A new mural arts tour in Philadelphia offers residents four ways to enjoy art — but it offers Penn students a fifth.
The new Albert M. Greenfield African American Iconic Images Collection can be enjoyed in person, while driving by, over the internet and even over the phone, according to Jane Golden, the executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and Urban Studies professor.
Golden also helps bridge the gap between Penn and West Philadelphia through her passion of murals. In her Urban Studies class, “Big Pictures: Mural Art,” students learn about public art, see the Iconic Image Collection and collaborate with the community to create their own mural.
College freshman Bonnie Arbittier explained that the class is working on a series of murals that envelop the theme of “home.” Arbittier, who hasn’t yet declared a major, said she may pursue Urban Studies because of her positive experience in the class. Of Golden, Arbittier said, “She’s the most passionate, wonderful woman I have ever met in my life.”
The goal of the collection is to “capture the voices and celebrate the selection of murals for what it has meant to our city,” Golden wrote in an e-mail.
Tour manager Ryan Derfler said the collection — which highlights 47 murals in and around Philadelphia that have been curated by a committee of African American scholars and leaders — is available to the public through trolley tours held on the last Saturday of every month.
Drivers can also download a free audio tour of 21 of the murals narrated by drummer Ahmir “Questlove” Thompson of Philadelphia band The Roots.
A third way to enjoy the tour is to simply stumble upon it. Passers-by of any mural can dial a phone number “and hear the mural’s story for the first time,” Golden wrote.
If that’s not enough, there is also an interactive educational website, where the public can virtually experience the collection in its entirety.
The project contains more than 100 interviews with community leaders, local residents, sons and daughters of famous activists, scholars and local celebrities — all of which will permanently remain at the African American Museum of Philadelphia. The museum collaborated with the Mural Arts Program to create this collection.
The museum’s research project coordinator for the collection and Graduate School of Education alumna Adrienne Whaley explained that the Mural Arts Program sought oversight for the “scholarship and educational research side” of the project.
As a former Penn student, Whaley understands the notion of the “Penn bubble,” noting the tension between many college schools and urban areas that surround them. “Young students … may not know much about the community to operate really respectfully in them,” she said, adding that “there’s so much history and culture in these neighborhoods that aren’t necessarily on a Penn student’s regular path.”
While the collection covers Philadelphia from 63rd to 6th streets, some are right on campus. One such mural, “Tuskegee Airmen: They Met the Challenge,” painted on the wall of a Campus Apartments building at 39th and Chestnut streets, pays homage to the first corps of African American airmen.
Wharton sophomore Brian Roberts lives with five other Penn students on the other side of the painted wall. He and his roommates appreciate the significance of the mural. “It’s definitely something that I notice and that I am proud of,” he said.
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