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I’m a southern girl. I wear leopard print cowgirl boots and make my hair as big as possible. But no matter where you’re from, Philadelphia is full of surprises.

Penn has access to all that Philadelphia has to offer. By hosting one-time sessions called “preceptorials,” Penn encourages students to discover the sights and sounds of the diverse city. On the excursions, experts lead small groups on tours of one part of the city.

Excited by this prospect, and new to “the mural capital of the world,” I decided to attend the Saturday session titled “Urban Art: Murals in Philadelphia.” I discovered that what Penn advertises in brochures is really true — Philadelphia is an incredible place.

Our guide was a member of the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, an initiative that unites artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of mural-making, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.

That Saturday, my group of students hopped on the Market-Frankford Line, an elevated railway, and headed West towards 69th Street — into the stomping grounds of the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. 

“Keep your eyes peeled,” our instructor yelled over the loud screeches of the railway. We twisted our necks to catch quick sights of murals plastered on the sides of buildings, perpendicular to our direction of motion.

As we passed, students pointed and sighed at how touching the messages were in Steve Powers’ series of fifty rooftop murals titled “Love Letter.” Running from 45th to 63rd streets along the Market Street corridor, the murals collectively express a love letter, with one phrase depicted in each. Together, the murals make phrases like “your everafter is all I’m after” and “meet me on fifty-second if only for fifty seconds.” Many regular commuters even have a favorite, brightening their day upon each passing.

As a former graffiti artist — and later a Fulbright scholar — Powers describes “Love Letter” as “a letter for one, with meaning for all” that speaks to all residents who long for a way to express their love to the world around them.

He describes the project as his “chance to put something on these rooftops that people would care about.”

So, when I’m soul-searching on a gloomy day, I put on my boots and get on the railway. There’s always something in West Philadelphia awaiting discovery. 

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