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Mural Arts Project: an opportunity for service, fun

Philadelphia is known for the Avenue of the Arts, museums, eclectic culture and great food, and here is one more thing you can add to your list. The Mural Arts Program is more than just a group of pretty paintings around the city. With more murals than any city in the world-over 2,700 from North to South Philly-MAP also serves as an educational effort.

Jane Golden, current director of MAP, was commissioned in 1984 by the founder of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, Tim Spencer, to reach out to young graffiti writers who were vandalizing the city. A month after Spencer’s death in 1996, the city of Philadelphia and the Department of Recreation recognized the Mural Arts Program as a separate entity.

Golden firmly believes in the power of mural artistry to impact lives. “Murals have this kind of personal impact. They engage you, stir questions, make you see things in new ways,” she said in her book, Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell. “They seem to be imbued with a mysterious energy that radiates outward, touching everyone who sees them.”

Through the implementation of educational efforts, she has used her abilities and passion as an artist to impress upon the hearts of juvenile delinquents, underprivileged youth and communities all over the city that change is possible. Over 3,000 youth are educated through classes and workshops every year. From participating in delinquency prevention to year-long community service projects, the youth involved work hard at MAP’s mission in creating more than art.

In several neighborhoods the murals serve as catalysts for community unity, area gardens and places for neighborhood conversation leading to social reconciliation and change. Rather than just painting pictures of the artists’ design, more than 300 artists who are employed through the program sit down with community leaders and residents to find out what ideas they have and what projects will best serve their community.

Other murals are created based upon requests from organizations. Some were created in efforts to address the issues of truancy, emotionally unhealthy young women and many more societal ills. On the outside of a men’s recovery home, the mural “Metamorphosis” was painted showing the transformation of a man. The image of a man bursting freely from a cocoon shows liberty and triumph over addiction. Many residents from the program contributed self-made sheet metal butterflies as an addition to the mural symbolizing their freedom.

With all of their potential for positive influence yet minimum funding to work with, MAP is always looking for volunteers. Some will learn the program and the city enough to conduct their twice-weekly and privately scheduled tours. Others can be part of volunteer days held to paint a mural and contribute to the community. Teachers for their many educational programs are also consistently desired, whether in volunteer or paid positions.

The program has proven effective to communities, individuals and lives. “In so many ways, MAP has become more about changing lives than about art,” Golden said. “I’ve seen art become a way to rebuild a community. And I’ve seen art serve as a tool of redemption.”

For more information on tour schedules and ways to become involved, visit their website at muralarts.org.

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