Art Works Blog

Taking It Outside: Philadelphia's Murals

March 11, 2010
Philadelphia, PA

What started in 1984 as part of an anti-graffiti campaign has now become one of Philadelphia?s signature public art programs: the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. The program uses the art of mural making to foster civic engagement, create arts education opportunities for youth, transform derelict urban spaces, and provide employment for hundreds of local professional artists. Since 1984, more than 3,000 murals have been added to the Philadelphia cityscape.

Mural Arts Program Executive Director Jane Golden, herself an artist, explained the tremendous impact the murals have had on the city: ?Murals are a uniquely democratic, accessible, and participatory art form that encourages Philadelphians to help beautify their neighborhoods and experience art in their everyday lives. Rather than existing in isolation from their surroundings, the murals function as a living component of our civic landscape and a testament to the strengths, dreams, and challenges facing the communities that contribute to their creation. Collectively, the murals form an outdoor gallery that represents the artistic autobiography of our city.

(Thanks to Mural Arts? Amy Johnston for her enthusiastic help in putting this feature together!)

Philadelphia on a Half-Tank by Paul Santoleri

Located at Penrose Avenue and Platt Bridge. © 1999 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Photo ©

Painted on the side of an oil tank at the refinery, this mural is one of the first images of the city one sees when traveling into Center City from Philadelphia International Airport. Artist Paul Santoleri, a trained fresco painter, chose this image to represent ?the busyness and liveliness of the city, with a bit of exaggeration in the architecture.? The title of the mural spoofs the popular nickname for Botticelli?s Birth of Venus, which is ?Venus on a Half-Shell.?   Enlarge

Knocked On Your Door by Stephen Powers.

Photo by Adam Wallacavage

Philadelphia native Stephen Powers (now based in New York) partnered with the Mural Arts Program on the Love Letter project, a series of 50 murals that "tell the bittersweet story of a local young man and his unrequited love, expressed poetically on walls and rooftops, poised against a backdrop of an ever-changing urban landscape." True to Mural Arts' aim to use public art to foster community engagement, Powers and Mural Arts have opened a sign shop, which houses a free school for young artists. Through an intensive one-month course, the school will teach the basics of hand-painted sign-making to young artists. The students will ultimately create free signage for businesses sited along the Market Street corridor. (Visit the Love Letters site to learn more about the project.)   Enlarge

A Celebration of Community by Jane Degenhartd-Kutzer

Located at 44th and Market Streets. © 1997 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Photo ©

Collaborating with the Mural Arts Program between 1997 and 2000, Jane Degenhardt-Kutzer created four lovely and well-loved murals including A Celebration of Community, which pays tribute to neighborhood gardeners. Originally from San Francisco, Degenhardt-Kutzer was selected for this commission because, as a former children?s book illustrator, she has a very graphic, colorful style. This particular mural celebrates a family as well as a community. Degenhart-Kutzer honors a loving couple who ?tended their garden with the same reverence that they cared for each other.?   Enlarge

Peace Wall by Peter Pagast & Jane Golden

Located at 29th & Wharton Streets. © 1998 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Photo ©

After racial violence in the Gray?s Ferry neighborhood made national headlines, Jane Golden and community organizers went door-to-door pitching a mural. Cynics sneered, but other residents chose this design then lined up to have their hands photographed. The diverse, yet converging hands symbolize the community?s commitment to ending racial division. One of Philadelphia's premier portraitists, artist Peter Pagast is, in the words of master muralist Michael Webb, "a master at making things look right from a distance."   Enlarge

Visit the MuralFarm website, a searchable database of Philadelphia?s murals, to learn about and see more murals. To see more about the Love Letter mural series (my favorite!), visit

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