Philadelphia can mean different things to different people. For some it is a nice place to visit, loaded with historical sites, restaurants, and hotels. To others it’s the location of their favorite sports team. But to many, it is home.
A city so large has different sections, with very different people,
cultures, and values. Too often, intolerance, racism, and violence infiltrate some of these communities. No amount of hearings, fines, or incarcerations seems to suppress the killings, robberies, or tension between those who live within the same streets.
But just as Philadelphia is home to some of the most homicides, seen through these statistics from the police department, it is also home to the most outdoor murals. Malorie Yolen-Cohen, of the Huffington Post, called the city, ” The World’s Largest Art Gallery,” in her article from 2014.
These masterpieces are often taken for granted, perhaps because they are so common. The question of ,” where did that come from,” arrises from those inside and outside of the community. The more important question to consider is, “why?”.
Murals, and even graffiti, have been called, “communicative acts.” They serve purposes when they are being constructed and arguably even more so once they are completed. Community members come together at meetings before a mural is painted to discuss ideas, problems, and goals. This involvement gives people a sense of significance and their voices can be heard.
While a mural is being painted, people within the community gather to either participate or just watch. Finally, when a mural is finished, it continues to gather people around it in admiration. In these ways it serves to bring people together physically, but a murals contents, art, and message, are the true, ” communicative act.”
Maura Greaney, in her piece, “The Power of the Urban Canvas: Paint, Politics and Mural Art Policy.” explains how
Mural projects mobilize communities to articulate dreams, express frustrations, and most importantly, consider strategies for change.
Through a mural’s strong imagery and profound messages, they help express the soul of a community. This is what I mean by a “communicative act.” Through the action of planning, creating, and observing a mural, a larger act is done in expressing a multitude of emotions.
I recently took part in a “Mural Tour,” of the Philadelphia with my Civic Media class. We took a look at three murals, each with their own unique and powerful messages.
Building Brotherhood, Engaging Males of Color, is a perfect example of articulating the dreams that Greaney speaks of. This positive and uplifting mural aims to inspire young men of color within the community to further their own education and wellness according to The Mural Arts Program.
Communion Between Rock and a Hard Place serves as a communicative act by honoring veterans. It depicts how difficult life can be for those returning home from war after serving their country. Those who pass by this mural undoubtedly remember to be mindful of these people in their midst and the veterans themselves can look upon the mural with a sense of hope, knowing they are not forgotten. Watch the video below showing the dedication of this mural, with veterans and members of the community present.
The final mural I will reflect upon is the Peace Wall, located in Grays Ferry. In the van ride over to this section of the city, Professor Mike Lyons gave us a brief history of the community, and the strong racial tensions that exist/ed. This mural gives a simple and beautiful depiction of people coming together, with hands of varying races joining in peace. On the far right side of the mural there is even a quote from the Gospel of Matthew,
” Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called children of God.”
Both the image, and the words can illicit a response from those within the community to reflect on why they may disagree, and work to create peace. The communicative act of creating this mural and having it display as a constant reminder may not mend all racial tension or violence, but it can help.
These communicative acts are inherently civic because they paint a picture of real stories, situations, and emotions of a community, of a city. These pieces of art are civic, because they make people think about their actions, their values, and lives. They are civic because they tell the stories, struggles, and hopes of real people within the city. They are civic because they reach people in the community.
By improving the physical as well as the social and psychological aspects of communities, mural art programs attempt to reach children who otherwise might be untouchable — those who, if left “un-reached,” would be unmarketable in this knowledge-based society. – Maura Greaney