Our Market” by Michelle Angela Ortiz

Rauschenberg Residency #40 by Nathan Venzara


Michelle Angela Ortiz has installed her new work titled “Our Market.” Ortiz’s project includes a series of light boxes with imagery installed beneath vendor’s awnings at the 9th Street Market. Viewers will see the words and images of immigrant business owners illuminated within the light boxes. The goal of the project is to offer creative community strategies to address the issues of gentrification, racism, displacement, and erasure. There are a total of five businesses with a pair of lights. Be sure to look out for details about a community event in late August highlighting Ortiz’s work.

Instagram: @michelleangelaortiz


“Our Market” is a community centered, multi-layered, multi-year public art project that I started to develop in April 2019. The project is focused on supporting the (im)migrant vendors, business owners, and neighbors that work and reside in the 9th Street Market, my home for 40+ years. The Project invests in the 9th Street Market by offering creative community strategies to tackle the issues of gentrification, racism, displacement, and erasure.

The overall project goals are:

  • to invest in the 9th Street Market (the immigrant vendors, business owners, and neighbors) by offering creative community strategies to tackle the issues of gentrification, racism, displacement, and erasure.
  • to widen the narrative to support racial justice by including collective stories specifically of people of color and Black communities that have been ignored.
  • to claim space through the creation of public artworks by revitalizing community spaces amid gentrification.
  • to document and share immigrant stories that are not solely focused on our labor but by centering stories on our emotional and spiritual connection to the Market.
  • to identify the unjust systems that affect the economic growth of the Market by visually mapping out these systems and imagining ways to dismantle and reimagine new systems that benefit the Market.
  • to define what our future is as a community instead of others defining it and collectively building strategies to create that future.

As of October 2020, I have engaged with community members in creating short interviews and story maps that connect to identifying the obstacles, treasures, and future of the Market. In late October 2020 and May 2021, I presented the “Honoring Our Ancestors” outdoor performances honoring loved ones that have passed and have connections to the Market. The performances were in collaboration with Orchestra 2001, we curated the songs of love and loss that were representative of the demographics of the Market.

Prior to the arrival of Italian immigrants, there was already the presence of Jewish and Irish vendors and African American laborers in the Market. The Market has paved the way for many families to build a better life. Italian, Mexican, Central American, South American, Southeast Asian, and African Americans are the mix of people that continue to contribute to the livelihood and spirit of the Market. Widening the narrative is a crucial component of the project. As of May 2021, I have formed my community-led research team that includes BIPOC women artists, organizers, and historians: Claudia Peregrina, Kim Dinh, and Sharece Blakney with the support of the Southwest Folklife Alliance.

This fall 2021, I will be working on revitalizing two vendor stands in partnership with the Mural Arts Program. The revitalization of the stands targets the most under-resourced produce vendors. These stands will be the pilot samples to encourage spark interest and commitment from other produce vendors along the Market.

The Art is PHL grant will specifically support the public art installations in the south side of the 9th Street Market. The north side of the Market (9th and Washington Avenue through Christian Street) is well represented by the 9th Street Business Association and long-standing Italian families that are connected to city resources. The south side of the Market (9th and Washington Avenue through Federal Street) has been restored by Mexican, Central American, and Asian businesses. The south side of the Market suffers from lack of economic support and representation. The south side will be directly impacted by gentrification with the construction of a 5-story apartment building that will be developed by New York developers, Midwood, on 9th and Washington Avenue. Midwood has a track record of demolishing Philadelphia history. This new development will transform the landscape of the Market. The Art is PHL Grant will invest in claiming our space, our stories, our existence in a shifting environment.

Based on the stories collected by community members through gatherings and creative sessions, I will design twenty (3’x5’) lightboxes that will be installed along the corridor of 9th and Washington Avenue through Ellsworth Street. The lightboxes will serve several purposes-

  1. claim space in a shifting environment
  2. honor and elevate community stories
  3. provide additional needed lighting
  4. provide an interactive environment for viewers that can be encouraged to support the local businesses in that space.

The work created with the support of the Art is PHL Grant will join the combined efforts in presenting creative strategies to support the people of the 9th Street Market.

There will be a total of twenty 3’x5’ ¼” lightboxes created that will run along the 9th Street corridor under the awnings from Washington Avenue to Ellsworth Street. Each lightbox be installed in the existing structures of the metal awnings and will use waterproof led lights. The images and text will be printed onto backlit plexiglass. The lightboxes will be visible during the day and in the evening the LED lights will illuminate the stories in the lightboxes as well as provide lighting that changes colors along the corridor.