Photos, story by Jill Beckel
It was a beautiful city morning when Explore Philly got the chance to go on a Mural Arts tour. Mural Arts tours are perfect for year-round social gatherings, business outings or fundraising events. We took a walking tour, but there are train and trolley tours offered as well. Our lovely tour guide of the day, Elise, gave us some background about the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. It began in 1984 when the mayor of Philadelphia opened an anti-graffiti network for kids and young adults. He hoped that this would dissuade kids from vandalizing Philly buildings with spray paint graffiti, which was becoming a huge problem at the time. Jane Golden has been the director of the Mural Arts Program since 1985. Her vision was to reduce the amount of graffiti throughout the city by giving kids and young adults an outlet for their art skills – a chance to create beautiful murals on buildings all throughout the city.
The Mural Arts Program works with many community groups to educate and involve children in arts and in the creation of all types of murals. To create the murals, the community gets together with a professional artist. The artist then brings a sketch of his idea for the mural and the community has to approve it. Over 3,800 murals have been painted so far! In 2003, Philadelphia became known as the “City of Murals.” It is said 35% of the funding for the murals comes from the city and the rest comes from fundraising, the Mural Arts tours and city events.
The Mural Arts Program brings people together since it gives communities a common cause. It helps teach young people responsibility and job skills. As a result, Philadelphia has seen a decrease in youth violence. Today, approximately 50-100 art projects are done each year and 150 artists are employed by the Mural Arts Program. The average mural costs between $25,000 – $30,000 and paint is getting more expensive each year.
We got to check out 16 murals throughout the two hour tour. Each one was beautiful and as unique as the artist who created it. Some seemed familiar and others I probably wouldn’t have noticed at all without Elise’s help pointing them out.
This mural is located next to the Philadelphia Convention Center and features beautiful flowers and plants.
One of the newer murals, this one was done in memory of Gloria Casarez, an American civil rights leader and LGBT activist in Philadelphia. It showcases her portrait and highlights a gay pride march that she famously led while on a motorcycle. Tragically, she died of breast cancer in 2014. This mural is uniquely painted on parachute cloth and then gelled on the wall.
This mural’s location shows how a mural can bring more positive things to a community. Many Philadelphians don’t have their own yard, so the community garden gives them space to plant and grow.
The mural features people only people named Frank (or something close to Frank, like “Pope Francis”) in honor of Dirty Franks bar located on South 13th St.
This mural is located on the side of Vetri, a high-end Italian restaurant. The owner of Vetri, Marc Vetri, is a private Mural Arts Program sponsor and actually asked Northrup to paint it. The painting features some of the Mural Arts Program staff members and Marc.
This mural is on the wall of the Gay/Lesbian Community Center. It highlights the first gay pride march from July 4, 1966 and gay pride demonstrations in 2002.
This mural showcases the progress of women throughout Philadelphia’s history. It shows women from the New Century Guild painting, dancing, playing musical instruments and working as nurses, teachers, etc. Women went there to learn new trades, receive help raising their children, and more. It was a supportive program for young women. The mural was painted in 2001 and was sponsored by the Independence Foundation.
This large, colorful mural was my favorite of the day. It showcased famous Philadelphia dancers, musicians, scientists and more.
This whimsical mural was inspired by a kid’s art workshop. It was done with spray paint (which was not allowed at the beginning of the Mural Arts project since they were trying to discourage spray painting).
This small mural is very high up and easy-to-miss, but is a beautiful abstract portrayal of making music with white, black, red and pink colors.
This was probably the most moving mural since it was completed by people living in homeless shelters at the time. Across the mural, it states, “home is where I feel one.” It is filled with peoples’ hopes and dreams on pieces of paper which were then woven together to create the mural. We got to get up close and personal to touch it and feel the intricate pieces. There were even real photos of the people and their unique stories that were added to the mural with acrylic gel.
Our final mural was the only mural we saw that was actually painted on the ground.
If you are interested in taking a tour, participating in other Mural Arts events, making a donation, purchasing Mural Arts signature merchandise or learning more about their extensive programs, please visit muralarts.org or email for more info at firstname.lastname@example.org.