• Sunday , 18 February 2018

Over 3,800 Collages Decorate ‘City of Murals’ Thanks to Mural Arts Program

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.

Participants of the Mural Arts tour were given these stickers to wear during the tour.

Participants of the Mural Arts tour were given these stickers to wear during the tour.

World War II plane sculpture.

We started our tour by checking out a World War II plane sculpture.

"Garden in the City” – 1998 located next to the Philadelphia Convention Center

“Garden in the City” – 1998

This mural is located next to the Philadelphia Convention Center and features beautiful flowers and plants.

“Tree of Knowledge” – Eisenhower Fellowship mural painted in 2003 and redone in 2014.

“Tree of Knowledge” – Eisenhower Fellowship mural painted in 2003 and redone in 2014.


This mural is one of the earliest murals that was painted in 1992 by the artist Michael Webb.


Webb painted himself in the mural and all the other people featured in it are modeled after real people as well including his daughter and William Penn.


A mural memorial to Gloria Casarez in 2015.

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.


“Garden of Delight” – painted in 2010 with a community garden in front of it.

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.


(cont.) “Franks”


(cont.) “Franks”


“Spring” – Pixelated technique


“Taste of Summer” by Ann Northrup

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.


“Pride and Progress” by Ann Northrup

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.


(cont.) “Pride and Progress” by Ann Northrup


“Progress of Women”

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.


(cont.) “Progress of Women” mural details


Elise telling our group more about one of the murals.


“Philadelphia Muses” by Meg Salgman in 1999

This large, colorful mural was my favorite of the day. It showcased famous Philadelphia dancers, musicians, scientists and more.


(cont.) “Philadelphia Muses”


“Philly ChunkPack” by Kenny Scharf in 2011.

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).


(cont.) “Philly ChunkPack”


A mural located in gayborhood is dedicated to Edmund Bacon, the 1970’s city planner.


This mural symbolizes making music.

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.


“Finding Home” by Josh Sarantitis and Kathryn Pannepacker in 2010

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.


15. (cont.) “Finding Home” – A close up.


(cont.) “Finding Home”


(cont.) “Finding Home” is filled with photographs and memories.


(cont.) “Finding Home” – A man with his child.


(cont.) “Finding Home”


“Compass Rose” in 1990 in honor of William Penn.

Our final mural was the only mural we saw that was actually painted on the ground.


(cont.) “Compass Rose”

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 tours@muralarts.org.

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