The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as a component of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, an effort spearheaded by then Mayor Wilson Goode to eradicate the graffiti crisis plaguing the city. The Anti-Graffiti Network hired muralist Jane Golden to reach out to graffiti writers and to redirect their energies from destructive graffiti writing to constructive mural painting.

Jane Golden quickly befriended the graffiti writers and was impressed by their raw artistic talent and their self-taught knowledge of art history. She recognized the amazing creative force they represented, and she began to provide opportunities for them to channel their creative talent into mural-making. Mural painting also provided a support structure for these young men and women to refine their artistic skills, empowering them to take an active role in beautifying their own neighborhoods. The murals they created instantly added color, beauty, and life to an old, industrial city struggling with decades of economic distress and population loss. The results of the program were nothing less than magical. From the beginning, Golden witnessed how mural-making changed lives and how the murals themselves began to mend the aesthetic fabric of the city.

In 1996, Mayor Ed Rendell announced that the Anti-Graffiti Network would be reorganized into the Mural Arts Program, with Golden as the director. At the same time, Golden established a nonprofit organization, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates, to raise funds and provide other support to the nationally-recognized program. Today, Mural Arts is an innovative and successful public/private partnership that encompasses both the city agency and the nonprofit.

Since it began, the Mural Arts Program has produced over 3,600 murals which have become a cherished part of the civic landscape and a great source of inspiration to the millions of residents and visitors who encounter them each year. In fact, Mural Arts' unique efforts have earned Philadelphia international praise as the “City of Murals.” But as stunning as the murals are themselves, they are, most importantly, the visual products of a powerful and collaborative grassroots process in communities. The mural-making process gives neighborhood residents a voice to tell their individual and collective stories, a way to pass on culture and tradition, and a vehicle to develop and empower local leaders. Mural Arts’ mural-making process also engages thousands of Philadelphia’s at-risk children, youth, and adults who find their artistic voice, develop their self-confidence, and discover new ambitions while creating murals through numerous programs.

Mural Arts’ award-winning art education programs annually serve 1,800 youth at neighborhood sites throughout the city. Mural Arts’ programs are offered free and are targeted to at-risk youth. Educational programs use an intensive curriculum that involves mural-making as a dynamic means to engage youth and to teach transferable life and job skills such as taking personal responsibility, teamwork, and creative problem-solving.

The Mural Arts Program has also become a national leader in arts in criminal and restorative justice, currently offering educational programs in local prisons and rehabilitation centers using the restorative power of art to break the cycle of crime and violence in communities. Mural Arts offers mural-making programs for adult men and women where inmates receive a stipend to create murals for schools and community centers throughout Philadelphia. Mural Arts also offers opportunities for individuals recently released from prison through its re-entry program.

The organization has grown exponentially since the early 1980s when Jane Golden first began approaching writers and graffiti gangs to engage their raw talents in a constructive way. Mural Arts’ acclaimed art education and prevention and prison programs now serve as models throughout the world. In addition, muralists from around the world come to Philadelphia to be trained in mural-making, and many local muralists trained by Mural Arts are now traveling to cities and countries throughout the globe because of their expertise in leading large-scale mural projects. Philadelphia has become synonymous with murals, and murals have never been more popular.

The Mural Arts Program’s success is in large part due to its faith in three simple words, three words Jane Golden herself uses as a personal and professional mantra: Art Saves Lives. It is with this conviction that the organization looks forward to continually enhancing its programs and embarking on special initiatives that will continue to challenge and inspire the many individuals whose lives are touched by Philadelphia’s murals.

"We artists do live in Philadelphia and we know we can bring positive change in Philadelphia – one wall at a time."

Angela Crafton