation at Crux, I bring one community into another to see what this interaction inspires.

Undoing the Knots by Meg Saligman

Though I seek to delight and inspire through my work, on deeper level I strive to create a space for shared experiences and public engagement. At its heart, “Untie the Knots: A Contemporary Grotto”, a new citywide public art project, will engage with those who are most at risk and disregarded in our city. 

I am super psyched to be working with Sister Mary Scullion and her team at Project HOME on a large work for the Papal visit to Philadelphia this September. If anyone can create something meaningful and transformative out of an international event, it’s Sister Mary. She has a clear vision of what matters most. Our project will follow Sister M’s vision, beginning with the stories of those who are often neglected in our city. In 2015, It is imperative that the Homeless and Hungry are given a voice. The publicity of Pope Francis’s visit can bring these issues in Philadelphia to the forefront of the international conversation. It is a time of great potential for our city and it is important that world class art to be a part of the story. The fact that I have been chosen for this project moves me deeply. I feel great responsibility to make this very, very good.

We will create a contemporary grotto that will feature thousands of suspended knots, representing the struggles of those affected by homelessness. Some of the knots will include previously collected handwritten messages from Philadelphians depicting their personal stories and struggles. Those gathered for the Papal Mass will also be encouraged to tie knots of their own. If participants are feeling strong, they may untie a knot, to metaphorically carry someone else’s burden. The untying of knots represents a loosening of tension or pressure – a release. Through this shared action, the public collectively carries the weight of each other’s individual hardships. Burdens lighten as they become part of a communal experience, and I am hoping to facilitate this through a beautiful and meaningful communal work of public art. Those interacting with the installation will experience, through art, that a gesture of liberation for others will contribute to the liberation of themselves.

Stay tuned to see and participate more. Where it will be…what will it look like..why are we doing it… To see our very beginning, we just started @untietheknots and #untietheknots on INSTAGRAM.

We will be holding a knot tying workshop this week, on Wednesday May 20th at the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts (118-128 North Broad Street, Philadelphia, PA 19102). All are welcome!

5 Questions by Meg Saligman

My lecture on conservation and preservation of public art was almost 2 months ago, but I was reminded of it today when my answers to “5 Questions for the Artist” were posted in a SI blog called “Eye Level.”  (SI stands for Smithsonian Institute, not “Sports Illustrated.”) And, although my public art is not always at eye level, my thoughts on the subject I think, were level-headed.  See for yourself:  “Five Questions with Meg Saligman, Muralist and Conservation Advocate”


Fertile Ground by Meg Saligman

At 350,000 square feet, Fertile Ground was the largest mural in the country when I painted it in Omaha, Nebraska in 2008.  I am honored that an arts-integrated course of study centered on Fertile Ground has been incorporated into the curriculums for third and fourth grade in Omaha public schools. Please view this video: Fertile Ground Education Project.  For me, it strikes right at the heart of one of the most fulfilling aspects of my practice. I truly believe the world would be a much better place if we spent more time gathering together to create something beautiful with our hands.

~ Meg

The Whitney Biennial by Meg Saligman

The Whitney Biennial is a show that comes along once every two years and it sets the baseline for contemporary art discussion.  I went to the show last week.

In this age of artistic “practices” (I am getting tired of this buzz word), I believe this show is an accurate representation of the contemporary art world. I viewed a lot of people practicing talking about art to other artists. There were curators as artists and artists as curators. I saw live people recreating work of dead people. Now, if we could just get some dead people recreating the work of live people – that would be something. I almost barfed on far too wordy signage telling me how the work should make me feel – I hate that. Thank God I am rewarded with some gorgeous work on the fourth floor, and please no one apologize that it is visually seductive and stunning.

Amidst all of what I have come to expect in a contemporary show, I hear a soundtrack on a video of a man talking and I hear quite clearly, “Take the culture where you want it to go.”  This is said on a video by David Robbins. I would have referred to him as “the artist David Robbins” but he would refuse the title. He would far prefer to call himself an independent imagination. When I later looked him up, his writings further clarified what he woke inside of me, “The goal is to foreground freedom of action within history rather than within the record of history which is cultivated…The goal is to give oneself complete access to one’s own imagination.” Thank you Whitney Biennial for bringing me the clear words of David Robbins when I needed to hear them.

