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Q&A: TD Bank Presents, How to Make It in the Arts with Mural Arts’ Jane Golden

Susan Nam

In honor of Philadelphia magazine’s 11th annual Trailblazer award, and with the support of TD Bank, we’ve asked past and present trailblazers and all-around Philly influencers to share their secrets to success and fiscal know-how. Here, 2015 Trailblazer Award winner and founder/executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program Jane Golden Heriza spills on everything from making a name for yourself in the arts to her favorite place for a cup of coffee (psst: she has two!).

Having overseen the impressive task of creating over 3,800 murals and directing a staff of 63 and 150 artists city-wide, how do you distinguish when it’s time to lead and time to delegate?

Within the last five years, it’s been an interesting exercise for me to think about the long term health and sustainability of the mural arts program. I have tried really hard to create a talented, senior team. I would say it’s been difficult, challenging, and extremely rewarding to build real capacity and infrastructure in Mural Arts and that’s been how I have been able to very intentionally differentiate between what I do and what I want other people to do.

After establishing the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program in 1996 and continuing as its executive director, what’s your best advice to young women about maintaining doggedness?

Finding my life’s work was part determination, part luck, but it also had to do with listening to my inner voices and being open to opportunities that came my way. So my advice would be that you should hold on tightly to your creativity, be proud of your skill and talent but know you might have to invent your own category. If you find yourself in a deadening situation, be courageous and willing to make a change, when you find work that opens your heart and ignites your creativity and spirit—follow it fearlessly.

How do you stay fiscally fit?

We run Mural Arts in a very lean way. 82 percent of the money we bring in is spent on programs and projects, so we get it out on the streets quickly and efficiently.

In my own life, I’m the same way. I’m always fiscally responsible. I think my husband and I have an interesting perspective about where we are in the world; we’re grateful for what we have and we’re also very modest in how we spend money.

What’s been your most worthwhile investment and why?

15 years ago, my husband and I purchased the house where we still live—in the art museum area. It was built in the late 1800s. It has real character and being in this part of the city means we are close to museums, the river, the park and dog parks (the last being very important for our wonderful lab Buddy).

Do you have a personal mantra or mindset that you adhere to? If so, what is it?

I have two; one has really become the model of Mural Arts and that is: “Art ignites change.” And the other is: “Hope is believing in spite of the evidence and watching the evidence change.” The notion of hope is so powerful, and I’ve seen the extraordinary strength and resilience of the people and young people in Philadelphia for 30 years.

Favorite place in Philadelphia for a caffeine fix?

I have two: La Colombe. I love their coffee. I go to the one right across from City Hall before meetings. But I also like a neighborhood place right near the Thomas Eakins House, L’aube on 17th and Wallace.

Who has been the most influential woman in your life?

It’s really my mom. My mom was an extraordinary artist and she was also someone who was incredibly smart, insightful and perceptive. She was a huge believer that art could be connected to social change. I remember my mom meeting with the former graffiti writers and the kids showing her their artwork, and she was giving them a critique. When I think about strong women, I think about my mom.

What advice do you have for women about trailblazing in the arts?

If you’re interested in the visual arts, I would not be deterred by rejection it all. It happens to everyone. I would be absolutely dogged and tenacious about meeting as many people as possible and following every lead that you can and really understanding that you have to work tirelessly in practicing your craft.

The truth is that there are so many fields that can benefit from creativity and innovative thinking. I want young artists to understand that they have gifts and talents that are applicable not just to the art world per se, but to the world.

What’s been the most pivotal moment in your career?

It was huge the day that Wilson Goode and Tim Spencer hired me to work for the Anti-Graffiti Network [and when] Ed Rendell decided he would create the Mural Arts Program and assigned me to go work with Michael DiBerardinis. It was huge when I met Estelle Richman and she decided to make Mural Arts part of social services, and it opened the door to working with kids who are truant and delinquent.

For more financial know-how and saving tips, visit TD Bank, here.