Discovering Philadelphia with “47 Stories”

Posted by Laura Kochman, Aug 18, 2017 0 comments

This post is part of our Public Art Network 2017 Year in Review blog salon.

Emblazoned on buses that crisscross the city of Philadelphia, “We are all migrating together” is the message behind 47 Stories, a Public Art Network 2017 Year in Review project that arose out of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Southeast by Southeast hub space. Artist Shira Walinsky, who has been deeply involved in this South Philadelphia community hub since 2011, worked with artist-in-residence Laura Deutch to reimagine the north-south-running 47 bus route, telling the stories of the immigrant and refugee communities that are connected from bus stop to bus stop.

“47 Stories” © 2016 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Laura Deutch and Shira Walinsky. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The two artists reached out to other organizations along the route—such as North Philadelphia’s Cambodian Association of Greater Philadelphia and Taller Puertorriqueño—and spoke to individuals, collecting audio samples at community events, over tea, and on the 47 bus itself. All along, the goal was to make immigrant and refugee communities visible, to acknowledge and bring attention to their contributions to Philadelphia. Many immigrants and refugees come so far from home, both in distance and in culture, yet stay within a neighborhood comfort zone once settling in the city, so Walinsky and Deutch wanted to capitalize on the organic connectivity of the bus route to open up possibilities for conversation. Southeast by Southeast primarily serves Burmese, Bhutanese, and Nepalese immigrants, but there are many people of many geographic backgrounds along the 47 route, beyond these concentrated communities.


Many immigrants and refugees come so far from home, both in distance and in culture, yet stay within a neighborhood comfort zone once settling in the city, so Walinsky and Deutch wanted to capitalize on the organic connectivity of the bus route to open up possibilities for conversation.


“47 Stories” © 2016 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Laura Deutch and Shira Walinsky. Photo by Shira Walinsky.47 Stories was a project that enacted itself, connecting different parts to create a shared experience. Through interviews, audio collage, alternative map designs, and a wrapped SEPTA bus, Walinsky and Deutch activated the public space of city transit in a new way. The project’s slogan, “We are all migrating together,” actually came from Jackie, a city bus driver who participated in several ride-alongs. As a constant observer of this potent public space, she told many stories—of strangers listening to each other in hard times, of visually impaired bus riders embarking with nothing but a note and total trust. The alternative map created for 47 Stories by the artists visualizes new landmarks, highlighting cultural centers across the city that might not otherwise be seen.

One of the major surprises about this project was its timing—47 Stories launched its wrapped SEPTA bus in the fall of 2016, when the national conversation around immigration became incredibly heightened. In the wake of immigration restrictions and many xenophobic acts around the country, the message behind 47 Stories became even more meaningful. This fall, in September 2017, the project will have a new life in the form of an audio tour on the 47 route, part of the MEGAPOLIS audio festival. There are incredible routes all across Philadelphia, and we hope that more projects like 47 Stories will help bring their histories and narratives to light.

47 Stories was sponsored by the Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), the 25th Century Foundation, the Hummingbird Foundation, PIDC, and the Samuel S. Fels Fund.

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