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    Public Art and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Essay

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    Public art is a very broad term that encompasses so many different kinds of art and target audiences.

    The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is a program that creates public art in the form of murals. This program is the largest public art program in the nation, and is fully dedicated to their motto “Art Ignites Change. ” With the roots of murals dating all the way back to cave paintings, writing and drawing on walls is one the most expressive forms of art because it allows the audience to reflect on the public events that are portrayed in these murals. The goal of this program is to change the lives of individuals and to transform communities through the use of art. With tons of public support and positive reactions to their work, the Mural Arts Program is a very successful program in the city of Philadelphia.

    Not only do they change the lives of individuals and have a huge impact on the communities of Philadelphia, but they affect the public and the city as a whole. The Mural Arts Program was established in 1984 as a part of Philadelphia’s Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN). At this time in the history of Philadelphia, street graffiti was a very common problem, as it was not only a way for people to express themselves, but a way for gangs to mark their territories. The mayor of Philadelphia at this time, Mayor Goode, wanted to stop graffiti writing in an attempt to beautify the city and stop crime.

    Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell written by Jane Golden, Robin Rice, and Monica Kinney is a book that focuses on the PAGN, its roots, and how it all started and transformed into the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The first chapter, titled “Cool Jane,” details the beginning of this program and the influence that Golden had on the movement. The PAGN hired Golden to reach out to the graffiti writers of Philadelphia, and after doing so she helped them redirect their artistic talents to public art projects. Golden impacted the lives of many graffiti writers in Philadelphia and helped them steer away from the illegal wall writing and transform their talents into these beautiful wall paintings. In 1996 the PAGN was restructured and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program broke away from the network to become its own entity.

    The Mural Arts Program has three main program initiatives. The first one being the Art Education Program which provides art education to the youth of Philadelphia in schools, in after-school activities, and in summer programs. There is also the Restorative Justice Program which was created in attempt to stop the cycle of violence and crime in Philadelphia communities. This program works with inmates and youth in correctional centers to assist them in reconnecting with society and building their skills to promote a complete recovery. They also offer a re-entry program for people coming out of the prison system.

    The third program initiative is the Porch Light Program. This program works with people who have mental illness, trauma, or addiction and allows them to participate in making the murals as therapy. With these three initiatives it’s very clear that the program reaches its goal of transforming the lives of individuals. The program helps and guides so many individuals in the city of Philadelphia, giving them opportunities to express themselves and better their lives. During the time that Golden was directing these murals under the PAGN, the program completed over 1,000 murals.

    The lives of the recruited graffiti writers were changed forever. They were offered paid jobs to help with the murals, and signed a pledge to stop graffiti. One writer by the name of Rocco Albano, known as PEZ by his graffiti, stated that he considered graffiti an addiction, along with his addiction to drugs and alcohol. He was able to kick all three addictions, but he admits that graffiti was the hardest of the three.

    Albano gives a lot of credit to the Mural Arts Program for helping him in this time of his life, and now years later he is working as an Internet consultant, and has been free from his addictions for years. The Mural Arts Program changed the life of Albano, and has since continued to change the lives of many other residents of Philadelphia, allowing them access to the opportunities they needed to turn their lives around. Another goal of the program is to transform the communities and the public areas where these murals are placed. The placement and location of these murals is a very important factor in the responses that are generated by them. In the article “Wall Murals of Philadelphia: Windows into Urban Communities,” by Elliott Westerman, many of the murals found in Philadelphia are examined, and Westerman pays close attention to the placement of the murals and what they mean for the community they are found in.

    One example of how location changes the meaning of the murals is The Peace Wall. The Peace Wall is located in the Grays Ferry neighborhood of across the Schuylkill River from the University of Pennsylvania, a community scarred by racial tension and violence in the past. There was a long-standing racial divide in this part of the city that caused children of different races to play on the neighborhood basketball courts at different times of the day,” (Westerman 179). The mural depicts many outstretched arms of every race that are gathered together in the middle and touch each other. This mural is not very complex and would probably have no deeper meaning than people coming together in any other community, but in this specific community it represents their past and how the different races finally reached peace with one another. The Peace Wall is just one of many paintings done by Golden and her recruitment of community volunteers that have significant meaning to the community they are found in.

    Murals done by the Mural Arts Program almost always depict well-known people or events, and without the stories behind these murals they would mean nothing to the communities or the city as a whole. Westerman also observed the placement of the murals in relation to the household income in these areas. The largest clusters of murals are found in North Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and South Philadelphia. These areas are almost notorious for their high crime rates and also have a lot of drug problems.

    In comparison, they are the most economically distressed areas in Philadelphia. As you go towards Northeast and Northwest Philadelphia, the mural sightings become less and less common. This finding shows the relation between crime and income, and it also shows that these areas probably have more people in them whom the Mural Arts Program seeks to help. The audience of these murals is key to the reactions they get out of the public.

    Of course the community is very important, but if the individual communities were the only audience that these murals had the program would not be as successful. Murals are found all over Philadelphia, and even in some places that aren’t associated with specific communities. The general public has to approve of these murals and has to like them for this program to reach its goals. “Mural art is a public affair that can be viewed, enjoyed, and understood from the sidewalk, street, highway, or front porch. It is an art that does more than cover blank walls, it takes on important issues such as ethnic history, pride, drugs, religious issues, and women’s rights,” (Westerman 177).

    These murals don’t just have a significance to the communities, but they mean something to the whole city. Mural art in Philadelphia is one of the key characteristics of the city, making it unique and a largely sought after sight. In the article “Reframing Public Art: Audience Use, Interpretation, and Appreciation,” Harriet Senie states that “there is no public or community for public art. ” This statement is largely untrue, especially in relation to what the Mural Arts Program is doing in the city of Philadelphia. Sure there are murals that are specially made for certain communities, but there are also murals that benefit the public and the city altogether.

    Not only do they make the city more aesthetic and beautify it, but they, with the help of the Mural Arts Program, have engaged individuals to lower the crime rates. The Mural Arts Program transforms buildings in the middle of a city ridden with urban decay, into beautiful paintings that are not only pleasing to the public’s eye, but meaningful to all of the people who live in these areas. There is an obvious public and community for murals. On the Mural Arts webpage, they have a quote that states “When we create art with each other for each other, the force of life can triumph. They take these people from so many different communities and from so many different backgrounds and lifestyles, and they all come together to create art for the city of Philadelphia. Not only did this program achieve its initial goal of diminishing a lot of the graffiti in Philadelphia, but they generated dialogue between the people of these communities and the city through these murals and gave the communities a way to express their history and what makes each community a unique and special place.


    Works CitedCity of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. N. p. , n. d. Web.

    9 Mar. 2015. . Golden, Jane, Monica Yant Kinney, and Robin Rice.

    Philadelphia Murals and theStories They Tell. Philadelphia: Temple UP, 2002. Print. Senie, Harriet F. , comp. Art and It’s Publics.

    Malden: Blackwell, 2003. Print. Westerman, Elliott. “Wall Murals of Philadelphia: Windows into UrbanCommunities.

    ” Bulletin of Sciences: Technology ; Society. Vol. 20. N.

    p. :Sage, 2000. 177-84. SAGE Journals Online. Web.

    9 Mar. 2015.

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