As Philadelphia counted mail-in ballots that helped turn the tide of the 2020 presidential election and a Count Every Vote rally-turned-dance-party kept vigil outside the Convention Center, three dancing mailboxes became social media celebrities. Photos of the mailboxes dancing in the streets were seen around the world. The cardboard mailboxes are the brainchild of Spiral Q, an Equitable Public Space Fund and Solidarity Fund for COVID-19 Organizing grantee that uses puppets and pageantry to amplify the messages of social justice movements.
Founded in 1996 amidst the HIV/AIDS crisis, Spiral Q works with grassroots organizers and artists to create giant puppets and banners that communicate complex ideas like gentrification and violence against people of color. Rooted in the tradition of street theater, Spiral Q infuses its work with an infectious joy and participatory spirit.“
The puppet at the party is only the tip of the iceberg,” says Spiral Q co-director Jennifer Turnbull.
“We are centering community voices and stories and creating space for collaborative ideation and artistic production that is accessible to everyone.”Jennifer Turnbull
The mailboxes were created with youth voting organization VoteThatJawn for community education events and voter registration drives. When the City slashed arts funding in the fallout of COVID-19, Spiral Q collaborated with the Artist Coalition for a Just Philadelphia on an Emergency Art Action for Black Futures in June. Every year, the group partners with 100 community groups. “We work with everyone who is fighting for a more just and equitable Philadelphia,” says Spiral Q co-director Liza Goodell. “The support of Bread & Roses allows us to respond to the moment.”
Through an Equitable Public Space Fund grant, Spiral Q is mounting Rise and Reconcile performances in public spaces around the city to reclaim erased histories of Black communities. The sunrise events enlist community members in choreographed movements to commemorate the people who once congregated there. “This is a way to take up public space and lift up the history of the Black community,” Turnbull says.