Mural arts program brings hope to Philadelphia

By Alex Pittinsky
October 8, 2009

A trip was organized through the Wolfington Center to an old row home on Aspen Street in West Philadelphia. Most students who were notified about the trip were invited by assistant professor of fine arts, Nick Jacques, who offered the trip as extra credit for his class.

Elizabeth Miller Sutter Wolfington Center volunteer, and three student representatives, Jamie Tadrzynski, Manuela DeOliveira and Allison Udris, made the trip to the Philadelphia Foundation for the 25th anniversary of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Programs’ photographic mural exhibit.

Unfortunately, the trip conflicted with family weekend, Friday, Sept. 25 and thought that more students would have attended the event if family weekend was not a conflict.

“Everyone knows that the Wolfington Center provides volunteer service for our surrounding communities and helps us to look into different cultural opportunities. However if you don’t fully understand the community you can’t possibly serve them properly,” Sutter said.

The exhibit chronicled the astonishing progression and transformation of Philadelphia’s neighborhoods as a direct result of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.

“Holding Grandmother’s Quilt” is an intricately painted mural. The mural is inspired by African culture and traditions within that culture.

The mural stresses the importance of family, staying together and being there for one another. The streets, where the mural is located, are lined with old, small homes that each shares a porch with the home next door to them.

The streets are uncared for and unkempt; there are other financial or family problems. Not only is the mural a lovely, calm distraction from the hardships youths living there must endure, but the mural is also a reminder of the essence of family and hope that family can bring.

Each mural produced by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is a catalyst for change, in areas where the communities need it most.

“We learned that the Mural Arts Program was designed to decrease graffiti throughout the city during the ’80s. The program was extremely successful, and now over 3,000 murals add charm and character through city neighborhoods,” Udris, junior psychology major, said.

People come to the foundation and they can request a certain mural be made. Not everyone gets their wish, due to minimal funding. Once a mural does get approved, professional artist is called in to work with the community and create the final product.

The final mural can be of any subject; ethnic murals, religious murals and poems are among the most popular murals created. Murals usually are the size of a typical row home, which is a three-story building. However, there is one painting that is eight stories high at Broad and Spring Garden Street titled Common Threads.

The amount of time it takes to paint a mural is determined by the size of the wall and the complexity of the design. Typically, a row-house mural takes about two or three months to complete. If one would want to experience the murals, there are tours available on Wednesdays, Saturdays and Sundays.

“My family is from Philadelphia, so when I was little I remember seeing some of these murals and a lot of graffiti in the city. We moved when I was in elementary school, so it was really interesting to come back years later and see how the city’s exterior look had changed, especially in areas where I remembered graffiti,” Tadrzynski, sophomore history and secondary education major, said, I think the mural arts program is a wonderful idea because it not only beautifies the city; it involves the community in an effort to make it a better and more peaceful place to live.”

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Alex Pittinsky

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