There’s a lot of talk currently surrounding a recent article in Philadelphia Magazine and the public confrontation between the publication and CA Conrad. In the magazine’s December “List” issue, the Philly mag devoted one list to things the city would be better off without, i.e. “10 Things We Need to Get Rid Of” (seemingly available in print only). Included on the chopping block was the city’s long-running tradition of the Mummers Parade. The Philadelphia poet disapproved, claiming that the Mummers was a street level, middle class event dear to the city, its history, and its people and that the magazine was exercising a characteristically elitist, classist, 1% attitude. He first voiced his complaints on the Philadelphia Magazine Facebook page requesting they apologize to Mummers. The magazine’s online editor eventually blocked him from commenting, which resulted in Conrad visiting the office to speak with the magazine personally and subsequently being removed by security. You can begin to follow the story with the editor’s PR-ish letter on CA Conrad’s comments and behavior, then move to CA Conrad’s account of the event and his being escorted out of the office building. I would also encourage you look at the comments made by the public on these articles and the action on the magazine’s Facebook page; the majority seems to be supporting Conrad. Some are especially outraged that editor Tom McGrath (as a Philly culture editor) didn’t even know who CA Conrad was, or that the magazine would Facebook-flaunt that Conrad had been removed from their offices.
Personally, upon just hearing this story, I admire Conrad’s determination to voice his opinion, objecting to and requesting dialogue about the magazine’s choices. His walk to the Philadelphia Magazine’s offices on behalf of a cultural tradition or group of people he values is a tangible, powerful act. I like the artist like this, refusing to be safely contained as the Philadelphia Magazine attempted to do in denying Conrad visibility on Facebook or in an office, instead requesting he write an e-mail (which basically doesn’t exist in the public realm). I think his choice solidifies the role of the artist or poet in his/her city. He expanded the immediacy and impact of his voice by committing the physicality to back it.
But this event also raises a lot of questions for me about the responsibility of an artist or individual to their community, about the visibility or method of communication being given, taken, or denied here, etc. I’d love some thoughts as this sinks in.
Katie Smither is an artist and writer living in Austin. She works at the Harry Ransom Center at the University of Texas and does a lot of things on the side, or strike that and reverse it.