On the last day of my trip to Philadelphia I was eager to take a mural walking tour of the many mosaic and murals that you find all around the city. I was taken aback by the number and variety of murals that I saw while on a city bus tour. As it is impossible to see them all in one day (there are over 4,000), instead, I decided to take a two hour mural and mosaic tour with Elise from MuralArts.org.
The Mural Arts Program is the largest public art program in America, dedicated to the belief that art ignites change. It began in 1984 when artist Jane Golden lead the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network to re-channel the creative work of local graffiti writers. Back then, many would not have called graffiti art but likely more of a defacement of public property. This did not deter from her believing that art is a conduit of change for both individuals and a community as a whole. She encouraged artists to work on community projects and focus on cleaning up and replacing the graffiti with street art. Developing a program that brought structure, guidance and more importantly income and artistic recognition to Philadelphia, as artists were paid for their work and work that was done on murals, the PAGN took off. Thirty years later, Mural Arts has united artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.
Where once the network was knocking on doors requesting permission to paint a mural on the side of a building, there now is a waiting list. Murals are sponsored, although none may have explicit promotional or marketing content. There can be a nod to or reference to the company or organization but it cannot be an ad. Mural Arts engages communities in 50–100 public art projects each year, and maintains its growing collection through a restoration initiative. Core Mural Arts programs such as Art Education, Restorative Justice, and Porch Light yield unique, project-based learning opportunities for thousands of youth and adults.
Mural Arts has various segments and missions:
Restorative Justice: Employs 25 inmates from a maximum security prison to work on murals as well as provide paid apprenticeships for at risk youth people aged 18-24 . The program is very successful as 74% of Restorative Justice Guild graduates are placed in steady employment, higher education or vocational training programs (source muralarts.org).
Porch Light: With over 3,000 community members engaged in Porch Light Programs, this initiative works on important metal and behaviour health issues through year-round workshops, community meetings, health forums and paint days.
Public Art and Civic Engagement: through collaborative community projects the murals focus on building social capital, representing diversity and honouring history. Creating murals that are relevant to the neighbourhood, commemorating important people, dates or events in Philadelphia.
- Tours and Public Program: Private and public tours are offered by professional guides and artists. Over 100 events include dedications, panel discussions, gallery exhibitions, artist talks and community paint days. Fundraisers and a month-long celebration of all things Mural Arts is held in October. Each year, 12,000 residents and visitors tour Mural Arts’ outdoor art gallery, injecting $2.7 million into Philadelphia’s creative economy each year.
Mural Arts Philadelphia is the the largest public art program in the United States. With over 250 artists employed by Mural Arts each year it completes between 50-100 projects a year. The Mural Arts program has transformed Philadelphia from a city plagues by destructive graffiti to becoming a source of pride and inspiration, earning Philly an international recognition as the “City of Murals”.
Details on walking tours and other information, call 215-685-0750 or visit muralarts.org.
Don’t have time for a full tour? You can print out a map for a self-guided tour.
Disclosure: I received a complimentary tour to facilitate this review. No other compensation was received all opinions are of @DownshiftingPRO. All photo are the property of @DownshiftingPRO and cannot be used without permission. Special thanks to @VisitPhilly for facilitating this tour.