A Turning Point for Mural Arts

This month’s “Open Source” project has us excited for the future of the decades-old program.

French artist JR works on his 15-story photographic creation. | Photo by Steve Weinik

French artist JR works on his 15-story photographic creation. | Photo by Steve Weinik

After more than 30 years in Philadelphia, the ambitious Mural Arts Program has racked up its share of hits and misses, as we’ve dutifully chronicled. But we have a feeling October’s “Open Source” project will find its place in history among the winners.

Throughout the next month, Philadelphia will be home to nine visiting artists who will leave mementos of their stays on skyscrapers, hotels, skate parks and shuttered schools around the city. As Mural Arts doyenne Jane Golden sees it, “Open Source” continues to advance Philadelphia on its track toward becoming a world-renowned hub for arts, culture and innovation. Several local artists are participating as well.

French artist JR, whose poignant photographic murals have graced landscapes in cities from Hong Kong to Rio, constructed a black-and-white piece that consumes 15 floors on the south side of the Graham Building at 15th and Chestnut. It depicts a local Pakistani immigrant who now peers down at passersby. New Orleans artist MOMO created two colorful geometric works: a 27-story mural on the Sonesta Hotel that should be debut-ready any day now, and a smaller one in Fishtown made with the help of local high-schoolers. And Shepard Fairey, of the famed Obama HOPE poster, will contribute two new murals, both inspired by his conversations with former Graterford inmates.

On the local front, our favorite “Open Source” project has got to be the Dufala Brothers’ “Turnover.” The PAFA grads will open a temporary waste transfer station at the old Bok school space in South Philadelphia where scrappers can turn in aluminum recyclables and the public can watch the brothers melt and then transform the cans and other junk into art. Not a mural at all, and we’re fine with that.

Golden is particularly excited about bringing these local artists into the mix because it puts them side by side with international A-listers. “Who knows what opportunities will come up for the artists in our city?” she says.

So, will we be seeing more engaging projects like “Open Source” going forward?

“This is completely a turning point for us,” promises Golden. “The plans we have for the next three to five years are becoming incredibly more complicated and inspiring. That means opportunities will open up for our artists here to take new risks, to be creative, to make an impact and an imprint on our society.”

Besides art, the “Open Source” project includes a while itinerary of events. More details here.

The full version of this story appeared in the October issue of Philadelphia magazine.