Restorations

Every year, we complete between 10 and 15 full restorations 

Mural Arts is invested in honoring and preserving Philadelphia’s world-renowned outdoor gallery, attracting thousands of visitors annually and serving as a source of pride and inspiration for all Philadelphians. Our Restorations initiative exists to care for beloved murals created by Mural Arts and beyond, and to steward our city’s visual history. Artists and restoration specialists research historical data and artistic techniques to cultivate the best methods to repair and revitalize the imagery that has become an iconic part of our civic landscape.

How many murals are restored per year?

Mural Arts completes between 10 and 15 full restoration projects per year. Full restorations entail more complex restoration work whereby half or more of the original mural needs to be repainted. This can be caused by severe peeling, overall fading from years of sun exposure, or serious wall repairs that resulted in the artwork being patched over.

The Operations Team regularly conducts maintenance and graffiti removal on our collection, which is not considered towards our restoration projects. The Restoration Project Manager manages additional restoration work, which may entail small to medium scopes of work that are not included in the annual total. Approximately 100 walls are cleaned for graffiti annually, and around 50 walls undergo small to medium touch-ups.

What is the process of restoring a mural?

Restoration requests come to Mural Arts through community members, project partners, city council offices, artists, and other local entities. Each request undergoes a similar process:

  • Restoration requests are reported through our online form or email and logged internally for review.
  • The Operations Team or the Restoration Project Manager conducts a site visit to take detailed pictures of the mural and make an assessment of repair and/or restoration needs.
  • The Operations Team may recommend the mural to Restorations for a full restoration, the Project Management Office for a mural decommissioning/paint out, or the Crew for standard maintenance and graffiti removal. The original artist is alerted about the state of the mural, and involved in the decision making process moving forward.
  • Restorations prioritizes engaging the original artist wherever possible. If this is not feasible, we entrust the task to a skilled muralist, proficient in restoration and expert color-matching. The restoration process is guided by the original design, ensuring fidelity to the initial artistic vision. However, when structural repairs to the mural’s wall necessitate it, we make slight modifications or enhancements, always respecting the mural’s original essence and impact.
  • Once a restoration is complete, the original muralist and community member who submitted the restoration request is updated. The Public Art Archive database is also updated to properly log each mural restoration.

Throughout the site assessment and mural restoration process, Mural Arts prioritizes keeping the original artist apprised of the state of the mural and the plan of action. This way, Mural Arts can reengage the artist to conduct the restoration, or get their input on best steps forward. If the artist is unable to conduct the restoration, they are welcome to recommend another muralist who is a good fit for the job.

What techniques are used to restore our collection?

Various techniques are used depending on the restoration needs of the mural. These techniques simultaneously restore and protect a mural from future wear and tear.

  • Hand-wash a mural or carefully powerwash if needed.
  • Apply a clear coat sealer to better secure existing paint. At times, Mineral Spirit Acrylic (MSA varnish will be applied to help re-saturate the paint as much as possible, and then the peeled areas or patches can be spot-touched. Those respective paint colors are carefully mixed to match the re-saturated tones.
  • Color matching to the current tones of the mural so it seamlessly blends in (this is done at times without a sealer layer based on the color palette of the mural).
  • Spot-touching small patches may be made if the original paint has had to be scraped down or has flaked off.
  • Reach out to the original artist and contract them for a repair.
  • If necessary, contract another artist with mural-making and color-matching experience to reference the original design.
  • After restoring the artwork, the mural is sealed with an isolation coat of acrylic sealer, and then MSA varnish is applied to protect against weather, wear and tear, and sun damage.
  • When deemed appropriate, some sites may have an added layer of an anti-graffiti coating applied based on its location and accessibility or likelihood of being vandalized.

How is it decided to remove or paint out a mural?

If a mural is frequently tagged with graffiti, has high maintenance costs, is on a wall that needs excessive repairs, or is structurally unsound, then it is recommended that the mural be removed from public view. This process is referred to as decommissioning a mural. The mural is painted out upon agreement between the Project Management Office, the Operations Team, Restorations, and the Executive Director, with the approval of the original artist, if possible.

The original artist, project partners, and wall owner are notified about the plans to paint out the mural. If there is an opportunity to work with the original artist and/or project partners to re-envision the mural, a new project is started under the Project Management Office. If Mural Arts has to paint a mural out, community input is critical in the decision process and is sometimes sought out for murals with historically significant subject matter or in a high-profile location.

Examples of Restored Murals 

  • We The Youth, Before. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • We The Youth by Keith Haring. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Moonlit Landscape, before. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Moonlit Landscape © City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Diane Keller, 737 Christian Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Murals At Risk to Development 

Mural Arts Philadelphia actively enriches the city’s architectural landscape, annually introducing 50 to 100 public art installations. Yet, as Philadelphia undergoes urban transformation and new structures arise, our cherished murals face a significant challenge. The city’s murals stand at the crossroads of preserving community legacy and enduring the steadfast progression of economic development. Recognizing the invaluable role murals play as community pillars, Mural Arts is committed to
collaborating with developers. We aim to safeguard and, when necessary, reimagine these artworks that may be compromised or erased due to construction activities.

