Rebuilding Place in the Urban Space

"A community’s physical form, rather than its land uses, is its most intrinsic and enduring characteristic." [Katz, EPA] This blog focuses on place and placemaking and all that makes it work--historic preservation, urban design, transportation, asset-based community development, arts & cultural development, commercial district revitalization, tourism & destination development, and quality of life advocacy--along with doses of civic engagement and good governance watchdogging.

Saturday, October 09, 2021

Philadelphia Mural Arts project uses public art as a way to reduce disorder at Chestnut Street station

I think I've ridden heavy rail in Philadelphia, but it was a long time ago.  

I don't remember ever being in the Broad Street Line's Walnut Street station, which based on this WHYY/NPR article, "Mural Arts paid homeless artists to paint 200 columns underneath Broad Street," has a huge expanse of a mezzanine above the track platforms. (Also see "Mural Arts program turns 200 columns in SEPTA concourse into socially distant canvases," Philadelphia Inquirer.)

The concourse ("SEPTA to improve user experience in Center City’s underground concourses," WHYY/NPR) is so big that it screams out for other uses.  And without ordered uses, it was an area where the homeless camped out.  

In 2020, as a way to address this and as part of the transit agency's concourse improvement program, SEPTA commissioned the city's famed Mural Arts Program ("Mural Arts Philadelphia: Empowering Communities through Art," NEA) to paint the columns.  

Artist Lauren Cat West designed the project, called "Lovely Day," and artist Alvin Tull led the actual creation, managing the homeless as "artist assistants" to do the painting.  From the article:

The rows of columns were designed with geometric patterns by artist Lauren Cat West and painted by hundreds of people hired through Color Me Back, a program of Mural Arts Philadelphia that identifies people who are homeless or economically insecure, pays them $50 for a day’s labor, and offers them social services. 

Color Me Back is a component of Mural Arts’ Porchlight initiative, creating public art projects in partnership with the city’s Department of Behavioral Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. 

The job of training them how to paint two hundred concrete columns fell to artist Alvin Tull. He learned to assess each individual’s ability, sending some to paint background color. Others, more able to paint detail, were given more complex jobs.

As part of the city's Mural Arts Month, the mural will be officially unveiled (which couldn't be done during the peak of the pandemic) and tours will be held Monday-Thursday, from noon to 1 pm, by participants, from October 12th to November 18th.

There's a nice video, showing the finished product, with Alvin Tull.


Another interesting public art project at Walnut Station was in 2019, where for one month, all advertising was replaced with artworks ("An anti-advertising campaign of artwork takes over Philadelphia subway station," WHYY/NPR).

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