Roots & Reimagination: 40 Years of Impact

Convergence © 2019 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Rebecca Rutstein, 27th and South Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Roots & Reimagination

Forty Years

Mural Arts Philadelphia was founded on a powerful vision: to drive transformative change and unite communities through the vibrant force of public art. By empowering neighborhoods, revitalizing spaces, and fostering unity, we harness art’s potential to create a profound impact. Learn more about our history with this journey through art and time.


In 1984, under the leadership of former Mayor Wilson Goode, the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network was established.

Mayor Goode appointed Tim Spencer as the Executive Director, and subsequently, artist Jane Golden was brought on board to engage Philadelphia's youth. Golden's innovative approach transformed graffiti writers' talents into positive community art initiatives. With its collaborative mural creation, the Mural Arts program has since become an influential mechanism for fostering dialogue, strengthening community bonds, empowering neighborhoods, and stimulating economic growth.

Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN) team painting over graffiti at Broad and Spring Garden streets.


Renowned portrait muralist Kent Twitchell unveiled Dr. J at 1219 Ridge Avenue, blending exceptional artistry with a figure deeply significant to the community. This mural marked a pioneering moment as the first installation utilizing the parachute cloth technique, setting a new standard for mural creation.

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Dr. J by Kent Twitchell. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.


Under the administration of Mayor Ed Rendell, the Mural Arts Program was established, evolving from the Anti-Graffiti Network's successful mural-making initiatives.

Recognizing the community's deep connection to these artworks, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates was founded as an independent nonprofit organization, designated as a 501(c)(3). Consequently, the Mural Arts Program transitioned from the Anti-Graffiti Network to become a part of the Department of Recreation within the city's government, solidifying its role in enhancing Philadelphia's urban landscape.

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The Peace Wall mural was created amidst rising neighborhood tensions in the heart of Grays Ferry. This artistic endeavor served as a catalyst for residents to discover shared values and common ground, ultimately transforming into a beacon of hope and unity within the community.

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Meg Saligman paints Common Threads emerges at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, towering eight stories high above Broad Street. This striking mural is one of the most iconic images in the city's public art landscape.

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Common Threads by Meg Saligman. Completed 1999. Photo by Tom Crane.


Mural Arts launches an after-school and summer art education program for youth. The program later wins a Coming Up Taller Award, now known as the National Arts and Humanities Youth Program Award.


Mural Arts begins partnering with the City’s Department of Human Services, working in homeless shelters, prisons, and youth detention centers.

Community Garden © 2023 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Mat Tomezsko, 4823 Longshore Avenue. Photo by Steve Weinik.


Over 300 neighbors, community partners, and volunteers gathered at 39th and Aspen Streets to help create the Holding Grandmother’s Quilt project with Donald Gensler, Jane Golden, and students from their mural class at the University of Pennsylvania. Together, they painted two murals, reclaimed ten vacant lots, and revitalized an adjacent recreation center. The project was a catalyst for positive change in the neighborhood

Holding Grandmother's Quilt (West Wall) by Don Gensler. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.


The art class at SCI Graterford completes its first project, Healing Walls, with Cesar Viveros and Parris Stancell. The project was documented in the film Concrete, Steel & Paint.

Healing Walls (Victims Journey) © 2004 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Parris Stancell & Cesar Viveros, 3065 Germantown Avenue. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.


Their Royal Highnesses, Charles, the Prince of Wales, and Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, embarked on a historic visit to Philadelphia, dedicating their afternoon to exploring and engaging with Mural Arts.

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Mural Arts completes its first collaborative project with the City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and disAbility Services (DBHIDS), Bridging the Gap by Willis “Nomo” Humphrey at 57th and Woodland. This collaboration was foundational to the formation of Mural Arts’ Porch Light program several years later.

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Bridging the Gap by Willis Humphrey. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.


The Mural Arts Guild completes its first project, Behold the Open Door, with Jon Laidacker at 17th & Snyder Streets.


Mural Arts partners with globally acclaimed artist Steve Powers to create A Love Letter For You, a transformative series featuring over 50 rooftop murals and street-level signs that adorn the Market Street corridor in West Philadelphia.

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A Love Letter For You. Photo by Adam Wallacavage.


In collaboration with artist J. Meejin Yoon, Mural Arts presented Light Drift, an engaging temporary interactive lighting installation along the Schuylkill Banks, spanning from Market to Chestnut Streets, from October 15-17, 2010.

