If you've ever spent any time in Philadelphia, I'm sure one of the first things you've noticed are the stunning murals that accentuate the city's urban landscape. There are currently over 3,000 murals in Philadelphia, and many of them were created through The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program; the largest public art program in the United States. The program began in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, which was initiated to help eradicate the graffiti crisis that seemed to be plaguing the city. The Anti-Graffiti Network hired artist/muralist Jane Golden to reach out to graffiti writers and redirect their energy into constructive mural painting. The rest is history.
The Mural Arts Program is a good example of a community arts program, successfully implemented, that not only turned a destructive act into a productive one, but also created a positive social network between the community and the arts. The Mural Arts Program is free. It targets at-risk youth and adults, helps them find their artistic voice and self-confidence, while at the same time teaching real life skills; such as taking personal responsibility, teamwork and creative problem-solving. The program also works closely with the residents in each of the the neighborhoods where the murals are placed to ensure that the artwork not only fits the space, but that the content is acceptable as well.
We started going to Philadelphia around eight years ago when my son was studying at University of the Arts. I grew to love the murals in the city more and more every time we visited, and began snapping photos of some of the ones we would drive by regularly. I also enjoyed hearing some of the street stories my son related to us about how some of the murals, such as the Keith Haring piece, came to be. I've included photos of the Haring mural later in the article, along with a short video about the Shepard Fairey mural that was created a few years ago.
I could go on and on writing about the murals in Philadelphia and Mural Arts Program, the importance of public art, and the beauty and joy that the public art projects have brought to the city - but I'll let the photos speak for themselves. You can also see through the photos some of the neighborhoods where the murals are located and how the artwork has uplifted and energized it's surroundings.
To learn more about the murals, if you visit Philadelphia there is a tour you can take. There are also some nice books on Amazon that are available too.
And finally, next time you read about your state, city or federal government cutting funding for grants to the arts and other inner city social programs, I hope these images and the Mural Arts Program will pop into your head.
That you will remember that this is just one of many examples of the positive impact that fine art can have on the lives of others.
~ diane fergurson