Color Me Back: A Same Day Work and Pay Program

Combining participatory art-making and access to social services.

Color Me Back: A Same Day Work and Pay Program is an innovative new initiative that combines participatory art-making and access to social services in a unique model offering individuals who are experiencing economic insecurity an opportunity to earn wages. Designed in partnership with the Scattergood Foundation, SEPTA, the Sheller Family Foundation, and Mental Health Partnerships, the initiative is managed by Mural Arts’ Porch Light community wellness program, a collaboration with the City of Philadelphia’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. Participants are recruited through outreach and have the opportunity to connect, contribute, and engage with outreach specialists who can link them with support services, including social and/or behavioral health services and potential opportunities for longer-term employment while working in the program.

Color Me Back at the South Broad Street SEPTA Concourse began in August 2020 and is scheduled for completion in November 2020. This “next step” work opportunity is an evolution of the first phase of the Color Me Back project, where ten individuals who participated in Phase I will be randomly selected for four consecutive four-hour work days, during which they will receive a variety of art-making trainings, from priming and brush skills to installation. This longer engagement with participants will allow for deeper connections and increased skill-building. The participants will receive payments of $50 per day, for a total of $200 for the four days of work.

This new phase of Color Me Back will cover 200 columns in the SEPTA concourse along the Broad Street subway line, between City Hall and Walnut Street, with brightly-colored public art, designed by Philadelphia artist Lauren Cat West and painted by the participants in the program. West spent two months in weekly workshops with program participants developing ideas and symbols to be integrated into the design before the program had to be paused due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Now the project is starting up again, with an evolved model for participation, which takes into account necessary COVID-19 health and safety standards. The mural site and placement of columns also allows for natural spacing of participants to adhere to physical distancing policies.

Themes include a nod to the historic and iconic geometric tiles currently in the station; Philly row homes and an abstract highlight of the “community stoop” and welcoming architectural patterns; symbols with reference to the city’s parks, independence, folk art, and historical figures; abstract representations of some of Philadelphia’s iconic buildings; other artistic symbols; and symbols of nature.

 

  • Lovely Day © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Lauren "Cat" West, Walnut Locust subway concourse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Lovely Day © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Lauren "Cat" West, Walnut Locust subway concourse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Lovely Day © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Lauren "Cat" West, Walnut Locust subway concourse. Photo by Steve Weinik.

About Color Me Back  

Color Me Back was initially launched as a 28-week pilot program in April 2019 and was designed to reach individuals who are not necessarily connected to services. Each participant is paid $50 cash for three hours of work creating a new public art project. The payment amount was specifically designed to exceed the living wage standard for Philadelphia.

Color Me Back: A Same Day Work and Pay Program at Suburban Station. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Participants were recruited from the areas surrounding Philadelphia’s Suburban Station leading to a lottery each morning in nearby Love Park. The pilot offered up to twenty people per day the opportunity to work with trained teaching artist Alvin Tull, design artist Gabe Tiberino, and outreach workers (Certified Recovery/Peer Specialists) to design and paint the mural. The first mural, in SEPTA’s Suburban Station concourse, was completed and dedicated on December 20, 2019.

Each day of the program, between 80 and 100 individuals gathered to participate in the lottery for one of the twenty daily slots. Those who are selected helped design and paint mural panels which were installed in the concourse. Outreach workers (Certified Recovery/Peer Specialists) have learned that the most-needed services are employment, shelter or housing, and basic needs, such as showers, clothes, and food.

In the first 28 weeks of the program, payments were made to roughly 451 people, totaling over $77,950 for same day work. 

Color Me Back draws on the successful experiences of other cities in offering ‘same day wage’ to help address economic instability.

We are honored to continue this program into 2020 thanks to our partners and funders, and look forward to transforming additional spaces through the power of collective good.

 

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Color me Back dedicaiton and Open House, December 20, 2019. Photo by Steve Weinik.

The United States Department of Housing and Urban Development Secretary’s Award for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships 

The 2020 Secretary’s Awards for Public-Philanthropic Partnerships honored the Sheller Family Foundation for their support of Color Me Back: Same Day Work and Pay Program in August 2020. The awards recognize innovative partnerships between foundations and government that have been critical in transforming communities and improving the quality of life for low-and moderate-income residents across the country.

In the News  

Mural Arts program turns 200 columns in SEPTA concourse into socially distanced canvases – Philadelphia Inquirer, September 22, 2020

Expansion of Philly same-day pay program doubles job numbers – KYW Newsradio, August 27, 2019

City emulates Mural Arts’ ‘same-day pay’ work model after seeing big demand – WHYY, July 30, 2019

New Mural Arts program transforming lives of homeless Philadelphians while beautifying city – CBS3, July 29, 2019

Philadelphia working to help homeless find day work with immediate pay – WHYY, June 25, 2019

‘Color Me Back:’ Philly homeless create life-changing art – 6abc, June 14, 2019

Philly launched a program to put homeless people to work. Here’s what happened. – Philadelphia Inquirer, June 11, 2019

Philly’s Mural Arts taps an underutilized workforce with ‘same-day pay.” – KYW Newsradio, June 5, 2019

Funders 

The Barra Foundation
The Sheller Family Foundation
City of Philadelphia
Legacy Foundation
Union Benevolent Foundation
Mural Arts Advisory Council

Partners 

City of Philadelphia Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services
The Sheller Family Foundation
Scattergood Foundation
SEPTA
Office of Homeless Services
First Step Staffing
City of Philadelphia
AthenianRazak
City of Philadelphia Community Life Improvement Program (CLIP)