Over the decades, Philadelphia has become known for its thousands of wall artworks that have earned the city worldwide recognition as the “City of Murals.” It was over 35 years ago that Mural Arts Philadelphia — the nation’s largest public art program — began its mission to transform public spaces into inspiring art.

In 1984 artist Jane Golden was hired by the Anti-Graffiti Network to reach out to graffiti writers to redirect their talents into public art creations. An initiative that started to combat the city’s problem with graffiti created relationships that stimulated economic revitalization and proved one thing: art is an important building block and a source of healing in community.

Mural Arts Philadelphia
“Migrant Imaginary” by Layqa Nuna Yawar and Ricardo Cabret
Credit: Steve Weinik

Today, the program has created over 4,000 artworks and provides educational tours and programming for students.

“Mural Arts Philadelphia’s Art Education department offers workshops for middle and high school students to help them jump head-first into the world of art and art-making,” said Chad Eric Smith, director of communications and brand management at Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Led by professionally trained guides, groups encounter several murals while discussing social justice aspects that relate to each work while on tour.

“On tour, students will hear the stories behind the murals, history of Mural Arts Philadelphia and in-depth details about the core programs of Art Education, Porch Light and Restorative Justice, which are the impetus for the creation of murals and their subject matter,” Smith said.

These three programs offer other students opportunities to interact with artists and apply for professional positions, provide alternative approaches to traditional punishment and rehab, and strengthen universal mental health alongside the city’s Department of Behavioral Health. Together, Mural Arts’ community programs have yielded thousands of works that student groups can now experience up close.

Private in-person and virtual tours are available for groups, as well as Group Interactive Tours, which allow for participatory activities.

Experiential Paint Day at the Asian Arts Initiative Credit: Steve Weinik

Students will see works honoring Philadelphia world champion boxer Smokin’ Joe Frazier, the Cecil B. Moore Freedom Fighters, the Philadelphia Fire Department and others. From mass incarceration and the meaning of liberty to advancements in biotechnology and mental health awareness, students will encounter murals touching on a wide spectrum of topics. “Over 15,000 people take Mural Arts Tours each year to get up close and personal with this unique, beautiful and thought-provoking public art, like none other in the world,” Smith said. “These tours should not be missed as they are truly a highlight for visitors to our city, young and old.”

Main image: “Remembering a Forgotten Hero” by Willis Humphrey and Keir Johnston Credit: Steve Weinik