public art

Interactive element coming soon

The murals of Philadelphia cover so many themes, it's impossible to list them all off the top of your head. Some murals honor historical figures, others pay tribute to neighborhood icons, and some make obscure or direct references to community history. Some murals are serious, others are more whimsical. Some have a point or a mission, and others offer art for art's sake. In thinking about the many murals around our fair city, we confess that we cannot think of any that include an interactive feature, but a new mural that's nearing completion will soon fit that bill.

After several years of delays

A few people have reached out of late, wondering about the new building that's recently arrived on the southwest corner of 17th & Fitzwater, next door to the Marian Anderson Rec Center. Just looking at it, you can easily see it's not a new home. For many years, this space was occupied by a playground along with batting cages associated with the adjacent baseball field. What's coming soon will be a big improvement.

View in the past
Recent view of the new building

It was back in 2010 that the Philadelphia Phillies announced plans for an Urban Youth Academy, with an outdoor location in FDR Park and an indoor facility at 17th & Fitzwater. When people heard about this, they were really excited. And when it didn't happen for several years, they were mostly confused and disappointed. And many (like us) forgot it was even a thing.

And at the same address!

Ever since the building housing Ultimo went up on the northeast corner of 22nd & Catharine, we've been waiting for something to happen to the long-vacant building at the southeast corner. A couple years ago, we were cautiously optimistic that the property would get redeveloped into a mixed-use building, but it's been status quo ever since. If you pass by the building today though, you'll notice there's some change brewing.

Bernie Sanders is coming for ya!

Yesterday, artists began work on a mural on the side of this building which will be titled #PhillytheBern. A collaboration between Old Broads and Disto, the goal of this mural is to increase public awareness of everyone's favorite curmudgeonly presidential candidate, Bernie Sanders. There's a Kickstarter for the project that has a goal of raising $5,000 to compensate the artists and to cover the costs of the mural and at the time of this writing, they've raised nearly $1,700. When they're done, the building will look something like this:

Every little bit helps

Aside from the excellent Trestle Inn, the intersection of 11th & Callowhill is all kinds of rough. Up above you'll find the old Reading viaduct. While it may someday be a wonderful elevated park, it will never be great to pass underneath. Just to the north is the Callowhill substation, a fenced-in area that contains a bunch of electrical equipment that we have to think makes electricity happen in a big chunk of the city. While nobody would debate the importance of the substation, the same number of people would celebrate the experience of walking past it.

But a collaboration between the Asian Arts Initiative and Volta Studio is making the walk up 11th Street a little more pleasant. Emoji Energy is a collection of screenprinted panels affixed to the fence around the substation depicting images of local youth mashed up with designs based on electricity and emojis. These have apparently been hanging up on the fence since last year, but we somehow never noticed.

Will improve currently bland bridge

While it’s the still in the preliminary stages, the Girard Avenue bridge that stretches over the Schuylkill River and connects West Philly to Lemon Hill at Fairmount Park may soon be transformed into one of Philadelphia's most visible murals, a Mural Arts spokesperson confirmed.

View of the bridge at dusk

Created via a pair of murals, the design envisioned by Jonathan Laidacker, who has painted various murals in Mt. Airy and Germantown, would pay homage to Philadelphia's rich rowing tradition and point to nearby Eakins Park, Plan Philly reported.

Like New York in the 1980s but really not at all

For the next few months, one of the El's train cars will double as a moving neuron.

Student art wrapped around a train has transformed it into a moving mural as part of a Mural Arts program to showcase students’ work. Students worked with artist Ben Volta on the We Are All Neurons project, learning about the history of transit art while exploring connections between the brain, art, and creativity. The result is a train car wrapped with a colorful map of a brain, and connections between the neurons like the El connects the different neighborhoods of the city.

The project is part of the Mural Arts Leap (Local Emerging Artists Program) to create opportunities for local emerging artists in unconventional ways. We've already seen Design in Motion, the campaign that painted murals on trash and recycling trucks. Then we saw trash being tossed into trucks colored with garden scenes. It was unconventional and a very nice change for a formerly plain recycling truck.

Obviously, we're generally only interested in development taking place in and around Philadelphia. But we also have a certain fascination with funky architecture stories from other cities. So when a reader sent along this story from The Atlantic Cities, we couldn't resist sharing.


At first glance, you may think that the facade is falling off the house pictured above. It is, in a sense, but it's actually a little more complicated than unexpectedly failing architecture in a seaside English town. The home you see above is actually a public art installation from designer Alex Chinneck. The home was previously blighted and vacant, and was acquired by the town's government to turn into public housing. But the renovation isn't expected to begin for about a year.

A reader was surprised the other day when they spotted a mural on a newish house on the northeast corner of Smedley & Fitzwater. Murals, from what we understand, are a complex undertaking that typically takes considerable planning and a decent amount of time to complete. That's to say that they typically don't pop up overnight. But that's just what has seemingly happened here. Or have we just not visited this block in the last few weeks?


It's true that the mural covers an otherwise uninspiring blank wall, and Mr. Mandela is certainly the type of international figure deserving depiction in public art. But if you look a little more closely at the new piece, you'll notice that it has one unfortunate feature that we hope is corrected soon.

Most scientists agree that we humans are rapidly making our way through the Earth's fossil fuels. With cars being one of the more significant culprits in this phenomenon, alternative fuels have emerged in recent years to attempt to reduce the use of gasoline in getting us from one place to another. One such fuel, E85, combines 15% gasoline with 85% ethanol, a corn-based fuel.

Only one gas station in Philadelphia sells E85, the Shell at 12th & Vine, in the shadow of the Goldtex Apartments. And do they ever want the world to know about that special product they sell.

Just about anyone who's walked around Philadelphia for a day would agree that we live in a city of murals. Whether they're sprucing up blank walls downtown or serving as placeholders until vacant land can be developed, these works of public art make our city more vibrant, more interesting, and more cultured. In addition, the Mural Arts Program has impacted the lives of thousands of kids over the years, working both as an educational institution and as a community service program for juvenile delinquents.

Winter: Crystal Snowscape in Bella Vista

We mostly find ourselves reporting on murals being covered up by new development, like "Autumn," once located two blocks away from the mural pictured above, or the Noam Chomsky mural now covered on Fairmount Avenue. So it brings us special pleasure to take the opposite approach today and tell you about a new mural that went up last week on the 1900 block of Alter Street. And this mural seems unlikely to disappear anytime soon. You may recall, five new homes were built on this street last year.