By Amina Levites-Cohen
Walking the streets of Philadelphia, it’s hard to ignore the dozens of businesses that have closed their doors due to the coronavirus pandemic. Business owners have taken to boarding up their stores, serving as a reminder that the city has shut down, leaving many residents unemployed. While this reality is bleak, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is teaming up with the Center City District to spread cheer to the otherwise bare and unused storefronts afflicted by the pandemic. In this new program, called the “Storefront Artwork Initiative,” 10 different artists were commissioned to paint 28 miniature murals celebrating the city of Philadelphia.
The Mural Arts Program, founded in 1986 by Jane Golden, began as a way to rehabilitate persecuted graffiti artists and connect them with professional artists. The program focuses on bringing art to marginalized Philadelphia communities with the hope of inspiring and educating children living in these areas. “We are a city that has a real appetite for art,” said Golden, the current Executive Director of the Mural Arts Program on the Storefront Artwork Initiative. She believes that the new murals will create joy in a time when it is lacking and many Philadelphians are overwhelmed by the gravity of the pandemic.
Teddy Sourias, a Philly business owner, said that boarding up his business was “the hardest thing [he’d] had to do as a business owner. Closing the doors was bad enough, but then [he'd] check in daily and see more trash and graffiti, adding insult to injury.” This is the reality that many business owners in Philadelphia must face and the Storefront Artwork Initiative attempts to reduce the effects of vandalism so that businesses can recover without worrying about the conditions of their properties. Sourias thinks that the mural painted on the boards of his storefront will “provide a message of hope to neighbors and passersby.”
Center City District President and CEO Paul R. Levy believes that the “initiative is a way we can temporarily brighten the physical environment, engage local artists and send the message that through creativity and innovation we will prevail.” He said that the blank canvases plastered onto the boards of storefronts were initially put in place to deter graffiti artists, but he later realized that the Mural Arts Program could add “something that would be cheerful and bright.” Although the pandemic has brought unprecedented struggles for Philadelphians, organizations are working to ensure that the city remains a hub where culture, art, and community meet.