My son and I have had this fascination for street art for a while now. I'm still bummed that we never got the chance to visit 5 Pointz in Long Island City before they started turning the site of the once graffiti mecca into a two-tower rental. Thankfully, there are many places where we can get our street art fix. Not all street artworks are the same, I know; but we'll take what we can when we can.
We took advantage of last month's Martin Luther King, Jr. long weekend by taking a family day trip to Philadelphia. Philly is long known for its riveting street art culture, which speaks volumes about the city's urban lifestyle, and its people's glorious moments as well as their frustrating struggles. The Mural Arts is established as part of the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network that aims to turn graffiti writers' grievances into an artform that sparks constructive dialogues within the community. Three decades later, the Mural Arts continue to feature artists whose works transform public spaces into one big engaging, thought-provoking, and even life-changing outdoor art gallery.
The Mural Arts offers various tours, not only of the Mural Mile, but of the many different public artworks sprawled all over Philadelphia. The price range of the tickets for the tours are between $8 and up to $32 per person, depending on the exhibit, length of tour and mode of transportation - on foot (walking tours), on Segways, and aboard trains and trolleys. As always, professionally trained guides offer in-depth information on each piece, including the artists and their techniques, neighborhoods and the significance of the pieces in the community, and so much more.
Visitors are always welcome to do self-guided tours at no cost. Zero to low-cost travel experiences are always a good thing, especially when you have a family of four and ticket prices can easily eat up a huge chunk of your travel budget. For this trip, we didn't just decide to do a self-guided tour because it is free; but also because we wanted to have the leisure to step inside a warm cafe or restaurant whenever we felt the need to. And it sure was a cold January winter day that called for indoor heat refuge.
My husband prepaid a spot in the parking garage of the Sheraton Philadelphia Downtown Hotel on 17th Street before we headed out. You could certainly cover the two Mural Mile routes, Mural Mile North and Mural Mile South, in one day. We, however, could only spend half a day mural-spotting due to an afternoon commitment. Parked pretty much in between the two Mural Mile routes, we could either conquer the northern or southern routes. Taking into consideration the many murals we could spot on 13th Street alone, we chose to take the Mural Mile South on.
As we made our way down, we made sure to maximize our Philly visit by improvising, passing through streets where some Mural Mile North artworks and other pieces are installed.
Emerging from the hotel parking lot, we came across the Freedom Sculpture by Zenos Frudakis (above) on Vine and 16th Streets, as well as one of Shepard Fairey's Stamp of Incarceration murals on Race Street. The murals of Amira Mohamed (below) and James Anderson (installed at a different location, not pictured) call for attention for prison reform, including the destigmatization of formerly incarcerated individuals who are now doing great things for their communities. Just a block from "Amira", on Race and Broad Streets, is the Independence Starts Here mural, which was recently damaged by strong winds.
Spotting murals was quite effortless south of Market Street. They are located only a short walk from each other. The Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts and the Philadelphia City Hall were distractions from our itinerary for the day, and we allowed ourselves to veer off course.
Thirteenth Street is a gem. Not only is it profusely adorned by street art, it is also filled with quite an impressive number of cafes, restaurants, bars and, of course, galleries. It also serves as sort of a central access to the murals located on its cross-streets.
There are more murals to see, not just from the Mural Mile exhibit, but if I had to pick a favorite from this trip, it would have to be the Philadelphia Muses by Meg Saligman. Perhaps because it is also made up of nine muses like one of the permanent displays that I really love in Grounds for Sculpture. In this composition, Saligman symbolizes nine forms intrical creative expression: sound, visual arts, movement, craft, words, invention, discovery, performance and the human spirit.
My family and I are absolutely planning to go back to complete both the north and south routes of the Mural Mile, and to see the other exhibits by the different Mural Arts program. In addition to the map above, this locator is definitely going to come in handy.
See more of our mural spotting day in Philadelphia on Instagram!
Carol is one of the founders of get there | get lost. She is a New Jersey-based content producer and social media specialist, and a digital nomad wannabe. With regards to travel, she writes mostly about getaways with her family, and is a strong advocate of the “experience over things” mantra. Follow her everyday adventures @fcbsantiago.