Inga Saffron vs. Mural Arts: The T-Shirt Edition

The battle has moved into the realm of haute couture — well, haute for Philly, anyway.

mural arts t-shirt

A t-shirt made by Mural Arts in the wake of a column by Inga Saffron. Modeled by Emily Goulet.

This year marks the Mural Arts Program (MAP)’s 30th anniversary, and it should surprise no one that the Inquirer‘s Inga Saffron — a longtime critic of the city arts agency — would have something to say about it.

In a recent Changing Skyline column, the architecture critic did indeed take the opportunity to say a few words about MAP, some of them almost kind:

During those three decades, the city agency has left its mark on some 3,600 walls, mostly in the bleaker corners of the city where a little paint isn’t the worst thing that can happen.

But she does object to the program’s latest project: two murals to be painted on the Girard Avenue Bridge piers in Fairmount Park. To break it down, she has three issues with the project:

Banality. The murals will portray rowers, and make reference to the paintings of Thomas Eakins. “The standard-issue images of Boathouse Row and scullers are cliched and already look old.” These well-worn city tropes should be no surprise, Saffron writes, “given the program’s penchant for depicting the obvious.”

Intrusion. The murals will be “manufactured images” in a place that should be free from artifice. “The park is where we go to escape the constant static of our frenetic urban lives, to forget our devices and lose ourselves amid the trees.” That’s not a world where there should be advertising and agendas. “Murals, which tend to trumpet somebody else’s cause or interest, risk becoming just one more intrusion.”

Politics. Bottom line: Saffron doesn’t feel the project got the scrutiny it deserved.

A fair rebuttal is that there’s already art in the park, but Saffron says that the art that’s there now, well, it’s just better.

Well. Ahem. It’s not hard to imagine that feathers might be a little ruffled — again — over at MAP after that column.

But that’s where the fashion comes in. At the beginning of the piece, Saffron describes MAP (somewhat wryly?) as “Philadelphia’s community engagement juggernaut.” MAP Director of Communications Jenn McCreary, who clearly has a lively sense of humor, decided to embrace Saffron’s characterization — on 100 percent cotton. “I suggested the t-shirt idea to [MAP founder and director] Jane [Golden] and she loved it. We’re incredibly proud of the community engagement work we do, and know we have supporters who agree.”


For her part, Saffron wasn’t aware of the t-shirts’ existence until we told her about them. She evinced a low chuckle and said, “It’s always nice to be quoted.” And then, more seriously: “I’d rather see them express themselves on a t-shirt than paint a giant mural in Fairmount Park.”

The t-shirts, sadly, are not for sale. “We just had a handful of them made in fun,” McCreary says, “to embrace the phrase.” There are a couple left floating around the MAP office, however, so we’re guessing Saffron, at least, could probably score one.

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  • Redwoodser

    I just don’t like having to live in a city
    where I’m constantly being bombarded
    by somebody else’s crappy imagination
    every goddamm place I go.
    It’s like there’s no escape from the mediocrity
    and artistic needs of these “MAP–other people.”

    MAP is nothing more than a visual version of the insidious cult MOVE !
    MAP is a missionary and artistic and cultural war against anyone who says NO !
    MAP insists on selling you their version of reality.
    Always screaming what they think
    from their visual bullhorn to everyone in each neighborhood
    24 hours a day.

    The murals have become just another cultural curse
    in what has become the never ending assault
    of the made made intrusions that make up our lives.

    My whole life has become an attempt to simplify-
    And these murals make that possibility absolutely impossible.
    My whole life has become an attempt to live with less-
    And MAP insists that I absolutely have to live with more.

    The problem with MAP and it’s version of insanity
    is the interminable nature of the beast.

    • Sandy Hingston

      What s/he said!

      • oh. so, no shirt for you then, Sandy?

        hope all is well w you & at the mag!

        • Sandy Hingston

          Well, but we miss you!

    • Bloo bloo bloo

      Second to last line, “it’s” should be “its.” One way to simplify is to eliminate unnecessary punctuation!

      • Redwoodser

        Thank you. Consider it done and true !

  • Earl J

    Inga is the same person who wrote glowingly about the faux Barnes which looks from the exterior like a Super Walmart. I welcome MAP’s efforts to bring outdoor art to our city. I just wish Jane Golden could let MAP thrive on its own and would step up and run for Mayor.

    • Redwoodser

      The Barnes on the Parkway is one of the most exquisitely and lovingly wrought buildings in all of Philadelphia. The materials and design alone are inspirational and expansive. It’s a work of art. And if a structure may be genius; there it is.

      I suggest that you continue to count your change and frequent with the brainwashed godly hordes, Philistines R Us Mart, where socks can be bought on certain days, cheaper by the dozen.

      • Earl J

        I suggest you visit the real Barnes Gallery and the stunning 10 acre arboretum that Dr. Barnes lovely built specifically for the collection.

        • Redwoodser

          I was lucky, years ago, when the collection was there.
          It was or is, a very special place. It was or is, a magical place.
          It was so beautiful, I remember crying at the feet of a Picasso.

          T’was the era when the neighbors would not stop complaining of the buses and the traffic, year after year
          after goddamm year.

  • Susan V. McLeer, M.D.

