Philadelphia is a city known for many things. It is where the Declaration of independence was signed in 1776, and it was also the first capital of the United States. But one fact about Philadelphia is not so well-known: it is home to nearly 3,000 murals painted on the sides of homes and buildings around the city. In fact, it is said that Philadelphia has more murals than any other city in the world, with the exception of Rome. How did this come to be?
More than 20 years ago, a New Jersey artist named Jane Golden started a program pairing troubled youth with artists to paint murals on a few buildings around the city. Form this small project, something magical happened. The young people involved helped to create magnificent pieces of art, but there were other, perhaps more important benefits. The young people learned to collaborate and get along with many different kinds of people during the various steps required to paint and design a mural. They learned to be responsible, because they needed to follow a schedule to make sure the murals were completed. They also learned to take pride in their community. It is hard for any resident to see the spectacular designs and not feel proud to be a part of Philadelphia.
Take a walk around some of the poorest neighborhoods I Philadelphia, neighborhoods full of broken windows and littered front steps, and you will find beautiful works of art on the sides and fronts of buildings. Of course they murals are not just in poor neighborhoods, but more affluent ones as well. Special buses take tourists to different parts of the city to see the various murals, which range from huge portraits of historical heroes, to cityscapes, to scenes depicting the diverse ethnic groups that call Philadelphia home.
As a result of its success, the mural program created by Jane Golden has now become the nation’s largest public art program and a model for to troubled youth.
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