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Right Up Your Alley: Discovering Philly’s Murals

Kyra Miller April 8, 2018

The Liberty Bell, the Eagles, Meek Mill, Rocky, Cheesesteaks (wiz wit, obviously).

These are all things that comes to mind when one thinks of Philadelphia. History, sports, food and entertainment are all things that come from Philadelphia’s intersection of cultures. But Philly is also known for the street art that pays homage to the cultures that have built this city over centuries.

No matter what neighborhood you’re in, whether it’s Rittenhouse Square, Fairmount, Northern Liberties, Fishtown, Chinatown, Center City (or ‘senner siddy’ as  a true Philadelphian would say) North, South, or West Philly and so on, you can’t go more than a few blocks without spotting street art. Philadelphia has become more than the City of Brotherly Love; it is a city of murals, each one telling stories of people from all different walks of life.

I recently spent some time rediscovering the city that I know and love by profiling different murals across various neighborhoods that promote the vast variety of cultures that call Philadelphia home.

Here’s what I found —

Latinx Heros. 410 W Lehigh Avenue.

This mural, located in North Philadelphia, honors not only the legacies of Latinx leaders, but also embraces the community’s cultural heritage. Presented on the front of a bilingual elementary school in an area where you can hear Latin music blasting from a car stereo in the distance and see Puerto Rican flags billowing in the wind on almost every corner, you can literally feel, see, and touch the sense of cultural and community pride.

Sembrando Sueños, Cosechando Esperanzas. 301 W Hunting Park Avenue.

Here is another North Philadelphia school mural that is dedicated to encouraging a sense of identity and self-awareness within the community. It includes two students in a scene of colorful floral design and is meant to exemplify the beauty of Central and South American countries where many students’ families originate.

The streets of this community pulsate with an energetic vibe, further illustrated by the vibrant colors of homes that line each block.

No Borders. N Front Street + W Oxford Street.

You may miss this beautiful painting while driving through Fishtown if you’re not paying attention. Right across the street from a hipster coffee shop you can hardly find the front door to (they have great mochas) and on the same block as a whole line of street art, this mural is a part of a series of paintings around the city that are meant to show both the beauty of America and touch on our current national concerns.

This one specifically, was painted using butterflies as a symbol to represent the idea that all people are interconnected and that borders are a man-made concept.

History of Chinatown. 10th + Vine Street.

Finally, we’re in Chinatown! This is one of my favorite neighborhoods in Philadelphia because it’s so easy to get lost in the culture. The heritage is strong, and the food is amazing!

This mural represents various scenes of Chinese immigrant history in Philadelphia. From scenes in China to the building of the transcontinental railroad (spot the “Homes Not Highways” sign) to a scene of a young student with his father. It is a political, yet quite intimate depiction of Chinese Philadelphians and Americans and how deeply they have contributed to the community.

A People’s Progression Toward Equality. South 8th Street + Ranstead.

Adjacent to Market Street and across the street from The Philadelphia Inquirer headquarters, stands a riveting mural. It’s message is often overlooked, though it is essential to the history of our nation.

Trying to understand this artwork is meant to prompt a conversation about the notion that Abraham Lincoln was a hero who ended slavery and kickstarted a conversation on equal rights and race relations in America. While this may be true, this image shows the vigilance and hard work of not only abolitionists and civil rights advocates but of all people of color whose labor built this country from the ground up.

Unifying the Cultures of Neighborhoods in Philadelphia. 53 North 15th Street.

Finally, we find ourselves in the heart of Center City, right by JFK Boulevard and across the street from City Hall at one of the most famous murals in Philadelphia. Many Philly natives think of Center City as simply a place of work or an area to avoid, leaving its magic disregarded!

This mural consists of five panels, each showing distinct themes of Philadelphia neighborhoods and American culture but all next to each other, suggesting assurance that they will always be just a call away.

The first panel depicts Black migration to Philadelphia, the second showing European migration.

The third painting sheds light on a community near and dear to my heart, the Mummer’s Parade! Coming from a Mummer family I know how much the parade defines Philadelphia and its people. Starting in 1901, it has become a true legacy throughout the city.

The fourth panel shows an interracial marriage, and lastly a picture of a father and daughter sharing a moment together in North Philadelphia.

Philadelphia is about more than just ‘wooder ice’ and Yuengling. It’s a passion-filled place of deep cultural heritage and it’s got the art to show it. Philly’s murals are easy to miss if you don’t look for them, but their messages reflect the city’s shared culture in silent but thoughtful expressions. Take the time to explore them, and you may develop a new sense of Philadelphia.