One of the crown jewels of the city is undoubtedly Mural Arts Philadelphia, which has been creating extraordinary works of art in collaboration with local neighborhoods and social justice programs for over thirty-five years. The largest public art program in the United States and dedicated to the mission that “art ignites change,” Mural Arts Philadelphia has been a powerful player in the movement to bring art to the streets. Thanks to the work of many artists Philadelphia is often known as the City of Murals. Here are five that will take your breath away.
Location: 707 Chestnut Street
Artists: Josh Sarantitis and Eric Okdeh
Located two blocks away from Independence Hall, Legacy is an immense mural measuring nearly ten thousand square feet that shows how the enslavement of Black men, women, and children is inextricably woven into the history of Philadelphia and the United States. The left portion of the mural depicts Africa through the wooden boards of a slave ship, the boards painted red and white, the final color blue of the US flag is found throughout. The central figure is a young Black girl of the present day, wearing medallions featuring Frederick Douglass, Abraham Lincoln, and an abolitionist coin circa 1830 bearing the words “Am I not a woman and a sister?” Made of over one million glass tiles, Legacy was created in collaboration with five local public schools as well as artist inmates from the State Correctional Institution at Graterford.
HOW TO TURN ANYTHING INTO SOMETHING ELSE
Location: 207 North Broad Street
Artists: The Miss Rockaway Armada
The collective of artists known as The Miss Rockaway Armada teamed up with thirty-one students between the ages of ten and fifteen to create this stunning and whimsical mural about the fantastical imaginations of children, its content derived from hundreds of their drawings. In the top-right portion of the mural is a self-portrait by student Shakira Lowery. According to the Mural Arts website, “Kira is the strongest woman in the world, has flashlight eyes and sees through darkness. She casts a guiding light on this new, uncanny place. We decided to use Shakira’s image as a welcoming beacon for folks on the sidewalk and as a tribute to the strength and creativity that is demanded of us all as we set out into an ever-changing world.”
PRIDE AND PROGRESS
Location: 1315 Spruce Street
Artist: Ann Northrup
Pride and Progress takes up the entirety of the side wall of the William Way LGBT Community Center, which was established in 1974. Ann Northrup’s mural, created in collaboration with fifteen assistants, depicts a Pride parade showcasing people drawn from the joyously diverse spectrum of queer identities celebrating their humanity together amidst a backdrop of local landmarks. Also depicted on the left-hand side of the mural is a recreation of the “Annual Reminder,” the LGBT rights demonstrations that occurred in front of Independence Hall every Fourth of July beginning in 1965, four years before the 1969 Stonewall riots in New York City ignited the movement and brought the cause of LGBT rights to national attention.
Location: 13th and Locust Streets
Artist: Meg Saligman
For me, Meg Saligman is one of the most gifted Philadelphia muralists, and her Philadelphia Muses, located in the heart of the Gayborhood, is one of her many masterworks adorning this city. A celebration of Philly art in all its forms, this mural with its vibrant colors and lifelike human figures cannot fail to arrest your attention. The mural is filled with magical spheres, a symbol of art perfected, and the human figures within the mural represent the nine muses of every kind of creative expression – including music, visual arts, theater, dance, and writing.
Location: 4008 Chestnut Street
Artist: Willis “Nomo” Humphrey and Keir Johnston
Located in West Philadelphia, Humphrey and Johnston extraordinarily detailed mural Colorful Legacy was born out of a Mural Arts social justice initiative called Building Brotherhood: Engaging Males of Color. Through workshops and town hall meetings designed to encourage dialogue between men and boys of color, Colorful Legacy is the stunning visual culmination of this initiative. The mural’s intent is to raise community awareness of the issues men and boys of color face in the city of Philadelphia. Willis “Nomo” Humphrey passed away in 2018, and this and other murals he created are a reminder of his immense impact.
Did we miss your favorite? Let us know. Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and tell us what mural would be on your top five list.
Photos courtesy of Mural Arts Philadelphia