By Christine Fisher & Kara Savidge, for Philadelphia Neighborhoods
When Jane Golden, the executive director of the Mural Arts Program, received an application for a project intended to address homelessness in the city, she said she was “deeply moved.”
Submitted last year by a law student at the University of Pennsylvania, the project proposed a look at housing as a human right, and collaboration between the Mural Arts Program and housing agencies. Mural Arts decided to pursue the project, dubbed “A Place to Call Home,” and look at the issue of homelessness as experienced by children.
“Young people are an invisible part of the homeless population,” Golden said. “When we think about [homelessness] we often imagine adults on the street. We don’t think of kids living in shelters, in cars with families or those who go from house to house.”
Golden added that “A Place to Call Home” steered the Mural Arts Program in a direction it’s trying to go for more of its projects – it epitomized the idea of social change through artistic expression.
“More and more, especially over the last few years, we’re thinking about not just the mural but the mural, block, lot, corridor and community,” Golden said. “Even though we’re the Mural Arts Program our work is about community-based public art, the social power of art and mining it in every way we can.”
Golden said that through the project, the Mural Arts Program wanted to look at abandoned houses in the city and address the idea of “home” as a critical issue for young people.
The project was multifaceted and included several components. On the 3800 block of Melon Street, the facades of more than 30 homes were given fresh, multi-colored coats of paint to create a block-long “community mural.” At 3828 Melon St., with the assistance of city council and Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell, a developer provided the house for the exhibit for several months over the summer and helped to clean it up.
Inside the house, a multimedia exhibit included stop-animations, a sound mural and other images hung on the walls that depicted homelessness through the eyes of children. A series of smaller murals on nearby streets led visitors to the area to the block and house. Golden said the format of this project is one they hope to pursue more in the future.
“[We’re doing] multidisciplinary projects now with many layers,” Golden said. “Sometimes they’re permanent, sometimes permanent with temporary components, but we’re looking at light, sound, video, new technology and it’s all really interesting to us.”
The top floor of the home also included what Golden called a “resource room.” There, visitors were given facts and statistics about homelessness, the bills going through congress pertaining to the issue and organizations addressing homelessness that are looking for volunteers.
“Art for art’s sake is wonderful, but if you’re intent in looking at the link between art and social action, it’s important to talk about the work in a way that gives a tangible way to respond,” Golden said. “We wanted people to leave and think about how they could do something about the issue.”
Golden said that they decided to focus on the block in Mantua because the area is struggling, but has dedicated block captains and community leaders. When Mural Arts existed as the Anti-Graffiti Network, they initially did a lot of work in Mantua and developed relationships with people throughout the community.
“Some people on the block feel that beside the fresh coat of paint, what the project did was that it brought attention to their neighborhood to get lots cleaned, additional police presence and graffiti removed,” Golden said.
Golden said the Mural Arts Program was also able to put people on the block in touch with agencies it’s working with, like the People’s Emergency Center, an organization that works toward social justice.
“The legacy of the project is that care and attention that was devoted to the 3800 block of Melon Street,” Golden said.
Christine Fisher and Kara Savidge bring Eyes on the Street and PlanPhilly dispatches from Mantua, Parkside, and throughout Philadelphia as part of their work for Philadelphia Neighborhoods, a publication of Temple’s Multimedia Reporting Lab, in partnership with PlanPhilly.