Most of you probably didn’t know this. But There are a lot of beautiful murals in Philadelphia. Whether you’re in Philly for a day or a week, you’ll catch glimpses of elaborate murals splashed across sides of buildings, each with a story to tell and some spanning eight stories high. Rightly dubbed “city of murals,” Philadelphia is home to thousands of murals that have been created on walls, stairs, and even rooftops over the past 30 years.
What begin as an anti-graffiti initiative, the Mural Arts Program puts the talents of graffiti artists to use by tapping into artistic expression to transform public urban places and protect the urban landscape from deterioration and decay.
Whether you go on foot, or by trolley, train, or Segway, here are the top 10 most memorable murals to see in Philadelphia:
10. Bridging the Gap
Like many of the murals, this one in southwest Philadelphia communicates something about the community, an inspirational message reflected back on a real-life challenge. In this case, the mural shows a bridge and a handshake between West Africans newly integrating into the already existing community of African Americans. The mural represents overcoming of discord and stereotypical beliefs, and the mutual cooperation needed to build a strong community.
9. Dr. J
In homage to basketball legend, Julius Erving, a renowned Philadelphia sports figure and also a businessman and philanthropist, this was one of the “breakthrough” murals of the Mural Arts Program, produced in 1990. Reaching three-stories high, the work of art depicts Dr. J as businessman—a model of leadership in the community—and an example of what’s possible. The mural was considered breakthrough because of the artistic talent provided by Kent Twitchell, a nationally acclaimed California artist, and the blending of superior artwork with a subject that deeply touched the community. It is said that Dr. J himself cried when saw the mural.
8. Philadelphia Muses
Among the most beloved and frequently seen murals in Philadelphia is the “Philadelphia Muses” on East Broad Street in the theater district. In the muses piece, you see a modern interpretation of the classical muses of artistic inspiration. Within each image there is meaning, such as the woman in the white robe symbolizing movement, and the man playing the flute representing sound. The vividness of the colors, the magical realism of the mural, draws you into a world of creative arts that transcends time and place.
7. Peace Wall
Following racial tensions in the Grays Ferry section of South Philly in the 1990s, the peace wall was created from a photograph taken of hands of all colors—representing the racial and ethnic diversity of the changing neighborhood. Adjoining the mural is a biblical passage that reads: “Blessed are the peacemakers for they shall be called the children of God.” The mural overlooks a small green space in the community and a sidewalk mosaic of a white dove of peace.
6. Aquí y Alla
A transnational collaboration between artists in Chihuahua, Mexico, and artists in Philadelphia, this mural represents the challenges facing immigrant children who must adapt to a new environment and culture, often while undergoing discrimination, challenging socioeconomic conditions, and violence against their communities. Children from Mexico painted on portable mural panels made of cloth. Their work was integrated with the works of immigrant children residing in Philadelphia. The end result is a bold statement and a reminder that these young immigrants are not alone in their struggles.