In 1984, Philadelphia was feeling the first effects of a drug epidemic that would turn whole sections of the city into virtual post-apocalyptic wastelands. One of the symptoms of decay was a rampant graffiti movement that, despite the artistic skills it required, was considered an eyesore.
In response to the unwelcome public art, muralist Jane Golden was hired as part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network. Her job was to meet the graffiti writers and find a more constructive way to channel their efforts. Thirty years later, there’s no missing the fruits of Golden’s labor. In the time since, the Anti-Graffiti Network was restructured into the Mural Arts Program and has helped put up over 3,600 designs across the city.
Walking through Philadelphia amounts to a stroll through the world’s largest outdoor art gallery. From prominent locations next to city hall to anonymous alleys and side streets, the murals are a proud and ubiquitous piece of the city’s cultural identity. Their themes reflect everything from a beautiful spring day to the horrific transatlantic slave trade. The murals are not only valued for their aesthetics, but are also expressions of civic consciousness. They display the spirit of neighborhoods and not-so-distant histories that have shaped the current urban experience.
The following images were taken along the self-guided Mural Mile tour.