How many murals are lost to development per year?

Mural Arts loses an average of 6 murals annually to development. Mural Arts relies on notification from developers and community members, in addition to our existing work in the field, to track murals at risk of being lost. Thus, this figure only includes the murals we know about. We often learn later through site visits or inquiries from community members that a mural no longer exists. Murals in any neighborhood can be at risk; however, North Central Philadelphia, Point Breeze, Norris Square, and parts of West Philadelphia are especially vulnerable, considering the pace of development.

What is Mural Arts’ process for when murals are at risk to development?

Notifications about at-risk murals come to Mural Arts through community members, project partners, city officials, and other local entities. Each at-risk mural undergoes a similar process:

  • At-risk murals are reported through our online form or email and logged internally for review.
  • Staff reaches out to developers and/or building owners to open a line of communication and gather information about how their plans will affect the mural.
    • Educate developers/owners about the community impact of removing a mural
    • If the mural is partially affected, plan to “harmonize” the remaining mural with the new construction once redevelopment is completed
    • If the mural is completely obscured, suggest the idea of recreating the mural on the new building or elsewhere in the community
  • Ask developers/owners if they can financially contribute to the recreation effort
  • Mural Arts then notifies the artist(s) about the redevelopment plans and timeline. If the project can be reenvisioned, Mural Arts will engage the original artist in this process whenever possible
  • The Operations Team conducts site visits to assess the status of the redevelopment work
  • Throughout the development process, Mural Arts responds to inquiries from the community and the media about the plans for the mural, which includes attending community meetings or hearings about the project as needed
  • Once construction work is complete, an artist is contracted to restore or harmonize the remnant mural. If the mural is completely lost to development, then a new project is started by the Project Management Office to create a new mural on-site or elsewhere in the community.
  • The Public Art Archive database is updated so the status of the mural is properly reflected.

Throughout the development process, Mural Arts prioritizes keeping the original artist apprised of the state of the mural and the plan of action. This way, Mural Arts can reengage the artist to reimagine the project, or get their input on best steps forward. The steps for artist engagement include:

  • Notify the artist(s) about the at-risk mural and keep them in the loop about the redevelopment plans
  •  If there is an opportunity (site and funding) to harmonize or re-envision the mural, the original artist(s) is engaged in that process (if they are local and still with us)
  • The artist(s) will either redesign the mural in its original spirit or may wish to re-engage the community to update the design
    •  The design is then approved by the Mural Arts Design Review Team and community
  • The mural is reinstalled or repaired after the construction work has been completed. A new mural typically takes a few weeks for repair or 6 months to 1 year in the case of a redesign
  • If the original artist(s) is unavailable to engage in this process and Mural Arts is interested in reenvisioning the mural, another experienced muralist is contracted to harmonize the remnant mural or recreate the design.

Where do we get stuck?

When moving through the previously outlined process and coordinating with developers, many obstacles complicate preserving or recreating a mural. Most notably, developers are not required to notify the community or Mural Arts when embarking on a new construction project, resulting in Mural Arts being unaware of the threat until too late to save the mural or adequately plan for reenvisioning. Even if advanced contact is made, there can be issues securing funding from the developer or another source. Additionally, lengthy construction project timelines and uncertainty around completion dates can be problematic for coordinating with developers and the artist(s).

How can murals be protected against future development?

Mural Arts understands that economic and community development will continue, so new homes and businesses are constructed for Philadelphians. This means that murals will inevitably be threatened by construction and redevelopment projects. The solution is to ensure that developers understand the value of public art and make a good-faith effort to communicate to Mural Arts and the broader community about their plans. This way, Mural Arts can work with the developer to preserve parts of the original mural or explore financial and wall opportunities to re-envision the mural on-site or at a separate location.

Examples of Reenvisioned Murals 

  • The first John Coltrane mural, A Tribute to John Coltrane by John Lewis. The building, and the mural were lost to demolition. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Why We Love Coltrane by Ernel Martinez. Photo by Steve Weinik.

  • Why We Love Coltrane © 2022 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Ernel Martinez, 2729 West Diamond Street. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Tribute to John Coltrane was reenvisioned in the Strawberry Mansion neighborhood in 2017 and again in 2022. After the demolition of the original 2002 mural by John Lewis (image 1) occurred in 2014, Mural Arts and artist Ernel Martinez created the second rendition (iamge 2) in 2017. That mural was built in front of in 2020, so Martinez re-partnered with Mural Arts in 2022 to create the current mural (image 3) at 27th and Diamond.