    The Mural Arts Program is anything but banal. It is a complex program that provides support for those in difficult life transitions and recovery from a variety of stresses, e.g. physical and mental disabilities. It supports those who have made the difficult transition from another country to the U.S. Young people as well as established community members receive art training and education, many of whom go on to careers as artists. People in the criminal justice system and prisons are taught new skills so that in their transition to life in the community, there are jobs that they can fill. U.S. Veterans from our wars, such as Iraq and Afghanistan, are honored and community leaders and heroes are praised. The community involvement when a mural is proposed is nothing short of phenomenal. The vetting of the project is extensive. Comparing the quality of the Philadelphia Murals with others throughout the country, leaves little doubt that MAP is a City-Wide Treasure. I, for one, feel so honored to live in a City with a socially sensitive mural arts program like MAP. Rounding a corner and seeing a new mural, which I have never seen before, always brings a smile to my face and an interruption to my routine, as I stop to enjoy the expressiveness, color and usually profound message of the mural. Cheers for the Mural Arts Program of Philadelphia. I can’t wait to see the installation along the Philly to NYC Amtrak Route.

    • Redwoodser

      In the United States, doing good has come to be, like patriotism,
      a favorite device of persons with something to sell.
      H. L. Mencken (1880 – 1956)

      Patriotism is the willingness to kill and be killed for trivial reasons.
      Bertrand Russell (1872 – 1970)

      Patriotism is the last refuge of a scoundrel.
      Samuel Johnson (1709 – 1784)

      • Susan V. McLeer, M.D.

        Patriotism is not the issue. There are many people who suffer substantially in this city. MAP has helped a lot. If you can’t see this, then I’m sorry for you.

        • Redwoodser

          If patriotism is not the issue, then you should never have brought up the fact that our soldiers return from disgusting and criminal wars, which our hypocritical and lying bloodthirsty Empire demands. If you want to get all patriotic because you think MAP should get credit for welcoming back and working with Iraqi mass murderers and CIA Afghan heroin protectors, then be prepared to suffer the consequences of your admiration, propaganda, and stupidity.

          I don’t give a damm if MAP does anything that is NOT mural related.
          Would you like me to repeat that?
          My disgust for MAP is my disgust for the murals.
          Perhaps if you failed to get that the first time around,
          you may with my permission or not read it again.

  • Redwoodser

    “MAP Director of Communications Jenn McCreary…… suggested the t-shirt idea
    to [MAP founder and director] Jane [Golden] and she loved it.”

    Would someone please describe for me in detail if possible,
    exactly what kind of egomaniacal sadism is on display,
    by these 2 childish people and their cotton t-shirt,
    and their failed attempt to publicly mock a very intelligent woman
    who neither belongs to, nor believes in, the mural products of the cult.

    • AnyOldHead

      Because having a sense of humor is really the best way to respond to Saffron?

      • Redwoodser

        I have replied above.

  • Hi! I’m Jenn McCreary, Director of Communications for the Mural Arts Program.

    Thanks to Liz for this post — we’ve gotten so many comments, emails, & calls, that we’ve decided to sell these as a limited-edition item, for our supporters who want to show how they #RollWithMAP.

    Sizes & styles are limited, so for availability/ordering information, please email:

    • Redwoodser

      What does it say about an organization if its sycophantic Director of Communications brings attention to the group, after a well worded and true criticism by a well known writer makes the rounds?

      Is it not unprofessional to give birth to childish animosity while very publicly attempting and failing to ridicule a woman, whose job it is to speak for herself and others that agree with her?
      What does it say about the professionalism of, and or the modus operandi of, a local well entrenched cult of an organization, if they make an orchestrated attempt to ridicule and or shame a very well known and very well respected critic?

      If Jane Golden had ANY integrity, she never would have allowed for the t-shirts to be made.

      MAP can not accept ANY criticism, let alone understand ANY criticism that is well worded and valid, because they don’t have a mechanism for dealing with criticism. They don’t have a pause button. They don’t care what anyone says if that anyone does not agree with them. The MAP cult requires sycophants. And lo and behold, with the emphasis on lo, the MAP fosters and publicly displays while being giddy and sophmoric, unprofessionalism and immaturity.

      The sound you hear in the background, is the cult of MAP laughing
      all the way to the bank.

  • Redwoodser

    Inquirer architecture critic Inga Saffron on Monday
    won the Pulitzer Prize for criticism.

    “In its citation, the Pulitzer Committee cited Saffron “for her criticism of architecture that blends expertise, civic passion and sheer readability into arguments that consistently stimulate and surprise.”

    “Saffron’s “Changing Skyline” column has been popular feature in the Inquirer since 1999. In 2012, she completed a Loeb Fellowship at Harvard University’s Graduate School of Design.”

    “Pushing beyond the usual boundaries of architectural criticism, her columns focus on the buildings and public spaces that Philadelphians encounter in their daily lives.”

    “Saffron applies a reporter’s skills and sensibility to explore the variety of forces – political, financial, cultural – that shape the city. Her columns on waterfront development, zoning and parking issues have led to significant changes in city policy.”

    LAST UPDATED: Monday, April 14, 2014, 4:05 PM
    POSTED: Monday, April 14, 2014, 3:19 PM