Mural Arts Philadelphia: The Bigger Picture

Philly is known for plenty of things: cheesesteaks, the LOVE statue, the playground for Nicolas Cage in National Treasure. But not many people know that Philly is also known for being, quite literally, an outdoor museum.

In my last post, I talked about the courses that took you beyond the confines of the traditional classroom, which included FNAR 222, "Big Pictures: Mural Arts". More than a mere course about wall paintings, the class took us around the city and back in time, highlighting the socio-economic, cultural, and political impact on public art in a community.

Aimed at integrating service with research, teaching, and learning, the class focused on the work done by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program (the director of the program, Jane Golden Heriza, co-teaches the course with muralist Shira Walinsky). Many, if not most, of my friends at Penn actually had never heard of the organization before I took the class (re: could never stop talking about it). This is surprising, however, as there have been over 3,600 murals painted in Philly since 1984. The program also employs over 300 artists annually, ex-convicts, art students, and interested community members—all of whom want to give back to the community.

Sit on a Market-Frankford train heading westward and you’ll see 50+ “love letters” to an unnamed woman scattered across the buildings. Look up while shopping on 15th and Chestnut to gaze at a 27-story painting of a Pakistani immigrant. Or walk ONE block off campus, to 40th and Chestnut to view one of the most vibrant compositions you’ve ever seen.

Once in a while, get your head out of the books and into the city. Take a walking tour to see these works, scan the accompanying QR codes to learn more about the work and its artist. As Jane Golden describes it, the city becomes a visual autobiography. What started as an anti-graffiti movement has since echoed its increasingly diverse population and rich history, transforming Philadelphia into one of the most colorful cities in the nation.

-Helen N. '18