The spirit of art, culture and community continues to thrive even in times of deep national tragedy.
As of Oct. 11, 2001, a mural patterned with houses and trees has been displayed on the corner of 45th and Sansom streets in Philadelphia.
“Home,” as it’s titled, is part of an ongoing rehabilitation of a small playground, but also serves as a celebration of the diversity of that community.
“Since I completed this painting, the meaning for me has gotten a lot bigger, because since I painted this a lot of people all over the world have died,” the artist Eurhi Jones said in an emotional speech at the mural’s opening ceremony.
“Now I think of this painting as my dream for the whole world, not just this neighborhood, that we can see the gorgeousness of our different cultures and languages and beliefs and weave them all into one landscape,” said Jones.
“Home” was created as part of the Philadelphia Department of Recreation’s “Mural Arts Program.” The program was designed to make art more accessible to the communities of Philadelphia, while highlighting their historical and social value.
Jane Golden Heriza is the artistic director for the program, and oversees the process of creating murals that accurately reflect elements of Philadelphian life.
“We work with communities, really listen to what they have to say,” Heriza said. “The wall really belongs to everyone here, it belongs to the community.
“We want the theme to be integrated into the life of the community, and then I think it has so much more power,” said Heriza.
The range of cultural exploration performed by the program can be seen in murals such as “Families are Victims, Too,” in the 1300 block of S. 50th Street, and “Sunflowers,” on 16th and Indiana.
“Families are Victimes, Too” was inspired by a program that provides counseling services to families who have lost a loved one. “Sunflowers” was intended to brighten an area that had previously been referred to as a “dump site.”
“Sometimes there are big community disagreements, sometimes there’s racism and other kinds of strife,” Heriza said. “That’s okay, because art should be a catalyst. That’s a great use of art: if it can really help facilitate healing in any way, on any level.”
Temple students attended the opening ceremony of “Home.” Professor Robert Kidder, an instructor of sociology at the University, assigned students to study the effects of the Mural Arts Program on the social structure of Philadelphia.
Sophomore Tracy Suer, who participated in the mural assignment, said, “I think that interacting with the community is really good for college students because they get to learn a lot more from that than just from classes. You can also apply things you learned in class to the things you actually see and observe.”
Along with the Mural Arts Program, the Department of Recreation also features “The Big Picture,” an after-school art program offered for children in 25-30 sites around Philadelphia. There is an internship program for college students, and in the spring a class is offered in the Art Museum that teaches children about mosaics.
The mural artists come from a variety of places. Some are graduates of Philadelphia’s local art schools, while others come from the court system as “adjudicated graffiti writers.” About fifty artists a year are featured.
“In the journey for hope, it’s a lot about envisioning a dream, articulating it, and then doing what you can,” Heriza said in her ceremony speech. “Each of us has a role in healing the world, doing everything you can to make an impact, to make your mark, create beauty.”
“It’s important to get out of the classroom,” sophomore JPRA major Laura Taylor said. “In college you’re supposed to be exploring your own life, and others.”