Oct 25, 2017

Mural Arts Philadelphia: A Style Evolution

by: Laura Kochman

Since the 1980s, Mural Arts has been out in the streets of Philadelphia, connecting public art and social change. Our core values have remained the same: equity, inclusion, and diversity. But we’ve worked with so many different artists and taken on an incredible number of projects over the last 30 years. Starting from an anti-graffiti/pro-muralism perspective, we’ve moved deeper into the field of public art.

In 2017 alone, we’ve launched a radio project, a night of performances celebrating the pursuit of happiness, a community hub for Iraqi, Syrian, and Sudanese refugees, and a citywide monument exhibition. Out of the 80–100 projects we take on every year, you can find a mix of community murals, educational opportunities, hub spaces, one-night-only installations—the list goes on. We don’t stand still!

Even though our art is still mission-driven, we get a kick out of seeing how our artistic style has changed over the years. Take a look back with us at a few pivotal moments in our journey.

Boy With Raised Arm (original location), by Sidney Goodman. Completed 1990. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.

An early exploration of community power and voice.

Dr. J, by Kent Twitchell. Completed 1990. Photo by Steve Weinik.

A pivot point: Dr. J showed us the depth of value of art within a community.

Crystal Snowscape by David Guinn. Completed 1999. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.

Experiments in landscape painting: this seasonal series put weather on the wall.

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

Our first ambitious project with Meg Saligman, a muralist who we continue to work with today.

Mapping Courage, by Willis Humphrey. Completed 2009. Photo by Jack Ramsdale.

Bringing attention to W.E.B. DuBois’s legacy in letters, and the power of asset mapping. (Bonus: see this mural come alive as part of Marisa Williamson’s Sweet Chariot app!)

Personal Renaissance by James Burns. Completed 2010. Photo by Mustafah Abdulaziz.

The seeds of our Porch Light program, shown in cross-section.

A Design in Motion truck by Desireé Bender. Completed 2010. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Connecting our Art Education students with real-world applications and experiences.

A Love Letter for You, by Steve Powers. Completed 2010. Photo by Adam Wallacavage.

This sprawling project demonstrated the incredible power of listening to neighborhood voices.

Family Interrupted by Eric Okdeh. Completed 2012. Photo by Mike Reali.

Bringing attention to the many layers of experience that accompany incarceration.

Home Safe by Ernel Martinez and Shira Walinsky, part of journey2home. Completed 2014. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Reimagining a framework for talking about housing insecurity with South Philly youth.

The Warehouse from psychylustro, by Katharina Grosse. Completed 2014. Photo by Steve Weinik.

A call-back to our street art roots (and future?).

The Stamp of Incarceration: Amira Mohamed © 2015 Shepard Fairey. The Friends Center, 1500 Race Street, Philadelphia, PA. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Portraiture as awareness-raising.

Migrants, Ibrahim, Mingora-Philadelphia © 2015, JR. The Graham Building at Dilworth Park, 30 S 15th Street, Philadelphia, PA. Photos by Steve Weinik.

Using scale and perspective to make a statement about immigrant visibility.

Project partners and participants pose in front of Pedal Powering at the mural's dedication in June, 2016. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Looking forward to a bright, graphic tomorrow, led by our students.

47 Stories © 2016 Mural Arts Philadelphia / Laura Deutch and Shira Walinsky. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Exploring the framework of the city around us as a storytelling device.

Tell the Truth © 2016 Mural Arts Philadelphia / Martha Rich. Photo by Kat Kendon.

A pop-up, rotating gallery matched with a fun, graphic face.

Textile workshop at the Kensington Storefront, in progress, 2017. Photo by Hannah Brenneman.

Social practice gets a home base at a community hub in Kensington.

BARETEETH workshop at Bartram's Garden, for Southwest Roots. Summer 2017. Photo by Elenai Wata.

Connecting neighbors and nature for catalytic creative placemaking.

A Daughter Migrates Towards the Mother Earth by Jess X Snow. Completed 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Botanical metaphors for the intersection of family and immigration.

Dedication for The Blueprint, by Felix St. Fort. Completed 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Faces of inspiration grace this wall, for a community mural in Germantown.

One-night-only performance of Dreams, Diaspora, and Destiny, in Malcolm X Park, by King Britt and Joshua Mays. October 14, 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

What could a monument to the future look like? In Malcolm X Park: a one-night-only experience of poetry, music, and art.

In Perpetuity by Duane Linklater at Penn Treaty Park. Completed 2017. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Paying attention to the origins behind our public space, fusing classic neon, historic language, and the handwriting of a new generation.


Explore our Artworks page to see more projects from over the years, and keep up with us on social for real-time updates. The truth is that the style of this city can’t be defined in a single artwork. It is ever-evolving, multifaceted, inspired by the past and looking forward to the future.

Last updated: Oct 25, 2017

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

Share Your Thoughts

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *