She uses paint, brushes, and volunteers to clean up graffiti and build communities
In Philadelphia, Jane Golden oversees the Mural Arts Program, which gets citizens involved in painting over graffiti while celebrating their history and culture.
In Pictures Philadelphia: The City of Murals
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Her goal? Wipe out the city's ugly graffiti. Her weapon of choice? Murals.
Today, 3,000 walls later, her work has morphed into the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, the nation's largest such initiative, a joint, public-private mix of artmaking, art education, and art-as-therapy. A staff of 50 – many of them former graffiti artists themselves – helps her.
IN PICTURES: Philadelphia: The City of Murals
Since 1984 they have put paintbrushes in the hands of more than 35,000 city kids. They have brought art to prison inmates and drug addicts, as well as wary stoop sitters. The waiting list for murals to be painted here is 2,000 walls long. Artists far beyond Philly want in on the design work.
Under Ms. Golden's tenure, Philadelphia has become known as "The City of Murals." The murals now incorporate mosaics, fabric, plant materials, even light and sound, and her canvases go beyond just walls to places such as an oil refinery tank.
Some 15,000 visitors last year took tours of Golden's murals. Many who come are officials from Paris, Rome, London, and other cities seeking graffiti-prevention advice and insights into how Mural Arts keeps the murals so remarkably undefaced.
The answer lies in collaborating with residents on each mural, Golden says. Averaging 30 feet by 35 feet and costing about $20,000 each, the murals are not imposed on a neighborhood but rather reflect the nature of that neighborhood, whether it's love of a Philadelphia musical great such as Patti LaBelle or Mario Lanza or a plea for racial harmony.
Murals now embellish the city's upscale arts and business districts, as well as poor neighborhoods.
Overseeing the creation of some 100 murals a year, the small, wiry Golden covers lots of ground. She talks fast, wears sensible shoes, and dresses simply, even when joined by local Philadelphia VIPs for a ribbon-cutting ceremony.
Earlier this fall, some local dignitaries came together outside a North Philadelphia drug treatment center to dedicate "Personal Renaissance," a five-story-high, 12,000-square-foot depiction of the process of addiction and recovery.
The making of the mural involved some 1,200 participants over 18 months.
To Golden, making murals depicting heroes, seekers, and slogans is part of community building. Her formula has several steps. First, draw on talented young recruits from the Mural Arts art education program in the public schools.
Next, tap residents for design ideas. Then refine the design until you get it right. And, finally, encourage people to come out and paint.