The Power of Murals: How Public Art Transforms Communities

Graffiti and murals are both forms of public art, often created on similar walls and surfaces. Murals, in particular, are great for creating artistic places and urban marketing. Public art also brings economic benefits, such as new jobs and an increase in tourism. It's no surprise that art-centered bus and walking tours have become popular in many cities in recent years, from London (England) and São Paulo (Brazil) to Austin (Texas), where the city-run Art in Public Places program has been funding public art for more than 30 years. Organizations that strive to promote local talent and engage the community have turned empty city walls into huge public canvases, and the results of their work can have a lasting effect on local neighborhoods.

Oakland and Berkeley together have nearly 500 murals that range from informal street art to highly refined works commissioned by community members. Mural Arts involves communities in 50 to 100 public art projects each year and maintains its growing collection through a restoration initiative. By holding developers accountable and addressing practical issues, such as road safety, organizations like Mural Arts Philadelphia and ArtWorks create clear value for their communities through their work. According to its mission, the organization believes that these impactful works of public art have the power to “transform public spaces and individual lives”. The same is true of dozens of other public art organizations, such as the Bay Area Murals Program in Oakland, California; the Portland Street Art Alliance, in Portland, Oregon; and the Chicago Public Art Group, in Chicago, Illinois.

Both Mural Arts Philadelphia and ArtWorks are concerned with ensuring that locals feel represented in murals in their neighborhoods. Golden says that Mural Arts Philadelphia also continues to be a strong supporter of its art and of the communities that its projects promote once completed. The Avenue Concept is committed to encouraging this art form and not only investing in artists, but also in the infrastructure needed to create these murals. Through participatory public art, Mural Arts Philadelphia inspires change in people, place and practice, creating opportunities for a fairer and more equitable Philadelphia. While the representation of people of color in public art during that period was often problematic, and New Deal programs failed to meet many of the most pressing demands of civil rights leaders, the Federal Art Project still had some advantages for the country's marginalized communities. In other words, the funding of the New Deal and the growing attention to public art allowed more Native American, Chicano, Black, and Asian-American artists than ever to paint their communities in American art.

For more than 35 years, Mural Arts has united artists and communities through a collaborative process, rooted in the traditions of creating murals, to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives. When Mural Arts learned that a new bedroom would be built in front of the mural, which prevented it from being seen from the street, Golden says his team organized with the community that had contributed to the project and others in West Philadelphia. Every year, 15,000 residents and visitors visit the Mural Arts outdoor art gallery, which has become part of the city's civic landscape and a source of pride and inspiration, earning Philadelphia international recognition as the “Mural Capital of the World”. He then partnered with city agencies to create programs that would connect the muralism process with art education, restorative justice and behavioral health programs for young people in Philadelphia, inmates in prisons and detention centers in the area, and people suffering from trauma, mental illness or addictions. Murals are an incredible form of public art that can have a lasting impact on local neighborhoods. They can bring economic benefits such as new jobs or an increase in tourism.

They can also be used to represent local talent or engage with communities. Organizations like Mural Arts Philadelphia strive to promote these works of art while also addressing practical issues such as road safety. Murals can even be used to inspire change or create opportunities for a fairer society. The Federal Art Project during New Deal allowed more Native American, Chicano, Black or Asian-American artists than ever before to paint their communities in American art. Murals are an incredible way to transform public spaces while also inspiring individual lives.

Organizations like Mural Arts Philadelphia have been doing this for over 35 years now. They have created an outdoor gallery that is visited by 15000 people every year. This has earned Philadelphia international recognition as “Mural Capital of the World”. Murals are an incredible form of public art that can have a lasting impact on local neighborhoods.

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