Leading up to the Philadelphia Trans Wellness Conference, which will take place July 25-27 at the Pennsylvania Convention Center, the Mazzoni Center has launched a creative ad marketing campaign that can be seen on the sides of SEPTA buses and the vehicles’ awnings.
In light of this year’s “Trans Joy” conference theme, Minnesota native Grace Schleisman’s artwork appears at the heart of the campaign —sprawling the back of a fully-wrapped SEPTA bus.
“So often we read about trans folks only when there’s tragedy,” said Larry Benjamin, director of communications at Mazzoni Center. “This conference really is about celebrating community and the shared joy of being in a safe space like the conference.”
Schleisman’s piece, “The Luminous Self,” symbolizes the idea of celebrating visibility and oneself. In creating this piece, Schleisman, who identifies as gender-fluid, thought about the lyrics of the Queen song “Radio Gaga.” The lyrics go: “Don’t become some background noise, a backdrop for the girls and boys.”
“I got this idea of creating a variant of that,” Schleisman said. “That very colorful silhouette with a grey background, to emphasize being happy with being you and standing out from that background.”
Schleisman added they deviated from their normal drawing techniques in “The Luminous Self” by adding more color than usual.
“When I was making the colors, there were a lot of splatter marks and a lot of drips and I just let the colors bleed together,” they said. “It was nerve-wracking to start, but in the process it’s very cathartic to be able to let go and let the colors do what they want. That also kind of carries with that message of joy.”
The community can participate in the campaign via Instagram, Twitter and Facebook. Those who see the bus sporting Schleisman’s art can take a photo and tag the Mazzoni Center or TransPHL by using the hashtag “Transjoy” for the chance to win a PTWC T-shirt. The bus can be tracked on SEPTA’s mobile app using the number 8129.
“We loved the idea [of], ‘Here’s this trans community member who’s got this great piece of art,’” Benjamin said. “It’s colorful, it’s bright, it’s just the sheer joy in it.”
About 10,000 people attended last year’s Trans Wellness Conference from across the country, hailing from every continent except Antarctica. The three-day event provides a variety of workshops, professional mixers, a kids camp and youth space, as well as a dance party.
“It’s this huge space where folks can be in community together and just be very authentic and be themselves,” Schleisman said. “For me personally, I think part of my own journey has been unlocking all of this self-love I have for my identity. I’m very excited for that community aspect, to be surrounded by so much joy and support that comes with this community.”
In its bus shelter ads, Mazzoni Center pays thanks to the conference’s many sponsors, which include Jefferson Health, Comcast NBCUniversal and the city’s Department of Public Health. The ads can be seen at shelters on Market Street between 8th and 13th streets, on Broad Street between Race and Arch streets and at JFK Boulevard and 15th Street.
“We’re just excited, the people are so excited,” Benjamin said. “While the conference is meant to educate and create that free space, it’s also building community.” n