Each year, adventurous students go out into Philadelphia and explore the grit and beauty that makes our city unique.

Students submit artworks such as photographs, videos, creative writing and paintings that capture the grit and beauty of Philadelphia. We award one grand prize of $500 and five runner-up prizes of $100. An art exhibition showcasing the works of the prize winners and honorable mentions is presented at Charles Library.

2022 Winners

Photos of kids riding bikes down city street
Biker Gang - Diptych
Photo credit: Conner Sayre White

1st Place

Biker Gang - Diptych – Conner Sayre White

After four years of living in Philly and photographing the community, these two images stand out to me as the most representative of the city's spirit. Nobody lives near Broad Street without seeing the droves of bikers from time to time. Cruising through the worn streets on their busted up wheels, it's always inspiring to me how biking brings together so many people of all ages and backgrounds. Taking the picture on film helped capture the coarse texture and warmth of the moment. The combination of scrappiness and camaraderie makes it a memory I won't soon forget.

2nd Place

see you l8ter – Maya Ankur Desai

Learning to skateboard in Philly is a gritty and intimidating process. Skateparks are dirty and dangerous. Learning to skateboard in Philly is a beautiful and familial experience. Skateparks are gardens of growth. In See You L8ter, Abby learns to skate in Philly, powering through the grit and the beauty.

 Bridge Between Two Worlds
Bridge Between Two Worlds
Photo credit: Jules Cameron Lesher

3rd Place

Bridge Between Two Worlds – Jules Cameron Lesher

My artwork shows both a beautiful view of Philadelphia’s skyline and a factory and it pollution with a bridge separating the two. There are two worlds. The one we wish to see and the truth the world offers.

Septa’s Gritty Magnificence
Photo credit: Dakota Tyler Dilmore


Septa’s Gritty Magnificence – Dakota Tyler Dilmore

Septa is a vital part of Philadelphia. While some believe it is dirty, I am able to look past that aspect and see the beauty behind the business of a subway station. Septa stations are both gritty, and beautiful. You just have to have the right mindset.

Elizabeth Gutierrez "Be the change you want to see in the world" – Mohandas Gandhi
"Be the change you want to see in the world" – Mohandas Gandhi
Photo credit: Elizabeth Gutierrez


"Be the change you want to see in the world" – Mohandas Gandhi – Elizabeth Gutierrez

Every time I look at this photograph captured in Fishtown, it provides me with a sense of hope for the future. This city and its residents have endured a lot, this year especially, with a pandemic upon us, food insecurity, gun violence, homelessness, a drug epidemic, among other social issues. As a native myself, I understand the frustration, but I admire our ability to remain resilient. Gandhi’s quote serves as a reminder that the changes we wish to see in our society begin within us.

Fernando Farell Gaxiola Lines Crossed
Lines Crossed
Photo credit: Fernando Farell Gaxiola


Lines Crossed – Fernando Farell Gaxiola

The image is of a pile of an overfilled trashcan in a police cruiser parking lot. Among it are several cups, a Wawa bag, police like ribbons, and crowned at the top a child’s decorated pumpkin. The innocent beauty of the pumpkin rises out of the colorful pile of eclectic trash. This image is the end of numerous stories in Philadelphia, creating a gritty yet somehow beautiful moment to be captured.

HONORABLE MENTION  Quan Anh Tran Birdman
Photo credit: Quan Anh Tran


Birdman – Quan Anh Tran

I came across this scene when I walked around the city to take photos and visited a park for a breather. While I was gulping my water, I saw an interesting activity from the corner of my eye. I turned to my left and saw a man sitting calmly while he let the birds flock on him. I was so intrigued by the scene that I immediately pulled out my camera and almost dropped my water bottle. As I was taking the photo, a woman approached and entered my shot. I thought that it was perfect, so I captured the shot. The beauty in this photo is not a man with birds flocked on him, but the action of the two palms. An honest connection between two strangers because of one activity. The grit in this photo is the brave woman who approached the stranger and wanted to do something that was out of normality. Also, the light shined on the man's head, resembling a halo, was perfect because it framed him as a good person. A friend once told me: "you can tell if someone is good from how they treat others and how they treat animals." Everything about this photo is beautiful.

2021 Winners

Top 5 winners

Home. – Liv Tempesta
Photo credit: Liv Tempesta

Home. – Liv Tempesta

By capturing this abandoned thought that is juxtaposing the modern architecture in the background built by Temple, I’m hoping to create dialogue about gentrification. I wanted to capture the parallel divide between the Temple community and the North Philly community.

Scenes From the City – Emmeleia Daliwan

As I continued to compile each scene, it became like a love letter to the city. That's the hidden message in this work; it's all right in front of you. As this piece progresses, you see the city become a home; a place of deep connection and love, and life.

