The Mural Pope Francis Signed is Part of a Network of Social Justice Murals in Philadelphia

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At the Festival of Families on Saturday night in front of the Philadelphia Museum of Art, Pope Francis signed the last piece of a mural.  He chose to sign it “Francis”, in nice big letters.  This is not an isolated mural, but part of a greater Mural Arts Program that helps transform the City of Philadelphia.  The program takes blight and turns it into hope.

The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s mission statement says that,

“We believe art ignites change. We create art with others to transform places, individuals, communities and institutions. Through this work, we establish new standards of    excellence in the practice of public and contemporary art.  Our process empowers artists to be change agents, stimulates dialogue about critical issues, and builds bridges of connection and understanding.  Our work is created in service of a larger movement that values equity, fairness and progress across all of society. We listen with empathetic ears to understand the aspirations of our partners and participants. And through beautiful collaborative art, we provide people with the inspiration and tools to seize their own future”.

The program began in 1984 as part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti network, but became the Philadelphia Mural Arts program in 1996, funded by a non-profit organization, Philadelphia Mural Arts Advocates.

This particular mural is entitled, The Sacred Now: Faith and Family in the 21st Century.  The lead artist is Cesar Vivero, but the mural is headed for the Guinness Book of World Records as the mural with largest number of contributors for a “paint by number”.  As of Thursday, there were 2,267 individuals who contributed to the mural. Add Pope Francis to that mix.

The Theological and transformative effects of the Mural Arts Program was the center of If These Walls Could Talk: Community Muralism and the Work of Justice, by Maureen O’Connell of La Salle University.  O’Connell demonstrates how the Mural Arts Program, with over 3,500 murals becomes a work of Theological aesthetics and justice.

In the foreword to If These Walls Could Talk, O’Connell describes the bigger picture:

“Murals are, more often than not, pictorial representations of memories, dreams, heroes, and aspirations. In Philadelphia, they are also an iterative, if incomplete, visual map of human experience in our city’s neighborhoods—and particularly in those that have seen the ills of poverty, disinvestment, drugs, and violence. Whether the imagery is simple or complex, a mural is a synthesis of individual and collective experience and a testament to the power of artists and community members to understand and represent what’s important to them. Creating a mural is often a complicated civic and creative process, one that begins long before an artist prepares a design and that endures well beyond the mural’s dedication”.

Thus, the murals are prominent in some of Philadelphia’s toughest neighborhoods.

This mural will end up in one on the walls of Saint Malachy school at 10th Street and Thompson Street.  The hope is that the message of love Pope Francis preached this weekend in Philadelphia will continue to inspire.

Read more about this project on the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program webpage.

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