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The oat milk company has been criticized by artists after it covered street art in Philadelphia with advertisements

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In the world of Philadelphia street art, there is one rule – don’t cover up the work of others. But that’s exactly what a London-based coffee products company did when it launched an oat milk advertising campaign in the city.

Rows and rows of posters promoting Minor Figures’ herbal cow’s milk substitute were pasted onto existing street art in at least five locations last week. Some of the covered work thanked important workers. Another mural covered with advertising was commissioned by President Joe Biden’s campaign to encourage voting.

Local artists and art lovers in a city that adores its vibrant murals criticized the company for harming the street art scene that its advertisements were trying to imitate. Some have even started graffiti or tearing down the oat milk posters.

“Everyone knows you don’t go through other people’s artwork without permission,” said Samuel Rodriguez, one of the artists whose work has been defaced. “Why didn’t this company know or care? Out of greed. “

»READ MORE: New 5th Street subway murals tell a fuller story of the city’s history

Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts, said she was “quite disappointed” that some of the group’s work was affected.

“Minor Figures is very presumptuous to come into our city and cover works of art so aggressively,” said Golden.

Since the Philadelphia posters appeared, Minor Figures’ inbox and social media accounts have been inundated with boycott calls being sold at Whole Foods and other grocers in California, New Jersey, New York, Oregon, Washington, and Texas since the demand for oat milk has exploded in recent years.

Reached by phone in London, Minor Figures CEO Stuart Forsyth apologized and admitted that the Philadelphia advertising campaign “went terribly wrong”. He also admitted that he had initially misjudged the gravity of the error.

“Our posters were unfortunately placed over important local community art, which was a mistake,” Forsyth said. “We take full responsibility and are working to fix this in the most appropriate way.”

»READ MORE: 11 Philadelphia artists are behind the murals in the Fashion District

However, solving the problem will not be easy.

A local advertising firm, Forsyth, declined to give a name, using glue to hang dozens of the posters showing a simple, angular drawing of a woman’s face. Removing them from the artwork underneath is like separating two layers of wallpaper.

The damaged Biden campaign mural on South Broad Street was mounted on plywood panels hung from a brick wall. Removing the boards and preserving the mural was always part of the plan, Rodriguez said. Now he and another artist who worked on the project say they are not sure whether the work can be saved.

“I’ve been painting murals in Philadelphia for 20 years and my work has never been defaced,” said Ernell Martinez, the other artist. “The blatant disregard for public art is pretty shocking.”

The damage to this mural was even more painful, Martinez said, because a group of young Black and Latin American men helped them paint and install it.

He accused Minor Figures of deliberately using street art in Philadelphia to advertise.

Forsyth denied this but said he got the point.

“I’ve been wondering what the answer is,” Forsyth said. “I think we can always make more art.”

Other destinations include the former location for Nourish, a coffee shop that moved after a fire, and Union Transfer, the concert venue on Spring Garden Street.

Many artists learned of the oat milk commercial problem when they saw them on StreetsDept.com, a website and related social media accounts owned by photographer and curator Conrad Benner. He said he was against outdoor advertising and hoped companies would think twice before launching similar campaigns.

“These sacred spaces should be reserved for local artists. People use them to reflect the world around them, ”said Benner. “This company had no other aim than to pull money out of our pockets.”

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