Feb 27

Mural Arts Studio at the Barnes

by: Shelley Bernstein

Shelley Bernstein is the Deputy Director of Audience Engagement and Chief Experience Officer at the Barnes Foundation. This post originally appeared on the Barnes blog.

When we think about partnerships at the Barnes we often start with small pilot projects to see how things work. Last year, you might remember we creatively reused a small building on our site as a hub for the Mural Arts project, Monument Lab. In starting this way we could see how the space might be activated by another organization and what learnings that would bring.

Monument Lab used the space as an office for the project staff and a hub for one of the artists. Collaborating in this way presented the Barnes with the opportunity to be part of a civic and artistic dialog that was happening throughout Philadelphia while providing needed space to Mural Arts. The project also allowed us to work directly with and learn from Mural Arts staff—knowing how easy it is to disappear in the blinders-on mentality that is working at any non-profit, the opportunity to interact with others outside of ourselves in meaningful ways cannot be underestimated.

Sometimes doubling down is just enhancing what you’re already working on.

As Monument Lab ended, we knew the small scale of what we had collaborated on worked well; it was clear that doubling down on our partnership was where we wanted to go, so we took the “Monument Lab Field Research Office” and made it the “Mural Arts Studio at the Barnes.”

In discussing next steps, I remember Jane Golden, the founder and executive director of Mural Arts, saying to me, “What are we already doing that makes sense for the space?” That answer was to feature the Mural Arts Restorative Justice program—a major initiative of Mural Arts, but one that also has a longstanding relationship of activity with the Barnes.

The Restorative Justice program engages individuals who are incarcerated, on probation, or on work release. It provides opportunities for these individuals to reconnect with society in productive ways through community engagement, skill-building, and collaborative mural projects. Over the next couple of months the Studio is being used to host classes for the Guild, Mural Arts’ paid apprenticeship program, which gives formerly incarcerated individuals and young adults on probation the chance to forge bonds with their community while developing job skills. You’ll also find artists working with the program—muralist Ben Volta and former Guild participant and rising star Russell Craig—using the space as a studio.

The Studio not only provides spaces for activity, but it brings visibility to our collaboration. The Barnes education department had already been working with Mural Arts to teach art history to Restorative Justice program participants at SCI Graterford, Pennsylvania’s largest maximum-security prison. Through the Mural Arts Studio, we could bring visibility to a part we had already been playing, add value through new programming in the space, and shine light on the whole initiative. A key learning—sometimes doubling down is just enhancing what you’re already working on.

Restorative Justice is the first project we’re featuring in the Mural Arts Studio at the Barnes. We’ve got big plans for this little space, so stay tuned.


This project has been supported by a grant from the Connelly Foundation.

Last updated: Feb 27, 2018

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