“City of Murals”
Mural Arts Tour: Mural Arts Philadelphia
Content and images by: Caressa Losier
When I hear the word “artist”, the first thing that usually comes to mind is a free spirit; covered in paint and scouring the streets in hopes of finding a space to make a creative statement. The glorious Philadelphia murals prove what it means to be an artist has been completely redefined with the city’s Mural Arts Program. This organization focuses on Art Education, Restorative Justice, Public Art and Civic Engagement and Porch Light pieces that use art to bring everyone in the community together to share the history of the City of Brotherly Love. In Philadelphia, public murals can be seen anywhere outdoors – from the hospital to the best bar in town. Continue below to see 16 of the best Philadelphia murals and the fascinating stories behind them.
The Philadelphia Muses mural dedicates 6,000 square feet of wall space to paying homage to the city’s Avenue of the Arts in the form of nine classic Greek-style art muses. The figures are said to represent real people in the Philadelphia art community – from the Opera Company Director, Craig Hamilton, to the Pennsylvania soloist, Meredith Rainey, faces from the city’s finest in performing arts were used as inspiration for the piece.
Pride and Progress
Located on the western wall of the William Way LGBTQ Community Center, Pride and Progress, stands tall in the Center City section of Philadelphia’s Gayborhood. Ann Northrup began working on the 7,500 square-foot mural in August of 2002, twelve years before same-sex marriage would become legal in the state of Pennsylvania. At the time, rumor had it the project was so controversial, that the artist who had originally planned to paint the piece dropped out. Now it is one of the most well-known murals of Philadelphia.
How to Turn Anything Into Something Else
This is one of few unique Philadelphia murals that reflect the bright and adventurous mind of a child. It’s an imaginary place where humans have flashlight eyes and can see through darkness, or where a lemon can transform into a bird taking flight before your very eyes. Miss Rockaway Armada, a 13 artist art collective, collaborated with the Philadelphia Mural Arts youth to create one of the most colorful murals on the block, How to Turn Anything Into Something Else.
Independence Starts Here
Hahnemann University Hospital wears a 12,000 square-foot mural facing south of Race St., named Independence Starts Here. Like most of Philadelphia murals , it has a purpose – to bring more awareness to disabilities. Each individual painted is a real Philadelphia resident with a disability that has contributed to the community (No, that isn’t Jimmy from Degrassi). Look a little closer and you’ll notice what looks like hands signing. In fact, students from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf molded their own hands to display the ASL alphabet you see them signing in the mural.
Philly Chunk Pack
Right there, hanging on a crane above Sampan – a modern Asian restaurant, is a piece of Brooklyn in the form of dripping, bright acrylic spray paint. Kenny Scharf featured his signature chunk pack people in the Philly Chunk Pack mural. The project was sponsored by Goldman Properties and Mural Arts Program in order to bring more awareness and teach young kids who are involved the art of working with acrylic paint.
Building the City
Located on the side of Philly’s Beasley Historic Building, Michael Webb’s Building the City mural is dedicated to the area’s rich art and architecture. Webb can be spotted on the steps sketching in this 5-story mural. Look closely and you’ll also notice the head of William Penn – founder of the Province of Pennsylvania.
Made in collaboration with some of Philadelphia’s homeless residents, Finding Home is one of the most heart-warming Philadelphia murals because it embodies the hopeful spirit of this community. The 2,200 square-foot mural stretches along the St. John the Evangelist Church on S. 13th St. and Ludlow St. The parish has a deep-rooted reputation in the community for helping the homeless with St. John’s Hospice.
The Father of Modern Philadelphia
We can’t talk about Philadelphia murals without mentioning the man behind the blueprint – urban planner and architect, Edmund Bacon (Yes, Kevin Bacon is his son). Bacon was the Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission from 1949 – 1970 and is sometimes referred to as “The Father of Modern Philadelphia”. His name is written in the upper-left corner of the mural (as seen above). The strategic placement of Gaia’s mural and the look of admiration he paints on Bacon’s face as he gazes down at the buildings, truly embodies his significance to Philly’s culture and design.
Start from Here
The colorful patterns that can be seen dashing through a wall on Philadelphia’s Church of Scientology building are the makings of Tin Wei Lin’s Start from Here mural. Lin chose his colors based on national flags and created the mural to reference operational and instructional manuals for building things. The concept dances around with the idea of celebrating heritage as a way of constructing society.
Garden of Delight
When David Guinn returned to the Philadelphia neighborhood he grew up in, there he created the watercolor-like mural Garden of Delight. Leafy and green by nature, it symbolizes the spirit of community gardens and the unifying of people to beautify our world. But, observe the left corner and you’ll notice a mysterious blue door. This is said to represent a portal into our reality, or fantasy world.
Progress of Women
Philly’s New Century Trust Building’s west wall displays Progress of Women, a mural depicting over 44 symbolic images representing diverse communities of women and the complex obstacles they’ve overcome. It features several prominent female figures who have paved the way, like Eleanor Roosevelt, local Philly mural artist, Kimberly Clark, and Eliza Turner, founder of the New Century Guild – an early Philadelphia organization that dealt with addressing the specific needs of self-supporting women in the labor force.
Designed to start a conversation in the community about mental and emotional health, Philadelphia’s Sanctuary mural is structured around the Enso circle – a universal Zen art symbol, representing a moment when the mind is free and allows the body to create. Enso is a Japanese word meaning “circle”.
As part of his Seasons series, David Guinn created Spring – a mirage of painted trees that bridges the gap between the Pine St. building and the trees next to it. Hard blocks of color in the background almost give it a digital pixel effect. Can you spot the little girl standing underneath the tree (the car covers her in this image)? That is the daughter of the building’s homeowner, whom he cleverly inserted into the piece for a more realistic feel.
Tree of Knowledge
In honor of Eisenhower Fellowships’ 50 year-mark, Philadelphia’s Tree of Knowledge mural was born. A closer look reveals objects in the tree that the artist says are “alluding to the breadth of human endeavor, knowledge, and perseverance.” A book, trumpet, sextant, scale, lamp, key and ruler among other things can be spotted beneath the leaves.
Taste of Summer
Is it me, or do you also get a feel for traditional Italy when you see the Taste of Summer mural by Ann Northrup? If you’re viewing it in person, you may also get a whiff of the fine Italian cuisine cooking at the Philadelphia restaurant it’s stationed at – Vetri Ristorante. When the owner couldn’t bare the sight of the bare, wall, Mural Arts Philadelphia and Northrup helped transform it into a vision of a beautiful summer gathering in Peruga, Italy.
The entrance of the Dirty Frank’s Bar is completely signless, but it’s still a sight to see. Instead of a fancy sign, or mascot, the owner decided on the Famous Franks mural by David McShane. The fun Philadelphia mural features more than 20 of the world’s most famous Franks: Aretha Franklin, Benjamin Franklin , Frankenstein, Frank Sinatra, a frankfurter and its latest addition – Pope Francis.
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