Philadelphia Mural Program Features Narrative Installation on Immigration to U.S.

PHILADELPHIA—Have you been to Philadelphia lately? Throughout the city, in the heart of downtown and in residential neighborhoods, there are murals everywhere. The huge art installations on the side of row houses, businesses small and large, abandoned buildings, and walls facing parking lots and vacant lots, are a part of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. An expansive mural adjacent to Old City documents immigration to the United States.

The mural effort began as an anti-graffiti campaign in 1984 and was transformed into a formal public art initiative in 1996. Some murals are contemporary and eclectic, others celebrate history and culture, many pay homage to neighborhood legends and the surrounding community. A new project is underway that will honor The Roots, the hip hop band led by Questlove, with a mural in the neighborhood where they grew up, the South Street Headhouse District.

There are literally thousands of murals all over the City of Brotherly Love. The quality of the paintings vary, but the majority are quite good by public mural standards. Periodically, Arts Observer will highlight a selection. First up: The “History of Immigration” mural at Callowhill and 2nd streets. The narrative installation was restored by Simon Huelsbeck in 2002.

All photos by Arts Observer

Above and top of page, The installation begins with images of the first Americans, before groups from other parts of the world came to America’s shores.

The mural depicts Native Americans as ships carrying the first immigrants approach the shores of America.

Waves of transplants, from African slaves to Asian and European immigrants, are included in the narrative installation.

The expansive mural covers more than a century of history and several walls.

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