Art Ignites Change in Philadelphia

April 17, 2024

Water Gives Life mural, located on Arch St in Philadelphia. Photo by Hilary Reeves.

Mural Capital of the World

Philadelphia is known by many names – The City of Brotherly Love (and Sisterly Affection), The Birthplace of America and The City of Neighborhoods. Did you know it’s also the Mural Capital of the World?

Philadelphia’s walls boast over 4,000 murals, thanks in large part to Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nation’s largest public arts program dedicated to the belief that art ignites change. The program completes 50 to 100 public arts projects a year, bringing art and dialogue to neighborhoods across the city.

The program’s roots stretch back to 1984 with creation of The Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network during Mayor W. Wilson Goode’s administration. Artist Jane Golden partnered with existing graffiti writers in the city to channel their creativity toward public art projects. The program evolved into The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program in 1996 and was renamed to Mural Arts Philadelphia in 2016.

The program goes beyond simply beautifying the city. It employs artists to undertake a participatory process with the community where the project is taking place. What are the core elements of the program? Deeply collaborative relationships between the artists, the program/project managers, the community and others involved. From there, established practices guide artists in creating impactful, community-engaged artwork and projects. Those practices include:

  • Offering multiple, diverse, and meaningful opportunities for community members to participate in the artistic process
  • Taking enough time to build trust and develop relationships
  • Prioritizing and celebrating community assets and cultural traditions

Transit and Mural Arts Philadelphia

Mural Arts projects have appeared all over the city – including in train stations and on buses. Here are two recent projects with SEPTA and DVRPC, co-chairs of the local host committee for the 2024 Mpact Transit + Community conference, which is coming to Philadelphia October 20-23.

Getting to Green


Bus with Getting to Green artwork wrap.
Route 7 bus wrapped with Getting to Green Artwork. Photo by Shira Walinsky. Source: Mural Arts Philadelphia

The goal of Getting to Green, one of Mural Arts’ 2024 projects, is to inspire, educate and motivate Philadelphia residents to embrace transit to get to green spaces. Artists Shira Walinsky and Laura Deutch teamed up on the multimedia project and have created bus wraps, posters and videos. A month-long exhibition is taking place at Cherry Street Pier during April 2024.

In addition to elevating routes to green spaces, the project had a special focus on promoting equity in public transportation. The artists reached out to immigrant, refugee, and non-native English-speaking communities to facilitate a better understanding of the bus system and to encourage them to explore beyond familiar routes, such as the commute to and from work. Their hope was for these communities to see the bus as a means to reach destinations to enjoy, such as the city’s parks.

Read a Mural Arts Philadelphia blog post on the project and check out the project’s Instagram, @gettingtogreen.phl. The project was funded by DVRPC and completed in partnership with SEPTA.

Philly Daydreams: Stories in Transit


Stills from Philly Daydreams videos. Source: Mural Arts

In 2023, artist Anula Shetty filmed the stories, daydreams, thoughts and performances of Philadelphians. Shetty researched SEPTA’s history and captured stories from employees and commuters. During the month of October 2023, riders had the opportunity to tap into the augmented reality project via QR codes on select trains, buses and trolleys as well as via digital screens across the system

On SEPTA’s website, Shetty explains: “The goal is to create connections between people who cross paths during their daily commute. Through Philly Daydreams, I want to provide SEPTA riders a moment to hear uplifting stories of human connection and a moment to be moved by a poem or performance, to imagine, and to daydream, as I got to during the wonderful process of exploring SEPTA and meeting my inspiring city-mates.”

The award-winning filmmaker was the inaugural Public Works artist-in-residence, a residency program that pairs artists with public agencies to better connect those who serve with who they serve.

See a snapshot of the project on SEPTA’s Instagram. Read about the project in Mural Arts Philadelphia’s blog.

Explore the World’s Largest Outdoor Art Gallery 

Hoping to see the art for yourself when you’re in town for Mpact Transit + Community in October? Whether by foot, transit or Segway, there are plenty of options!

Use the Mural Mile map to see over a dozen murals in Center City, on either side of Market Street. The tour offers two options: Mural Mile South and Mural Mile North.

If you’re looking to go with the flow, keep this interactive map from Mural Arts handy. It shows where different murals are in the city with brief descriptions. There are several within walking distance of this year’s conference hotel, the Sheraton Downtown Philadelphia.

Check out for complete list of different ways to explore Philadelphia’s murals.


Magenta squiggleFor more about arts, placemaking and transit, check out:

Mpact Podcast – Episode 57: Transit Stop Transformation
Webinar – The Power of Place

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