Dec 10, 2012

Though No Cure-All, Murals Have the Power to Transform

by: Amy Johnston

Michael Norris, Vice President of External Relations
Greater Philadelphia Cultural Alliance

Inga Saffron is right (Changing Skyline: Mural Arts, 12/7/2012): it would be naive and irresponsible to suggest that neighborhood redevelopment can begin and end with a mural, even one as spectacular as Hahn & Haas’ new work on Germantown Ave.  This is why no one is actually saying any such thing.

Jane Golden, of the city’s Mural Arts Philadelphia, believes that murals and other forms of public art can be transformational to our visual landscape and instill pride of place, and her program provides paying jobs to neighborhood kids to empower and enrich them both spiritually and economically. But she knows that art has to be part of a holistic, long-term development strategy.

Murals on their own aren’t enough. Without crucial investments on the part of government, business and nonprofit development groups, and without a holistic business and quality-of-life strategy, these corridors can’t be saved. They will stagnate or, worse, continue their downward slides.

But Inga Saffron is wrong when she says that public art, or more specifically murals, can’t play an important role in that strategy. She is also wrong when she states that the National Trust’s highly acclaimed Main Street Program’s strategies don’t involve murals. In fact, public art is prominently mentioned under the design heading of its Four-Point Approach, and  it has published several articles on its website discussing murals’ power to help create a “sense of place” and “enhance the visual quality and artistic interest” of main streets.

If elected officials at the dedication ceremony were too “giddy” or overstated the impact of the new mural, perhaps they should be given a bit of leeway. Even Ms. Saffron, who admits that she is no great fan of our city’s murals, seems to have only positive things to say about its quality and composition; the mural must be truly dazzling.  I hope Inquirer readers will take the trip to see it for themselves. You can get to Germantown and Lehigh Avenues via the 23 bus or by walking five blocks east from the North Philadelphia stop of the Broad Street Line.…

Last updated: Mar 21, 2016

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