For 25 years, Jane Golden has been the maestro of one of the city’s true artistic treasures, the Mural Arts Program. Since she debuted the project in 1984 to fight graffiti and gang violence, Golden has emerged as something of a phenomenon, sought after by cities throughout the world as an expert on urban mural development. But beyond the painting, she also represents a deep commitment to using art to restore neighborhoods and lives, with a passion that fosters hope. Might there come a day when Golden’s skills as a leader drive solutions to Philadelphia’s other problems? I sat down with her for lunch at the Museum of Art’s cafe to find out.
Sam Katz: Your Facebook photo is 80 percent mural and 20 percent Jane. Have you morphed into a mural?
Jane Golden: It’s the work that’s important. Mural Arts is a community process, and I’m a small part of it. I suppose the Facebook picture is symbolic. This work transcends me and, in some ways, even Mural Arts. Though, by the way, I don’t pay attention to Facebook.
SK: So where do the murals end and does Jane Golden begin?
JG: My identity is very tied up in the work. I feel driven by it. It’s become a moral imperative. But I won’t be here forever, so the best thing I can do is think about what comes next. I’ve created a COO position; we’ve gone through a strategic planning process. Mural Arts will do just fine without Jane Golden. My other interests are evolving. I’m teaching at Penn and Bryn Mawr. I was invited to be a guest professor in Toni Morrison’s program at Princeton next year. Maybe I’ll run for City Council someday, or play a different role in city government. I’m really interested in how to effectuate change and get large organizations to shift.
SK: What about running for mayor?
JG: Never while Michael Nutter is serving. Maybe someday, but City Council seems like a better place for me.
SK: Is this an announcement?
JG: Uh-oh. Let’s back up. I love what I’m doing now, and I have a lot to get done. I’ll think more about what’s next for me in city government in a couple of years.
SK: What does the immediate future hold, then?
JG: I’m giving attention and thought to the international possibilities of what we do. Paris, Hanoi, London, Rome, Bosnia, Sydney — these are places plagued with graffiti and fascinated by the role that art can play in economic development, the revival of downtowns and the impact of social services. And we’ve been called by dozens of American cities over the past six months.
SK: I see things in other international cities that might be imported to Philadelphia. Do you?
JG: Yes, and it’s really exciting. There’s a park in Paris — the Luxembourg Gardens — where a wrought iron fence holds an amazing display of photographers’ photos of scenes from all over the world. It’s spellbinding. We can do that here. Photography is a universal art — technology has made it so. And we have plenty of fences. The sky’s the limit. We can work with photography, sculpture, light and sound to do things that are extraordinarily creative while embracing those often left out. Everything is changing in so many ways—that has me excited, but it keeps me up at night as well.
SK: Do you sleep?
JG: Six hours a night. I wake up promptly at six, go the gym, then go to work. I work all day and into the evening. I guess I don’t lead an exciting life. I try to get out on the weekends — bicycle, movies. I get balance from my husband, who is decidedly less neurotic and hyper than I am.
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