Of course, street art is pretty to look at, but Mural Arts Philadelphia creates street art that not only transforms the wall it appears on, but also changes lives. The organization works with communities to create 50–100 new public art projects each year and also does a great job restoring the older murals in its growing collection. Today, it is the largest collection of collaborative artwork in the world – there are over 4100 pieces! We were excited to do the Philadelphia Mural Mile walking tour, see as much as street art as we could, and learn some of the stories behind the artwork.
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The tour starts at the Academy of Fine Arts Hamilton Building, 128 N. Broad Street. We checked in with reception and received buttons to wear. Everyone was ready a few minutes before the tour’s scheduled start time so our tour guide, Brendan, gathered the group and we headed off.
About Mural Arts Philadelphia
First, we learned more about Mural Arts Philadelphia and how the organization came about. Originally it started as an anti-graffiti summer program in 1984. They wanted to redirect the talents of the graffiti artists to make art that would beautify the area. This really resonated with me, especially after seeing the graffiti on top of some beautiful murals in Bushwick, a neighborhood in Brooklyn, New York.
The mission has grown to be much more than just an anti-graffiti project though. They have helped people with substance abuse issues, those that have been incarcerated, the homeless, and more. It really was inspiring to see the amazing murals they have created and hear Brendan explain the stories behind them. It was clear that Brendan was very knowledgeable and passionate about the mural and the artists.
Mural Mile Philadelphia
The murals are not just about the inspiring stories, they are also impressive pieces of artwork. One of the things that struck me was the sheer size of the murals. Some were difficult to photograph because they were so big. And as you would expect with street art, most were pretty bold and colorful.
The murals are painted on the side of buildings, so I didn’t really think much about the bricks I saw around the edge of the art. Then Brendan pointed out that the bricks around one of the murals were actually just painted on. This technique of painting the bricks on is called Trompe-l’oeil, which means to deceive the eye. The artist makes the viewer believes that something painted on is actually a 3D physical object. I had to get really close to verify it because they looked so real. I noticed that several of the murals we saw had painted on bricks.
My Favorite Philadelphia Wall Art
We saw so many amazing murals along the Philadelphia Mural Mile with inspiring stories to go along with them, I really loved them all. Here are a few that I wanted to highlight:
How to Turn Anything Into Something Else
The art collective, Miss Rockaway Armada, worked with about 30 Mural Arts art education students aged 10 to 15 over the summer to create this colorful mural. It is a huge piece and there is lots going on so you will want to take some time to really see it. The artists had students draw an animal head on a sheet of paper, then fold it so no one could see it, and pass it to the next student to draw more, and so on. The artists wanted to show students that not everything has to end the way it began. I know sometimes it is hard to keep a positive attitude when things don’t look good. I really loved the message from this mural!
Start From Here
Visually, this mural by Isaac Lin is mesmerizing and it also covers two buildings! If you just looked at the mural and the title, you might not guess it is about immigration! He used colors of national flags to remind us that except for Native Americans, we all come from somewhere else as immigrants or refugees. The title comes from the idea of starting a new life, just as his parents did when they came to the United States.
Tree Of Knowledge
This mural by Michael Webb was created in honor of the 50 year anniversary of Eisenhower Fellowships. The organization identifies and connects innovative leaders committed to creating a better world that is more peaceful and prosperous. The Tree of Knowledge mural has objects hidden among the leaves that show what knowledge and perseverance can accomplish. You also see the ladders leading up the Tree of Knowledge. The bricks and alcove around the painting look so realistic you have to get close to see they are painted.
This is a huge (2,200 square feet) multimedia mural led by artists Kathryn Pennepacker and Josh Sarantitis in partnership with Project H.O.M.E. and the City of Philadelphia Department of Health and Intellectual disAbility Services. The artwork aimed to give a voice to Philadelphia’s homeless, reduce the stigma around homelessness, and to raise awareness around the issue in our society. The mural is so big, we weren’t really able to capture it all in one photo!
Contributors, many who were homeless, wove strips of cloth depicting personal reflections on what it means to have a home. They adhered those strips to the wall and then painted. The artists also added pieces of print, sheet metal and cable into the mural. There were so many stories on this mural, I wish I would have had time to look at all of them.
Women of Progress
This mural by Cesar E Viveros-Herrera & Larissa Preston includes over 44 symbolic images representing diverse communities of women, the different roles they have played over time, and the complex obstacles they’ve overcome. The masks worn by some of the women represent the social issues women have faced (and continue to face) in their fight towards equality.
It is painted on Philadelphia’s New Century Trust Building. The New Century Trust is a foundation that works to end the political and economic inequalities facing women and girls in Greater Philadelphia. If you look closely, you can spot Eleanor Roosevelt towards the top left of the mural. As she once said, “The battle for the individual rights of women is one of long standing and none of us should countenance anything which undermines it.”
The mural reminds us how far women have come and the issues we still need to deal with like income equality.
Dirty Franks is actually a bar in Philadelphia and instead of posting their name on the outside, they have a mural by the artist David McShane of different Franks on the walls. We had fun trying to guess the famous Franks depicted in the mural. They were creative and didn’t just include people with the first name Frank. For example, since the bar is in Philadelphia, they had to include Ben Franklin! I also like that they recently added Pope Francis, just in time for his visit to Philly.
I really could go on and on. We saw so many impressive murals. Check out our video for more insight on our tour. Even in the video, it is hard to really get a sense of the scale of the murals, they really are huge.
Their Royal Highnesses Charles, the Prince of Wales and his wife, Camilla, the Duchess of Cornwall, also spent an afternoon with Mural Arts to learn more about the program in 2007. If you would like to visit the murals yourself, you can use this map to help locate the artwork.
Logistics for the Philadelphia Mural Tour
The Mural Mile tour is definitely more than one mile long! According to my fitbit, it is probably closer to two miles over the two-hour tour. Our Philadelphia mural tour ended close to the intersection of 12th Street and Locust. Brendan offered to direct anyone back to the starting point. We just walked to the 11th street subway stop which was about 5 minutes away.
There are no breaks during the Mural Mile tour, so you will want to use the facilities and grab a drink before it starts. The tours operate rain or shine, so you should check the weather and come prepared. The day we had our tour it was hot, but we still had a great time. For those with mobility issues, there is also the option to do a trolley tour. You can find the schedule for the different tours that are offered here.
Tickets should be booked online for $22 per person or the Mural Mile tour is included as part of the Philadelphia Pass. If you plan on doing a lot of sightseeing, the Philadelphia Pass might save you some money. It includes admission to over 40 different top attractions (check out what attractions are included and pricing here).
We really enjoyed our tour of the Mural Mile in Philadelphia. Thanks so much to our tour guide Brendan! The artwork was so impressive and the stories behind the art were so inspiring.
Has street art inspired you?
Expert Tips for the Philadelphia Mural Mile Walking Tour:
- Come prepared for the weather and lots of walking. Wear comfortable shoes and bring appropriate weather gear – i.e. umbrella, jacket, sunglasses.
- Check in with reception a few minutes before the tour, once everyone arrives they will start the tour.
- If you plan on doing other sightseeing while in Philadelphia, you may want to consider buying the Philadelphia Pass which includes the Mural Mile tour (check out what attractions are included and pricing here).
Disclosure: No financial compensation was received. Thanks to Mural Arts Philadelphia for providing complimentary tours, so that we could share our experience with our readers. As always, opinions expressed here are my own.
This post also contains affiliate links. This means we will receive a small commission for some purchases made using links in our blog with no additional cost to you. Please be assured we would not promote any product unless we believe that our readers will also benefit. The commission does not influence the editorial content of this site.
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