Travel Tuesday: Ode to Philly’s Love Letters – A Duet.

I’ve been to Philadelphia three times now – the first with my host sister from France (we saw the typical sites including the Liberty Bell, the Rocky Statue, etc.); the second time to visit some friends who moved there to push their music career forward (saw a show, went to a party, and had a late night Philly Cheesesteak at Geno’s – have to do it once, right?); and the most recent, to visit a friend that just moved to the City of Brotherly Love a few months ago. Each experience was unique to those who I was traveling with or visiting – something that I love about traveling!

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This last trip was really special because my newly transplanted friend, Diana, shared with me a part of Philly that I’ve always heard about but never saw in my previous visits. Philly is known for many things but one that I find most interesting is their public art. Art has proved to be a very successful tool for urban renewal in the Philadelphia. In fact, The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program is the largest public arts program in the US. It was originally started to address the graffiti problem the city was experiencing and has since become a much greater force in addressing other social issues affecting the city including crime and poverty.

Evidence of the impact of this project can be seen in this special from PBS, Philadelphia’s ‘Love Letter’ Murals Spark Neighborhood Revival. The subject of this special, the ‘Love Letter’ Murals was actually the first thing Diana shared with me on this trip! I’ll let her share the secrets of this project as well as how you can experience it next time you’re in Philly…

-Bianca

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Almost a year before I moved to Philadelphia, a long-distance romance sent me a love letter in the form of an e-mail containing a photo of a mural in Philadelphia under which we planned to someday reunite. It read, “If you were here, I’d be home by now.” Now that West Philadelphia is my new home, I take almost all friends who visit on this $2.00 deal of a mural arts tour. The sentiments expressed on the prolific 50 wall Love Letter series are fittingly fresh, but also sincere.

Miss-you

The Mural Arts Program (MAP) could not have penned a sweeter love letter for the city and its residents. Murals draw attention to beautiful but often neglected parts of the city decreasing the possibility for unnoticed crimes, voice community visions, tell local stories, and an epistle of other wonderful and necessary functions. I didn’t go one week from moving here until I stumbled upon a camera crew documenting the completion of a mural dedicated to nurses in Chinatown. Tireless dedication for public art seems unique to Philly as the MAP gears up to extend another series to the opposite end of the Blue Line. I hear they’ll be re-commissioning Steve Powers aka ESPO, whose old-school graphic art style tugs at my visual heart strings much like the faded signs on burnt brick walls and splintered storefronts all over Philly do each day. His relationship to MAP mirrors what will continue to be as he was a former tagger turned commissioned artist. Instead of street art destroying the visual landscape of a neighborhood, the MAP and other new Philly artists reinvigorate the spaces they occupy.

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Friends visiting from DC told me nothing like this could happen on this scale in a city as “stuffy” as theirs. While DC has its free museums, Philly art is free to public while also blending into and improving the cityscape. I plan on taking friends on more informal tours and hope Bianca and previous guests will come back soon to take in the new murals in the future. One current favorite on my Love Letter Mural Music Mix is jj’s “New Work,” best enjoyed at sunset while the Blue Line chases the “tangerine sky” west on the muraled walls. 

-Diana

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