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Postcard: Philadelphia

8.28.2007



There are over 2,500 murals throughout the city--more than any other place in the world.

These murals were painted mostly by locals.

They have an even more practical purpose than beautification or attracting tourism: they're an anticrime initiative.

In 1984 mayor W. Wilson Good made a fateful decision: instead of declaring war on the city's graffiti problem and its vandals, he offered them amnesty.

Goode gave Jan Golden--a petite, white, high-energy, Stanford-educated muralist--a six-week trial period to persuade the black and Latino youths who made up the Bronx Bombers, the High Class Lunatics and other graffiti gangs to channel their creative energy into muralmaking.

Driven by her evangelical belief that art can not only beautify but also pacify, Golden, now 51, has spent the past 20 years enlisting as many communities as possible--mostly schoolkids teamed with artists but at times other groups, like cops or prisoners--in planning and painting the murals.

"Race, crime and violence, immigration, gentrification--I think it's our responsibility to help people grapple with these different issues," says Golden, whose group holds community meetings to decide on each mural project.

In the late 1990s, the Grays Ferry neighborhood suffered an outbreak of racial violence. Golden believed the divisiveness called for a multiracial mural. Not everyone agreed. "It was a mess, a real mess," recalls Jim Helman, a white neighborhood activist. "And along comes this diminutive little thing [Golden] who promises to do this ridiculous project that turns out to be anything but ridiculous."

The community rallied around the project, and Helman says the resulting mural, called The Peace Wall, is "an icon."






Story courtesy of Time magazine.

1 comment:

The Librarian said...

beautiful...my breath is taken