Philadelphia, the City of Brotherly Love, became the “City of Murals” as a way to combat the growing graffiti problem. The city found a means to turn the situation around by hiring the same graffiti artists to paint select buildings with scenes depicting heroes and humanity that would be more appreciated in the communities. In the 1970s, the Philadelphia Museum of Art commissioned murals as part of an urban outreach program in efforts to stop vandals.
The Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN), a six-week youth program committed to eliminating graffiti vandalism, was established in 1984. It included the assistance of community groups, business organizations and city agencies.
The city-run Mural Arts program (MAP) was created out of PAGN to continue the success. That program is responsible for providing constructive projects for young artists. Graffiti artists from coast-to-coast have joined the platform to create extraordinary murals in the Philadelphia communities.
In neighborhoods throughout Philadelphia, a passerby can see building walls transformed with landscapes and gardens, heroes, musicians and inspirational scenes. Since its launch, the Mural Arts program has outgrown its initial proposal with over 3,500 murals and counting.
A mural’s creation is a shared endeavor with artists, city council members, property owners, residents and members of MAP staff. The biggest criterion is location. An onlooker must be able to view the work in its entirety from a distance.
Under the MAP, 100 murals are produced each year, making the program one of Philadelphia’s biggest employers of artists. Approximately 300 artists are hired per year and 36 former graffiti artists are on the staff. “The program has helped young people through education and training, and prisoners, who are paid for their work, to break the cycle of crime and violence in communities,” said Dave Warner of Art Daily.
Each mural tells a story. Artists design the image from selected categories – heroes, nature, hope, arts and culture and community. Once the mural is complete, the community has a dedication ceremony. From building America to immigrant arrival, these richly-colored murals encapsulate tales of history and honor courageous and inspiring people such as Harriet Truman and Father Paul Washington, a local religious leader.
An average mural height is the stature of a three-story row house with spans up to 420 feet long as seen in Manayunk Views on Main Street and Ridge Avenue. Its unity theme features a bridge with arches, painted with incredible detail and textures.
The lengthiest mural is History of Immigration, found on 2nd and Caldwell, which spans 600 feet. Tracing the history of immigration, it includes images of important figures in the Civil Rights Movement.
Common Threads, a mural found on Broad and Spring Garden Streets rises eight stories high. It portrays a young girl encircled with images of students from the local area high schools. The list goes on.
This year is the 30th anniversary of the Mural Art Program. An exhibition, “Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Art,” is open until April 6, 2014, in the Fisher Brooks Gallery, Samuel M. V. Hamilton Building at 118 North Broad Street. It features 30 years of community art creations.
The city offers official guided tours which tell the story of the murals seen either on the walking tour or while riding the trolley. Visitors can also walk around on their own. The Philadelphia mural locator site, listed below, provides the location and area map for many of the city’s murals. Last year, 15,000 people toured the murals and saw the rich color, texture and symbolism of the artist’s work. As Philadelphia’s history continues to grow, so does the number of murals. Each one, in their own way, represents the city and the people by depicting scenes that range from heroes to humanity.
By: Dawn R. Levesque