August 20, 2009

In West Philadelphia Born and Raised

My paternal grandparents used to live in New Jersey, close enough to Philadelphia that you could see the city's skyline. I don't remember much about visiting them, but I remember a few things. This includes the pretzels, that root beer was available at every restaurant (unlike in the South, although it's becoming more common) and Friendly's restaurant.

One time we spent the week with them and did the touristy things around Philly. Again, I don't remember a whole lot, other than the buildings were tall and the Liberty Bell was small.

Philadelphia, like many large cities, often has a bad rap. I've heard it called Filthydelphia, among other things. But where they're lacking in some areas, Philly makes up for it in murals.

Graffiti is found in cities large and small. During the last several years, artists such as Banksy and Shepard Fairey have taken it mainstream and for many it has become a legitimate form of art.

So Philadelphia went about their problem with graffiti differently than most other large cities. In 1984 they established the Mural Arts Program. Rather than try painting over all the graffiti in the city, they embraced the idea of the city being full of blank canvases. Each year they work with communities all over the city and bring together artists that would have normally just created illegal art. Instead, they "provide opportunities for artists with a variety of skills to work together to create murals."

They now have more than 2,800 murals all over the city. And now we come to the reason I began this post.

One of their newest projects is named "A Love Letter for You." Throughout August, artists will paint rooftops and walls along Market Street from 63rd to 45th. The murals will be seen best from the elevated train.

Each of the murals will be words of love: "words of romance, your thoughts of relationships and your ideas of what love truly is. Comforting or troubling, passionate or past tense, even if it's 'hate to love' or 'love to hate'."

Sometimes I look around at what sort of art is being produced or becoming popular, and I wonder how long it will be before all art becomes easy-to-swallow nuggets of sugar-coated drivel. Then I dig a little deeper and look past what's on TV or the radio and realize that real art is still being made. Whether it's from the musician who will never make it to the radio or the photographer who will only ever be seen by their friends. I find art that took thought and comes from an imagination unhindered by what the world will like. Art that is beautiful even if I don't understand what the artist is saying.

For more information about the Mural Arts Program in Philadelphia, go here. And for info on the love letter project, stop by this blog.

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