I know where my power lies. It is when I am making things with my hands along side other people. It is when I cross boundaries. It is when I create and share visual beauty. It is when I manipulate materials for the 10,000 time. I want to know the full power of my own imagination. My goal is complete access.

Wishing Wall by Meg Saligman

Things are coming together nicely.  The process began over 2 weeks ago in my studio.  First strands of hair are stenciled onto special sticky paper, exacto knifed, placed on glass and then baked to adhere permanently.

The glass is cut and fine-tuned…

Then baked to seal in the color….

Everything is pieced together to become leaded stained glass…

And then, the final product comes to light.   It is about acknowledging brokenness and transforming to a whole. If one of us is broken, all of us are broken.

The “Wishing Wall” will allow visitors to leave their hopes, prayers and intentions within its crevices.  This and other works created by my studio, will be viewed at the April 22nd grand opening of Project HOME’s new multi-use building featuring 55 residences for the formerly homeless and low-income families.  The wonderful work of Project HOME continues at the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Homes, 1415 Fairmount Avenue.  Rock on!

~ Meg

Perspective and Perception... by Meg Saligman

My studio, and the artists who are affiliated with it, have just joined Instagram. Do you join Instagram? I could say I am a user, but in my mind, the word “user” refers to a drug abuser and “hash- anything” is an illegal substance. Well, anyway, you will find us on Instagram by seeking out our username:  megamural.  Follow the squad as we explore and discuss our world through art that is out and about. We aim to inspire and delight.

Also from MLS Studios:  This is the last week to view my work “Perspective and Perception,” integral to the exhibition “Beyond the Paint:  Philadelphia’s Mural Arts” at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts Museum. The show will close this Sunday, April 6th at 5pm.

Creating my work inside the museum has been an honor and a unique experience. The work has evolved with the help of those working and learning at PAFA and those visiting the museum. Incorporated into “Perspective and Perception” are“lifelines” from Philadelphians.  Art can create a window into a moment, a mood, or even a life.  Last year I started a studio “lifelines project.” I ask people to visualize their lives as a line. This expression of the non-visual as art resulted in many mazes, full of the twisting turns and sharp edges of complication and struggle. Below you will find two samples of lifelines within “Perspective and Perception,” from artists who chose to represent their lives as in one continuous line.

Eric Bazilian, the successful lead singer and founder of The Hooters, showed his life as a continuous, winding loop.

Another artist, Thomas Schlick, also used a continuous line; however, his was jagged and far less free. Schlick is in prison, serving a life sentence.

These lines and hundreds of others that might not otherwise connect, are brought together. Lifelines are painted on walls and the floor.

Visitors to the museum add their lifelines to a glass tabletop.  Lifelines are blasted into glass and hung as individual pieces, casting shadows on the wall behind. Individual voices turn into a collective voice, a practice so very often at the heart of my public work.

Come see the evolution…come see the lifelines…before they ascend into the art-mosphere.  Or, join me for a trolley tour on closing day, Sunday, April 6th.  We will begin and end at PAFA, 118 N. Broad St., Philadelphia.  While I gab, we will wind our way past my murals and other artists’ work, stop at my studio – lots to show and tell there – and end at PAFA where you can see my work and take in the rest of the show.  A link to tickets for the tour can be found by clicking here: Trolley Tour with Meg.

~ Meg

Divine Lorraine by Meg Saligman

This is a view from our scissor lift at the Jon Bon Jovi Soul Homes job site – an eerily beautiful photograph taken yesterday of Philadelphia’s “Divine Lorraine.” It is one of my favorite buildings ANYWHERE. This artful photo taken by Joel Erland of HumanKind Design during the installation of our illuminated light sculpture – see blog post from 1/14.  The fact that we have this vantage point highlights one of the best aspects of my practice. On many days I find myself in a new and different location. I physically cross a border into a neighborhood, city, state or country. Herein lies the power. Crossing boundaries is a powerful thing, this is where I find beauty, exchange and ultimately transformation.