Sharon Lorenzo tours the public Murals of Philadelphia
Aqui y Alla by Michelle Angela Ortiz
For the past decade I have had the pleasure of taking my law students from the University of Pennsylvania on tours of the public murals that exist throughout the city of Philadelphia for my seminar in art, law and cultural heritage policy. The Mural Arts Program which began in 1984 has brought over 4,000 works of art to public spaces under the motto of the program: We believe that art ignites change. Not only do these public projects add artistic beauty to the communities they embrace, but they have been harbingers for preservation and restoration of inner-city spaces that needed attention and beautification. As the CEO of this program, Jane Golden has built a model for cities in the United States and abroad who see the value of covering the sides of abandoned buildings with public murals that can be removed if the building is sold for redevelopment or a different use. Their legal counsel makes sure to instruct the participating artists who are paid for their time and materials, that they will waive their rights to the work, guaranteed under the federal law, the Visual Artists Rights Act of 1990, so that a new owner may transform the space as needed in a repurchase of the space.[i] A jury of experienced artists and community leaders picks the designs and implements the programs each year.
What my students and I have found so profound about the Mural Arts Program is not only the visual diversity of the works but the impact that the art education has had on inner city teens who participate in their program known as the Guild, where those who have been incarcerated are released and counseled to work on the murals as part of a restorative justice program. Additionally, the State Dept. of Behavioral Health in Pennsylvania works with victims of substance abuse, trauma, homelessness or with mental health issues to participate in part of the mural program known at the Porch Light series. The Yale School of Medicine has published a study that documents the major impact of the mural program on the restoration of their mental health to its participants.[ii]
Resilience by Parris Stancell from the Porch Light Program
The diversity of subject matter makes a tour of the murals a wonderful experience for each participant, accessed by walking or trolley tours. I have had the pleasure of doing both, and the narration by trained guides is enlightening in each instance. Following are a diverse group of the murals as noted below:
Boat People by Claus Gabriel
This work documents the attempt to embrace the experiences of migration that have affected so many parts of the Philadelphia community.
Public Muses by Meg Saligman
This work highlights some of the artistic stars of the Philadelphia cultural community.
Promise of Biotechnology by Eric Okdeh
This work brings attention to the advances made by Penn Medicine and its many partners in the biotech space in the Philadelphia arena.
Philly Rising by Nile Livingston
This glowing horizon shows the skyline of the city at its best in the light of the sunset over the Schuylkill River and its gracious banks and bayous.
In summary, as a vehicle for community development, the Mural Arts Program has had great success in Philadelphia. Thanks to broad based community financial support and participation, the murals add to the vibrant art and cultural scene of this historic place which now embraces some of the most successful corporations, universities and art museums in the United States. As noted, these murals bring life and joy to communities that need attention and support for its citizenry and their progeny for years to come.
[i] VARA, 17 U.S.C., 106 A.
[ii] JK Tebes, Phd.,SL Matlin, Phd., Porch Light Program Final Evaluation Report, June 2015, Yale School of Medicine.
Sharon Lorenzo October 2020
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