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Megawords is Mega Art

If you walk into the Philadelphia Museum of Art’s west entrance — the one at the rear, away from the widely known entrance atop the famous “Rocky Steps” — and snake through the right-hand corridors, you’ll eventually step into the Berman and Stieglitz galleries.

This, according to the museum’s Web site, is where the museum “primarily exhibits prints, drawings and photographs in the main building.”

It’s also where the new exhibit, Zoe Strauss: 10 Years, is set to open on Saturday, Jan. 14.

For those who aren’t familiar with the artist, Strauss is a local photographer who has gained recognition for her documentation of everyday Philly and her approach to bringing art to people’s everyday lives.

However, before you head for Strauss’ new exhibit — and especially if you’re not familiar with the museum’s interior — it’s worth your while to check out the space that Megawords has built in the hallway leading to those galleries.

If nothing else, you’ll be supporting a fellow member of the riverwards. Megawords is the brainchild of Port Richmond’s Anthony Smyrski and his friend and fellow artist, Dan Murphy, who specialize in creating public spaces that bring artistic projects to life.

Smyrski was born and raised in Port Richmond and, like many others from the area, he graduated from North Catholic.

“A lot of Zoe’s idea about the show, I think, is about the museum reaching out into the city,” Smyrski explained.

Engaging people who normally might not visit the museum seems to be a common theme throughout this exhibit. For starters, there is an accompanying billboard campaign that showcases 54 of Strauss’ photographs — each on its own billboard — that now can be found throughout Greater Philadelphia.

Highlighting multiple influences within a single project is exactly what Megawords does, so it was a no-brainer for Strauss to bring Smyrski and Murphy into the fold for this.

“(Zoe) wanted us to come in and make this space a sort of in-between space where people can relax and do things,” Smyrski said.

The space is actually two connected alcoves that once held various museum amenities. The Megawords duo have converted it to a reading and publishing studio as well as a makeshift bookshop.

“Art, in the past, wasn’t just (people) showing up, looking, then going home,” Smyrski said. “In ancient Greece, when you went to (the theater), you stayed and discussed it afterward.”

That communal exchange is what the two are hoping to bring to this exhibit. The bookshop will showcase a host of books and magazines that have inspired Smyrski and Murphy throughout the years.

People are invited to just come in, sit down and get comfortable. They will also be able to flip through a special edition of the Megawords magazine that was printed specifically for the exhibit.

What Megawords is — as a whole — is hard to explain.

Under the Megawords banner, the duo produce a print magazine, a series of art installations and a whole lot of different things that bring art to a larger audience while also raising their consciousness about issues that face cities in flux.

Just to be clear, they insist that their work isn’t “alternative media.” Simply put, they are two artists, and their outlet is a printed magazine.

“We’re not making paintings, we’re making magazines,” Murphy explained. “We realized that, with print, since everything is going more online, when something is printed it’s almost like it is more important. People take it more seriously.”

The main focus of their part of the upcoming exhibit will be the print medium. Smyrski and Murphy will hold regular office hours at the museum every Friday for the duration of the Strauss exhibit. They’ll also host a variety of meet-ups to promote the printed page.

First up is a magazine workshop to show people how to make their own alternative magazines. They also plan to produce seven artist books while in the space, and also discuss printing processes as well as what has — and hasn’t — worked for them during their six years of producing Megawords.

Other events include a film screening, concert and a panel discussion, which show the diversity these two men seem to thrive on.

It all kicks off with a big event they’re helping to organize called the Zoe Strauss Exhibition Opening Dance Party. It will be held on Saturday from 8 p.m. to 1 a.m. ••

“Zoe Strauss: Ten Years” opens Saturday, Jan. 14, and continues through April 22. For more information, visit www.philamuseum.org/exhibitions.

For more information on Megawords, visit www.megawordsmagazine.com. For Zoe Strauss, go to www.zoestraussbillboardproject.com

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