A city made of murals

Susie Dent
Favorite Spot: Mural Arts Mile
Neighborhood:
Address:

I am: Philly native, now residing in London, England
Current Home: London

My Love Note

Philadelphia: City of Murals

Having a lifelong love of street art of all kinds, naturally I was fascinated when, several years ago, I first learned of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program. The Mural Arts Program emerged in 1986 and was founded and directed by Jane Golden, an artist originally hailing from New Jersey. The Program was Golden’s vision and sprang from the dream of putting an end to Philadelphia’s graffiti problem. However, Golden’s idea was not to discourage the graffiti artists or to attempt to channel their interest into other avenues of art. Instead, Golden’s radical idea was to give graffiti artists and would-be graffiti artists the inspiration and guidance to help them to take their work to the next level and to encourage them to create striking and beautiful murals which, rather than detracting from the look of the city, have greatly added to its beauty and character. Over the years I’d read many articles on the Mural Arts Program and its development and I’d long dreamt of walking the streets of Philly—and especially the Mural Mile—to experience these breathtaking murals in real life. In the summer of 2013, I finally had the chance to do just that.

A Gallery Hidden in Plain Sight

Every year, millions of people visit Philly, whether in the context of work or for a vacation. Over the years many millions of people have visited the city, at least for a few hours, as one of their stopping off points on a tour, whether by bus or cruise liner. Boasting a port which at one time made the city a key center for international commerce and, later in its history, a popular cruise destination,  today Philly attracts bus tours and other day visitors who are keen to take in the sights of the city. In 2013, I was one of those visitors—a tourist spending a few days in one of the great cities of the East Coast and keen to take in all the sights and sounds of the place. Was I interested in seeing the usual tourist attractions? Absolutely! Did I head off to see the Liberty Bell? The Rodin Museum? The Reading Terminal Market? You bet—and many other places too! What was really exciting to me on a personal level, however, was that I finally had a chance to live out my dream and walk the Mural Mile and other parts of Philly where the Mural Arts Program has been at work. A lot of tourists don’t think of the murals when they visit Philadelphia, even if they will queue up to admire artworks in the galleries of the Old City. However, if they walk around the streets, they may realize that Philly’s colorful and exuberant street art make the city one giant open air gallery.

Must-See Murals to Look Out For When You Visit

Since its inception in the mid-80s, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has gone from strength to strength and is now responsible for more than 3600 murals throughout the city that add to Philly’s unique charm for both visitors and residents. The program is a major employer of artists—both traditionally trained artists and former graffiti artists. Under the program, the latter are now discovering that they can find reward and recognition for their work rather than being prosecuted for it. The best known of the murals painted under the aegis of the Mural Arts Program is also the largest mural in Philadelphia, measuring six hundred feet. It is entitled “The History of Immigration” and shows representatives from the different groups who have settled in the city over the ages. Other murals around the city, also tell stories of the lives of the people of Philadelphia, past and present, as well as the lives of people in the wider world. These include the idyllic “A Taste of Summer” on Spruce Street, which depicts a meal shared in a pastoral Italian landscape, and the powerful “Family Interrupted” about the lives of families affected by the imprisonment of one or more of their members. Golden has collected some of the stories that serve as the inspiration for the murals in a book.

I had a clear idea in my mind of what to expect of the murals and I wasn’t disappointed by the experience. What I didn’t expect from seeing these works in the context of their home city was to be touched by a deeper understanding of their importance in the lives of both their creators and the people for whom this vibrant, hopeful, life-affirming artwork has become part of their everyday landscape.

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A photo posted by Sara Metzger (@sarakmetz) on

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