Philadelphia is working to renew the respect art deserves, and to glean the benefits that art provides. From offering discounted, pay-what-you-can, and even free admission to art museums and exhibitions, to offering grants, fellowships, and internships at colleges and high schools, Philadelphia is changing the mindset of its people by taking small, yet monumental steps in the direction towards revering art. One of the most notable steps is the increase in murals throughout the city, making this place reflective of this of brotherly love it so claims.
When I was in high school, our school was under construction. The entire front of the building was being torn down and rebuilt, so the construction workers put up temporary drywall the length of the front while they built. The wall was a dingy gray color, a chalky, depressing first sight of the school, until the art students came up with an idea to cover the wall in murals, knowing full-well that their art would last only the duration of the construction. Soon enough, instead of walking by gray walls, students were passing bright, bold colors — ideas of their fellow classmates having come to fruition right there in front of the school, making even a temporary span of time more enjoyable, and uniting the students in a shared experience, and now a shared memory.
Similarly, programs such as City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program are working to change the day-to-day experience of walking through the city. A wall can be a wall, or it can be beautified to reflect that which the city aims to be. Murals connect communities by portraying a shared experience, emotion, or significant moment in history, while also pushing back against graffiti and gang- or crime-driven marks.
Mural Arts Philadelphia is a program that aims to unite communities through art. At first glance on their website, it can be found, “We believe that art ignites change,” which is exactly why they are committed to giving the city 50-100 public art projects every year. Director of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, Jane Golden, says “When I think about the murals of this city, I really think it’s like the autobiography of Philadelphia.” Murals tell a story, and serve a purpose greater than simply making a wall of a building look better. They remind Philadelphia of the history and heroes of a certain neighborhood, through murals such as the Grumblethorpe home found in the new mural in Germantown painted by Jared Bader. They connect communities through familiar, lighthearted images such as the new mural of a raccoon holding a Philadelphia soft pretzel, brainchild of Natalie Shaak and V.U.R.T. (Visual Urban Renewal & Transformation) in the neighborhood of Port-Richmond.
Murals accomplish a vast array of positive results.
Whether local murals are portraying individuals and highlighting the influences of their life, capturing the fleeting beauty of a neighborhood garden, or staying a moment in history worth remembering, these murals, along with the other 3,000+ murals in Philadelphia, matter. These murals are showing the city what to pay attention to. They are showing the city what is important, what is beautiful, and what is right, in a time when there are so many reasons to look at what is wrong.
Sources: Muralarts.org, Philly.com, Philly.curbed.com.