Hope, one wall at a time

Since 1984, Philadelphia has been cleaning up its act. One by one, graffiti-covered walls are being converted into outdoor art. So far, more than 1,800 murals have been created. Philadelphia now has more murals than any other American city.

The walls that were once graffiti eyesores are now scenic vistas, portraits of community heroes, and abstract art, thanks to the Mural Arts Program. Its work graces schools, recreation centers, and public housing projects, and is a source of pride. Many also become unofficial landmarks: "Meet me by Dr. J," for example, has become a familiar refrain.

The program began as part of Philadelphia's Anti-Graffiti Network. Jane Golden is MAP's artistic director. "When people ask me what our program is about," she says, "I answer them with one word: hope." Each year, MAP offers youth art programs and workshops. Some former graffiti writers even help paint MAP murals.

The MAP's work, says Golden, is all about fostering a sense of community. When a neighborhood requests a mural, MAP works with residents to develop a concept or message. Some themes have been "Safe Streets," "Compassion," and "Peace Walk."

The MAP receives up to 50 requests for murals each week. Last year, the city-sponsored group created 140 murals.

"The making of a mural enters people's collective memory as an extraordinary, positive moment in neighborhood history," says Golden, who began as a muralist in Los Angeles.

For more information on the Mural Arts Program, call 215-683-3689, or write the Department of Recreation, One Parkway - 10th floor, 1515 Arch St., Philadelphia, PA 19102-1587.

(c) Copyright 1999. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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