Few people realise it, but Philadelphia is the street art capital of the world.
Thanks to a city-funded Mural Arts Program, Philly has more street art than any other US city, with more than 3,600 murals adorning buildings across the city and its surrounds.
The murals first started appearing in 1984 when the city was trying to combat graffiti. It soon morphed into a city-wide project to beautify the city with the help of disadvantaged youth and prisoners.
Visitors don’t have to venture too far to marvel at the world’s biggest outdoor art gallery, with the MuralMile walking tour following a circuit through downtown Philly. It’s actually a 2.5 mile walk that visits 17 commissioned murals in the city centre.
For the more adventurous, there are also many more works to be found out in the suburbs. Popular photo blogger Conrad Benner, who runs the Streets Dept blog, also organises walking tours of Philadelphia’s expanding street art scene.
How We Fish
“How We Fish” by Social Impact Studios & Eric Okdeh aims to highlight the value of work for individuals and communities. It’s based on the proverb: “Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day. Teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime.”
Located in a parking lot at 707 Chestnut St, this 10,000-sq-foot mural explores the work of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglass to end slavery. It was produced by five public schools and dozens of individuals, who hand laid more than one million small glass titles on the mural’s right side. The left side was produced by Eric Okdeh and inmates at Grateford prison.
Pride and Progress
“Pride and Progress”, located at 1315 Spruce Street, depicts a gay civil rights march held in 1966, and the pride celebration that followed. Artist Ann Northrup painted her own sister and her sisters partner on the far right of the mural.
“Philadelphia Muses” is a 6,000 square foot mural at 13th and Locust St by master muralist Meg Saligman. It explores the diversity of modern artistic disciplines.
Our City, Our Team
“Our City, Our Team” is a collaboration between the Philadelphia Eagles and Mural Arts Philadelphia. At 27,000 square feet, it’s the second largest mural in the city and the fifth largest in the country. It is found at the intersection of South Darien Street and Pattison Avenue.
Numerous murals of Malcolm X adorn the walls of Philadelphia buildings. This 2005 work, “Malcolm X” by Ernel Martinez, is found in the Strawberry Mansion neighbourhood, in north Philadelphia. These days it’s difficult to see between the trees.
Our Flag Unfurled
Another mural painted by Meg Saligman a few months after 9/11, this iconic mural greets commuters entering the city each day. It’s meant to look slightly sad, as if the flag is slipping off the building.
If you were a cat, wouldn’t you want to hang around a neighborhood called Fishtown? This mural by VURT Creative is found at 1140 Frankford Avenue, between Delaware and Girard Ave.