Behind the Fishtown Auto Shop – Conner White
Behind the Fishtown Auto Shop
Photo credit: Conner White

Behind the Fishtown Auto Shop – Conner White

My inspiration for this was real life events. At the time, I was biking in Fishtown and I had my camera with me. It was behind this dingy auto shop, where I saw this scene. The piece represents Grit and Beauty because of the unreal and unexpected geometry and placement of the dogs and the birds with the ladder and the table. And just the way it's all framed, almost as if it was done on purpose, except it wasn't, it was just there; waiting for me.

Juxtaposition of Love – Shivam Vats
Juxtaposition of Love
Photo credit: Shivam Vats

Juxtaposition of Love – Shivam Vats

When I created this artwork, there was one thing on my mind. One thing on everyone's mind; Black Lives Matter. Therefore, I knew I had to do something to encapsulate that feeling. One man standing in front of five officers is courageous.

The Working Man – Kate Martin
The Working Man
Photo credit: Kate Martin

The Working Man – Kate Martin

Philly has that big city feeling, with that small neighborhood love. He was framed perfectly in the middle of his products as if he was surrounded by his own work. And in the middle of that hard work is a local Philadelphian, somehow, making it work. The city works because of its people; there's no glamour, there’s no glitz, but there's so much beauty. The city itself is beautiful, but it wouldn’t radiate as much as it does without the culture the people have created.

2020 Winners

1640_after_emulsion – Devin Fitchwell
Photo credit: Devin Fitchwell

1640_after_emulsion – Devin Fitchwell

When I think of grit I think of something with substance. I think of something with conceptual depth and texture. 1640_after_emulsion comes from a series of experimental photographs that I created to shift and challenge the typical viewing convention of imagery. This image in particular begins to capture the layers of Beauty and Grit in the layout of Philly by taking a scene of my mundane back alley in South Philly, and bringing it into this totally new and colorful way of looking created revealed by this experimental chemical process.

Graffiti Tunnel – Erin McDonald
Graffiti Tunnel
Photo credit: Erin McDonald

Graffiti Tunnel – Erin McDonald

People can have various reasons for creating graffiti. I think the one that stands out the most is the desire to create something beautiful for others to see. While this form of art may be frowned upon in many cases, I believe it can be something beautiful when looked at in the right light. These hollow cylinders near Graffiti Pier showcase the beauty of this art.

On the Broad Street Line – Alicia Rinier
On the Broad Street Line – Alicia Rinier

On the Broad Street Line – Alicia Rinier

On the BSL, captures the grit and beauty of Philadelphia's subway system by depicting the bright colors and lights you see while passing underground. While riding the subway, you are in an almost pitch black tunnel lit only by the occasional work light. Through this painting, I wanted to showcase the interaction of the passing outside lights and the brightly lit interior of the subway car.

2019 Winners

City Seating – Lucienne Nowak
City Seating
Photo credit: Lucienne Nowak

City Seating – Lucienne Nowak

Decaying Sunset – Monica Pagán
Decaying Sunset
Photo credit: Monica Pagán

2018 Winners

“O’ Mixed Grit and Beauty” – Kevin Crawson

O’ mixed grit and beauty, Philadelphia!
Home of hoagies, bastion o’ birds,
The shimmering beacon of Independence and
A long-standing tradition of electing Democratic Officials,
And stopping to take a selfie with Philly Jesus.
Quaker, Jewish, Catholic, Muslim, Buddhist, Freemason…
It don’t matter; the official cloth of Philadelphia
Is a Carson Wentz jersey.
(Or perhaps a Nick Foles sells more these days?)
It’s a beautiful thing, public transportation –
Submerged underground,
Smelling of piss,
Ceremonially late –
That is SEPTA: A splendid thing,
When the union is not on strike!
O’ mixed grit and beauty, is Philadelphia!
If you are driving like you’re from New Jersey,
Or mouthing off an inedible truth,
Criticizing our sports-teams,
Then a Philadelphian has a million ways to offend you…
It’s a mean, stubborn spirit that is in these People.
Wawa be a beautiful thing;
Run By The People, Cheesesteaks For The People.
When it’s Sunny In Philadelphia, children are encouraged to
Run around, play, MOVE (1985), get active!
Oft does the sun smile upon Our City,
Not upon a hill is it built, but on a slant into the ocean,
Pouring out what our hearts hold, polluting the Schuylkill…
So that as we may be most honest, most brave and most true,
We may also be one of the most toxic cities under the Red, White, and Blue.
O’ mixed grit and beauty, is Philadelphia!

Grind – Maya Minhas
Photo credit: Maya Minhas

2017 Winners

A New Perspective of Greens – Keary McKennon

I come from a little town with farms all around me
I hear no sounds at night except for the Amish Buggy rolling pass me
Now, I hear car horns and sirens all around me
I see less green but find it spiraling upward around me
Playing Eye Spy with the green
Because they are hidden in places that I have never seen

A New Perspective of Greens – Keary McKennon
A New Perspective of Greens
Photo credit: Keary McKennon

2016 Winners

@SavePhilly – Nick Canonica
Photo credit: Nick Canonica
Snapshots From My Travels – Meredith Getzfread
Snapshots From My Travels
Photo credit: Meredith Getzfread