Oct 25

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.

An early exploration of community power and voice.

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

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

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

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!)

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

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

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

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

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

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

Portraiture as awareness-raising.

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

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

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

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

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

Connecting neighbors and nature for catalytic creative placemaking.

Botanical metaphors for the intersection of family and immigration.

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

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

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

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