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JJ (Jacques-Jean) Tiziou, C’02

Artist, Community Organizer, Experience Crafter

Philadelphia, PA

Fine Arts Major

The core parts of my Penn experience were about diversity. I was grateful to be in a dorm with students from a lot of different backgrounds and all ages, in one of the College Houses. One of the graduate students in that dorm, in the very first week of school, when the popular wisdom among undergrads at the time was that it was dangerous past 40th street, took me out to breakfast at 52nd street on a walking tour of the neighborhood. The experience for me was always not just about the University, but the city that it was embedded in. Also, being involved with the Daily Pennsylvanian was one of the informative experiences for me that sidetracked me from being a bio chemistry major and really cultivated my love of photography, and that — through photojournalism — introduced me to so many different facets of the University and of the city at large, and a love of people.

My first-year-of-college self couldn’t have imagined the work I do now. But I think I’d be amazed and delighted.

Soon after I graduated, I fell into the performing arts world from an invitation from a classmate to the Fringe Festival. Around the same time, a classmate had invited me down to Florida to document the building of a community radio station for an organization that supports farm worker justice. That led me into community organizing and activism, and documenting protests and social movements. Those threads all were about community.

I started the How Philly Moves public art project in 2008. It was about creating a space that welcomed all sorts of movement, without giving any direction, and inviting people from all over the city to come in and share their love of movement. Dance is something that is truly accessible to all. And that was such a joyous thing. Photos from How Philly Moves became a mural at the Philadelphia International Airport.

Now, I’m focused on Walk Around Philadelphia. In 2016, I and other artists walked the 102.7 miles around the city’s perimeter as part of an artist residency. It turned into one of the most joyous weeks of my life. Then a performance piece that sold out, and then another performance that sold out… After I had done the walk twice, I knew it was a tradition that I would repeat annually. Every year more people have joined me in the February iteration of the walk, and for this September’s Fringe Festival I facilitated an “organize-your-own-group” and “choose-your-own-adventure” version of the walk where participants pick up supplies from my porch, access online resources, and set out to discover the city’s edge on their own. It feels like natural growth of this project to invite more audiences and more participants in this way. It also feels like exactly what the Fringe Festival needed and what people are looking for in the time of a pandemic, in order to have safe, new experiences and also to understand the complexity of the city we live in.

My first-year-of-college self couldn’t have imagined the work I do now. But I think I’d be amazed and delighted and grateful for the opportunities and strange unfoldings as they have come along. I think it’s about being present with the people you’re walking with, your companions in this journey. Every time the road is blocked, it leads you to go discover something new. And that happens over and over again. — September 21, 2020 • Photo by Brooke Sietinsons