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Mural Arts unveils Legendary, a new mural project crafted by Amber Arts & Design featuring Tatyana Fazlalizadeh, celebrating the GRAMMY Award-winning group The Roots.

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Legendary by Amber Art & Design featuring Tatyana Fazlalizadeh. Photo by Steve Weinik.


Mural Arts commemorates its 30th anniversary, along with the Anti-Graffiti Network, by hosting an exhibition, organizing special events, and publishing a limited edition book, celebrating three decades of collaborative public art creation.

Beyond the Paint
Beyond the Paint: Philadelphia’s Mural Arts at the Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts


Open Source, Philadelphia's most expansive outdoor public art exhibition, features diverse global artists, such as JR, Shepard Fairey, SWOON, the Dufala Brothers, and Sam Durant, among others, showcasing a wide range of artistic talent.

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In the fall of 2017, Monument Lab posed a critical question to over 20 leading contemporary artists from Philadelphia and globally: What is an appropriate monument for the current city of Philadelphia?

Monument Lab


Through a collaboration with Mural Arts, artist Amy Sherald introduced her art to the heart of Center City Philadelphia.

Untitled Amy Sherald Project


Site/Sound: Revealing the Rail Park, was a distinctive festival that blended audio-visual art installations with various music performances, each influenced by their specific locations. Spanning areas above and beneath the city streets, the festival honored and envisioned the past, present, and future of Philadelphia’s Rail Park through immersive art experiences.

Site/Sound: Revealing the Rail Park


During the COVID-19 pandemic, Mural Arts partnered with the Department of Public Health to deploy art as a powerful medium for disseminating accurate and trustworthy public health information. Furthermore, in reaction to the tragic killing of George Floyd in the summer of 2020 and the ensuing protests advocating for Black Lives Matter (BLM), Mural Arts collaborated with artist Russell Craig on a series of initiatives aimed at honoring Black lives. These projects were designed as a confrontation against systemic racism and inequality.

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Crown: Medusa © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Russell Craig, Municipal Services Building, 1401 JFK Boulevard. Photo by Steve Weinik.


Declaration, a project by Dwayne Reginald Betts and Titus Kaphar, was developed under Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Reimagining Re-Entry Fellowship. It critically examined the outdated and unjust Three-fifths Compromise embedded in the Declaration of Independence. By redacting the document, the artists uncover this clause's inherent truths and contradictions from the perspective of contemporary American citizens, mainly focusing on communities of color.

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Declaration © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Dwayne Betts & Titus Kaphar, 150 North Broad Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.


The Past Supporting the Future

What is your story of migration? What makes Chinatown special? What is your vision for the future? Artists from Mural Arts Philadelphia posed these questions to the Chinatown and AAPI communities in the Philadelphia region. The answers inspired 承前啓後 – The Past Supporting the Future, a mural that covers the upper half of the west wall of the 21-story Crane Community Center. The towering work – by Asian artists Eurhi Jones, Chenlin Cai, and Yvonne Lung – is hard to miss, clearly visible to those passing on I-676. Learn More About This Project
The Past Supporting the Future © 2022 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Chenlin Cai, Eurhi Jones, Yvonne Lung, The Crane Building, 1001 Vine Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.


Finally on 13th

Conceived by Jacen Bowman and prominent figures from Philly's Ballroom scene, "Finally on 13th" commemorates the 30th anniversary of Philadelphia's ballroom culture. Designed by Nile Livingston, this mural is a pioneering tribute in the Gayborhood to the vibrant tradition of Ballroom, a practice that has recently gained mainstream recognition. It is Philadelphia's first mural to celebrate Black queer culture in a neighborhood deeply rooted in that history yet rapidly changing due to gentrification.

A mural about Philly's Ballroom Scene
Finally on 13th © 2023. Nile Livingston, 306 South 13th Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.


We Here

Mural Arts, in partnership with Kensington native artist Roberto Lugo and a Community Advisory Council, launches We Here, a dynamic project designed to infuse Kensington with creativity and resilience. This initiative, a cornerstone of Mural Arts’ Porch Light program and in collaboration with the City of Philadelphia's Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services, champions arts accessibility and youth engagement through pottery, inspired by Lugo's own journey from Kensington to professional artist. Culminating in the summer of 2024, We Here will engage the community through workshops in pattern-making and pottery, led by Lugo and fellow artists Yinka Orafidiya and Nitza Walesca Rosario, to unveil three significant outdoor sculptures, marking a celebration of Kensington's vibrant spirit and artistic legacy.