Thanks to the work of countless artists and community organizers, Philadelphia has gained national recognition as the City of Murals. Muralists Betsy Casañas and Ernel Martinez join Mural Arts Program founder and director Jane Golden in this conversation on culture, community building, and arts education. Moderated by Penn urban design professor Amy Hillier, the event will feature site-specific mural projects from around the city.
Jane Golden, as the driving force behind the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is a true agent of social change, a Philadelphia phenom. Conceived as an anti-graffiti program in 1984, the Mural Arts Program has under Golden's leadership produced over 3600 landmark works of public art in nearly every neighborhood throughout the city. What do these murals embody? So much—about what transforms places, people, communities, and institutions. Read the program's mission statement: "We believe art ignites change." Live its golden rule: "When we create art with each other and for each other, the force of life can triumph." And celebrate its "Palette of Core Values." Do these things, and you will know why Jane Golden has been honored with so many awards, among them the Philadelphia Award, the Hepburn Medal, the 2012 Governor's Award for Innovation in the Arts, and the Distinguished Daughter of Pennsylvania Award.
Betsy Casañas is a studio and public mural artist, a community activist, and an educator who was born and raised in the heart of "The Badlands" of North Philadelphia's barrio. She received her BFA from Moore College of Art and Design, and has worked in the Latino community since 1994. Casañas has exhibited her work in various solo and group exhibits and has designed over 40 public murals and mosaics nationally and internationally. In 2007 she cofounded The Semilla Arts, a grassroots initiative that uses collaborative art as a means of empowering people and communities in underserved areas. In 2010 she opened "A Seed of Diamond Gallery," a community space where artists of different cultural background gather to tell their stories through spoken word, music, and visual arts.
Ernel Martinez was inspired to become a mural artist while a PennDesign student in Jane Golden's class on public art at the University of Pennsylvania, where one of his mentors was Terry Adkins. Martinez received his MFA from Penn in 2004 and has since worked on over 25 murals across Philadelphia, including A Place to Call Home, The Color of Your Voice.
Amy Hillier holds joint faculty appointments in Penn's School of Design and School of Social Policy and Practice, where she teaches and studies the impact of the built environment on public health and welfare—in particular, the impact to disadvantaged communities of more limited access to services and resources. Her research spans such topics as food, physical activity, and obsesity; outdoor advertising; and historical mapping projects. She is, for example, currently directing a public history project to map race and class in the W.E.B. DuBois Seventh Ward of Philadelphia. One result of the project has been to collaborate with the city's Mural Arts Program on Mapping Courage, a mural honoring Du Bois and Engine Company 11, Philadelphia's historically segregated black fire house.
Executive Director, Philadelphia Mural Arts Program