Despite living in a revitalized neighborhood, the residents of 40th and Chestnut streets look out their windows each morning at a massive graffiti-covered wall.
Although inconceivable to many, that graffiti is praised by residents, many of whom helped to deface the building with their own hands.
Even more shockingly, the wall of graffiti is endorsed by the Philadelphia city government, which has encouraged some graffiti as part of its Mural Arts Program, now entering its 20th year.
As part of this effort, MAP has recently forged a partnership with the Penn-affiliated radio station WXPN, which will provide for eight musically themed murals to be constructed across Philadelphia in the coming months. The partnership's first project was unveiled last Friday in WXPN's new home at 3025 Walnut St. and features a mammoth, two-story mural depicting the evolution of American music.
"It seems a little contradictory, but the program was initially started in order to use graffiti to fight graffiti, in a sense," said Brian Campbell, executive assistant to the director of special events and communications at MAP. "It was designed to get graffiti artists to channel their energy into something positive like murals, in order to get rid of the widespread graffiti problem."
Since its inception in 1984, the program has been responsible for the creation of over 2,400 murals across Philadelphia. Through these murals -- which depict a broad range of images, including community gatherings, local heroes and scenic views -- the city has been successful in beautifying and revitalizing several previously neglected areas.
"The murals have definitely helped to transform so many communities," Campbell said. "It works through chain reactions. When people see a beautiful mural, they are inspired to clean up and maintain the area around the mural, and then they get inspired to clean up their houses, and eventually the whole community is transformed."
Since realizing the tremendous power and potential of public art, MAP organizers have expanded the program beyond its initial purpose of physical beautification, now striving to also emotionally and spiritually improve neighborhoods by fostering a spirit of community camaraderie.
"Our goals have evolved over the years," Campbell said. "We have realized that murals engage the community to begin communicating with each other. People start talking about the mural, which gets them talking about their lives and developing friendships, which provides an energy and enthusiasm that can be used to further restore neighborhoods."
Because MAP administrators have come to realize that cultivating a passion for neighborhood revitalization among residents is essential to the process of community improvement, MAP attempts to maximize community involvement by encouraging widespread participation in the program.
To that end, MAP asks local residents to become involved in every step of the mural process, from the initial design selection to the application of the final brushstrokes on the wall.
To augment the involvement in a large-scale project like a mural, MAP both encourages local residents to volunteer in the mural creation process and seeks to engage other local community organizations.
MAP members say that, as a result of the program, residents of homeless shelters and participants in after-school programs have become imbued with a sense of civic pride and a newfound sense of dedication to their neighborhoods.
"Murals are a very accessible medium," said College senior Jessica Fain, a MAP employee. "Murals provide a great outlet for people from all parts of the neighborhood to get involved in their community and improve it, which connects them to their communities and really gives them a sense of pride in their area that helps to foster continued development."
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