Art Attack on a Plate: Mural Arts celebrates 30 years with an off-the-wall feast for a thousand


On October 5, Mural Arts will gather nearly 1,000 people in Independence National Historical Park for “70X7,” a communal meal and discussion of heirloom foods and their role in creating a healthier food system.The meal is one component of “What We Sow,” Mural Arts’ summer-long 30th anniversary celebration, and expands the organization’s mission beyond the walls of city buildings. “The meal itself is like taking a mural off the wall and putting it on the table,” says Netanel Portier, project manager for Mural Arts. “Our broader mission is to bring people together around important issues through the creation of public artwork.

The meal will be the 34th in a series hosted in various locations across the globe by artists Lucy and Jorge Orta, who will also create a table runner printed with Philadelphia-inspired images and a limited-edition fine porcelain plate manufactured by Royal Limoges in France for each participant. The menu will be overseen by chef Marc Vetri and catered by Cescaphe Event Group.

It is an artwork because there are subtleties that are coming through in the way that we set the table, the site that we’ve chosen, all of the symbolic things,” explains Lucy, in response to the notion that creating a thousand-person feast may not immediately seem like a work of art. “We’ve got to dress the table with these beautiful plates and the tablecloth so you can start to see signs, signifiers, pictograms, images and texts appearing as if you are looking at a painting.

The Ortas determined the ingredients for the meal during a series of visits to Philadelphia farmers markets and food organizations. “We began looking at all the issues that we want to address,” Lucy says, “and [we came up with] this idea of cultural diversity through the heirloom species and preserving biodiversity.

The feast will be the culmination of a months-long season of programming that kicked off in June, all revolving around educating Philadelphia communities about heirloom foods. Unlike modern hybrid plants, heirloom plants are grown from seeds that have been handed down from one generation to the next, are not owned by any one entity and have acquired resistance to disease, weather and pests through generations of adaptation.

With the season, we wanted to create an opportunity for people to begin to learn what heirloom means and have an entry point into this project before the meal itself,” Porter says. The series of workshops, family-friendly activities, tours, tastings and cooking demos will also provide an opportunity for residents to sign up for a lottery that will award free tickets to the meal. Seats will also be distributed by invitation through partner organizations throughout the city to ensure participants’ diversity — geographically, socioeconomically and culturally. 


Story by Shaun Brady