This summer, I received funding from the Katharine Hepburn Center at Bryn Mawr to work with the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, the largest public arts initiative in the country. I applied to work with them since it seemed like the organization was a perfect fit for my combined love of social justice, the arts, and non-profit work. I also wanted to be able to get to know Philadelphia better since my two last summers were spent in Portland and Indonesia. I was ecstatic in February to find out I would be working with such an amazing organization but it was put to the back of my mind as I was kept busy during the semester with academics and extracurriculars. Now I’m here and it’s crazy to think it’s actually happening!
My first few days were spent reading up on the organization’s history. Here’s a brief overview: The Mural Arts Program was started in the 80’s as the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti to combat Philly’s graffiti problem by beautifying communities with murals. It was founded by Jane Golden, winner of Bryn Mawr’s Katharine Hepburn medal in 2009 and one of the facilitators for the Women in Public Service conference happening on campus this summer. The program has grown from a bunch of ex-graffiti writers painting small murals to producing over 3600 murals since it has been created. The program now has art education, restorative justice, and behavioral health programs in addition to painting community murals. Reading about all the incredible, transformative work that Jane Golden had done made me feel extremely honored to be sitting just ten feet away from her office.
An extensive amount of work goes into making a mural. Typically, artists hold meetings with community members to see what sort of mural they would like in their community. Sometimes, the murals already have a theme and a site is chosen for that theme. Murals often feature cultural images from the predominant ethnicity of a neighborhood, a depiction of the history of the neighborhood, prominent community leaders, naturally beautiful scenes, or one that depicts a darker theme such as depression or the criminal system. My supervisor runs the Restored Spaces Initiative, which creates murals with environmental themes and often partners with other organizations to plant gardens to reclaim urban space as natural space. It can be extremely challenging to create a design that fits the desires of community members, sponsors, and artists. The end result not only creates pride in communities over the new mural but also unites and empowers community members through the process of creating a mural. Community members are hired and trained to learn how to set up scaffolding and to help paint the murals, local school children often get to help design and help create the mural, and the neighborhoods build community by working together to transform their neighborhood.
My role has been extremely varied so far. Overall, I am the Special Projects intern, working specifically on Restored Spaces and Housing (murals focused on the issue of homelessness) but I tend to do something new every day. I’ve done everything from typical intern work (getting coffee, entering data into spreadsheets), to calling community members about upcoming meetings, to painting murals myself. Working here has allowed me to see new sides of Philly. One day I had to find my way to Queen’s Village in South Philly where I flyered and hung up posters for an event that weekend. I also traveled to a neighborhood in West Philly, where my supervisor and I knocked on doors to get wall authorizations signed so that we could get permission to paint murals there. This will be the area I will be working most closely with this summer; starting in July I will be spending one day a week out on site, working with the kids at a local school doing artwork centered on botany (a match made in heaven for me due to my love of art and environmental education). I am also really excited because this neighborhood is not that far from my own neighborhood in West Philly and the R5 (the train that connects Bryn Mawr to Philly), runs right through this area yet I had never actually experienced it before. Sometimes I can get a little antsy sitting in an office all day but I always have to remind myself that doing the seemingly menial work that’s more behind the scenes is the reason the incredible work that happens can be done; an important lesson for me as I continue into non-profit or social work.
I’ll be keeping you all updated with my internship as it progresses! In the mean time, expect a blog on all the things I’ve been doing outside of my internship this summer!