Philly has long been known as the City of Brotherly Love, but over the years it has earned another nickname: the City of Murals. The city’s renaissance of murals is thanks to the Mural Arts program, established by Jane Golden in 1984 as part of the Anti-Graffiti Network. Over 30 years later, Philly proudly boasts the most murals in the world with more than 3,800.
But the motives of Mural Arts is more than the beautification of the city. Dedicated to the simple, but powerful idea that art ignites change, the program incorporates art education and social justice initiatives to help empower the people of Philly and stems from a process that begins and ends with the community. Each artist works directly with community members to create a mural that reflects the voice and heart of a specific neighborhood, so art becomes a common ground for people to connect, express their creativity and have conversations about issues affecting their community.
To get the full scope of these hidden yet public gems, I went on a two-hour Mural Mile walking tour around Center City. Here are a few of my favorite murals from the tour.
My favorite mural from the tour was “Finding Home” by Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis. A collaboration between Mural Arts, Project H.O.M.E. and the Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services (DBHIDS), it was created to give a voice to the homeless population in Philly and help break down the stigma surrounding homelessness.
The artists worked alongside members of the homeless community and other community members to weave together strips of cloth. These pieces of cloth contained the participants’ reflections, hopes and dreams on the topic of “home.” Pennepacker then painted over the strips and incorporated them into the wall of the mural, encouraging viewers to touch the tactile wall.
The mural continues on the other side of the AC vent of the building where you can see paintings of the participants working side by side. The open hand painted on the side of the building holds a copper wire (incorporated due to the actual copper wiring of the building) that stretches across to the other side to a group of diverse hands held together in unity.
“… the artist paints the mural but never underestimate what you can do. Let it be a world filled with equality, hope and home.” — Jane Golden at the mural dedication ceremony
“How to Turn Anything Into Something Else”
Another favorite of mine was this whimsical, colorful mural by 12 artists from the Miss Rockaway Armada art collective (October 1, 2011).
The artists worked with 30 kids from the Mural Arts’ Art Education program (ages 8–15) to create the mural using exercises to stretch and fuel their creativity. I thought it was cool and quirky how the kids drew animals on paper, folded the paper until you could only see the neck, then passed their paper to a different kid to complete the drawing.If you look closely, you can see fish turning into pizza and rocks turning into sharks and various imaginary creatures and animals. Much like the title of the mural, the artists wanted to teach the kids to find new and creative opportunities in the face of different obstacles or circumstances.
“Start from Here”
I also loved “Start from Here” by Isaac Tin Wei Lin. Using vibrant, calligraphic brushstrokes reminiscent of flags, Lin created the mural to pay homage to his parents’ journey to the U.S. as immigrants as well as encapsulate the idea of one’s personal journey. I loved the colors of this mural and the idea of celebrating new beginnings while remembering your roots.
Adventure Is Out There
If you haven’t done so already, I would highly recommend checking out a Mural Arts walking or trolley tour to experience the rich history and community impact of the many murals in our beautiful, vibrant city. In addition to beautifying the streets of Philly, these murals encourage productive dialogue, empower communities and bring creativity, hope and unity to individuals as well as the city as a whole. So it only makes sense that we support a program that does so much.
I plan to check out the “Love Letter” train tour in the fall. Who wants to join me?