Animating Baltimore Avenue



  1. Nile Livingston asked the other day if I'd post a link to her web site, and when I checked out her artwork, I figured she'd been reading my mail.

    First thing you see from this University City multimedia artist is a video - a Google Earth trip up Baltimore Avenue in West Philadelphia, which springs to life with animations of local characters.

     The freaky part is the journey begins at the front door of the apartment building I lived in when I moved to Philadelphia in 1988.

    Just a coincidence, promises Nile (pronounced Ni-EL) who was born that very year, and who's lived in the neighborhood all of her life, save for four years at Kutztown University, where she earned a B.F.A., concentrating in sculpture and large metal fabrications.
  2. Why Baltimore Ave.? I asked. 

    "I spent most of my time on Baltimore Ave & I appreciate its diversity. I love being closer to the business and restaurants. It's green, friendly, and a relaxing environment."

    Going back 25 years, I remember looking out the kitchen window at dinnertime and marveling what I saw across the alley -- a greater variety of cultures than I came across in three years of living in Louisville. There was this wondrous neighbor market, Sam's. Then there wasn't What's the neighborhood like today? I asked.

    A quilt, she answered.

    "Clark Park, where people are always lounging, is perfect for people watching. The large windows at the Green Line Cafe and the Gold Standard Cafe frame the characters that walk up and down Baltimore Ave."
  3. "There are a few new business that my Google Maps video doesn't have yet, and I filled in one. Askum, a Mediterranean restaurant. Elena's is no longer on the map, it burned down. The street is constantly changing. There are a few Ethiopia dive bars, a Vietnamese cafe, a Mennonite church...."
  4. "A friend and I always say it has interesting smells -- the smell of the bakery and the smells of the cafe, the smells of different types of people in the area."
  5. Livingston, a graduate of the Philadelphia High School for Creative and Performing Arts, spent a couple of months drawing characters she'd see, then added color by dabbing with water-based Sharpie Paint Pens. They dripped a bit. "I loved the effect, and so decided to keep that." Then she came up with the idea of placing these images along the route using a video made from Google Maps. A friend programmed it for her. Livingston played around with animation, snipping limbs, tails, here and there, letting them swing. For sound, she grabbed from the Internet some African drum beats, some street noise, some cafe chatter and clinking, the rumble of a train crossing the tracks. 

    This is what it looked like all together. It's a novel medium for her, a new look at the old neighborhood for me.