A thriving inner-city cultural environment contributes to a healthy economic and social environment, which in turn produces significant benefits to the things we value in our natural environment: this is because the most effective antidote to the kind of sprawling outward development that has consumed our landscape, polluted our waterways and escalated harmful emissions across the US over the past half-century is a strengthening of our existing communities.
We particularly need our inner cities to be the kinds of places that will be loved and will endure – that will literally be sustained - over time. The human ecosystem is complex and, while making it healthy also requires a lot of things besides art, a holistic approach to placemaking that includes a key role for culture – especially homegrown culture – is essential.
That is exactly what Philly Painting is doing. To date, it is the most ambitious of many great projects sponsored by Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program, the nation's largest initiative of its kind. Since 1984, the program has created over 3,000 murals and works of public art in the city, engaging over 100 communities each year in the process, according to its website. Mural Arts also sponsors free art education programs for youth, especially at-risk teens and, impressively,provides jobs to adult offenders in local prisons and rehabilitation centers, “using the restorative power of art to break the cycle of crime and violence in our communities.” If you are as interested in this sort of thing as I am, you’ll enjoy the program’s website, especially its sections on the program’s history and emphasis on community engagement.