About Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens

Who We Are

Jeff-Fadellin-002

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens (PMG) is a nonprofit visionary art environment and community arts center located in Isaiah Zagar’s largest public artwork.

Spanning half a block on Philadelphia’s famous South Street, the museum includes an immersive outdoor art installation and indoor galleries. Zagar created the space using nontraditional materials such as folk art statues, found objects, bicycle wheels, colorful glass bottles, hand-made tiles, and thousands of glittering mirrors. The site is enveloped in visual anecdotes and personal narratives that refer to Zagar’s life, family, and community, as well as references from the wider world such as influential art history figures and other visionary artists and environments.

PMG has become a unique Philadelphia destination and hosts educational opportunities and diverse public programming to thousands of visitors each year.

History

Zagar has devoted himself to beautifying the South Street neighborhood since the late 1960s, when he moved to the area with his wife, Julia. The couple helped spur the revitalization of the area by renovating derelict buildings and adding colorful mosaics on both private and public walls. The Zagars, teamed with other artists and activists, transformed the neighborhood into a prosperous artistic haven and successfully led protests against the addition of a new highway that would have eliminated South Street. This period of artistic rebirth was coined the “South Street Renaissance.” After the street was saved, Zagar continued creating mosaic murals, resulting in hundreds of public artworks over the next two decades.

Unfinished site in 2004

In 1994, Zagar started working on the vacant lots located near his studio at 1020 South Street. He first constructed a massive fence to protect the area then spent years sculpting multi-layer walls out of found objects. In 2002, the Boston-based owner of the lots discovered Zagar’s installation and decided to sell the land, calling for the work to be dismantled. Unwilling to witness the destruction of the now-beloved neighborhood art environment, the community rushed to support the artist. After a two year legal battle, his creation, newly titled Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens, became incorporated as a nonprofit organization with the intention of preserving the artwork at the PMG site and throughout the South Street region. Zagar was then able to develop the site even further; excavating tunnels and grottos while adding his signature mosaics to every surface.

In 2008, Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens opened to the public and visitors now have the opportunity to participate in tours, art activities, hands-on interpretive experiences, workshops, concerts, exhibitions, and much more!