Painting Hope

The Murals of Inner-city Philadelphia

Philadelphia is not always a city of brotherly love. It recently registered the highest number of homicides in the nation. That’s why my mother didn’t want me to travel there to photograph some of the 2,700 murals that now make Philadelphia the mural capital of the world.

Last summer, Time magazine (August 23, 2007) ran a short feature on Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Project (MAP) and how, over the last twenty years, it has changed the city’s visual landscape. By drawing together artists, inner-city neighborhood associations, and charitable trusts, MAP has helped to transform the city’s neighborhood wastelands. “Art saves lives,” says Jane Golden, MAP’s executive director. “Murals can play a catalytic role in healing the wounds of the city.”

Each mural that MAP commissions starts in the neighborhood itself. First there are meetings to discuss ideas for a given mural and to gather the needed signatures for an application to MAP. Once an application is accepted, there begins a long process that links a particular wall with neighborhood residents and an artist. The muralist is subsidized by MAP, but the ideas for the mural originate with people in the neighborhood, who frequently assist in the painting’s execution. Once the mural is finished, there is a community dedication ceremony and MAP turns over general upkeep to the neighborhood. As a result, people in the neighborhood have a permanent investment in the...

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About the Author

Maureen H. O’Connell is assistant professor of theology at Fordham University.