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Why Philadelphia has thousands of murals

Philly is covered with murals. How — and why — has public art become such a prominent part of the city’s identity?

Philadelphia has notable public art. How did it happen?

If you visit Philadelphia, in addition to seeing the Liberty Bell, you’ll spot one of the thousands of murals in the city. That leads to a natural question: Why does Philly have so many murals?

The city’s unique public art program is the answer, as the above video shows. Mural Arts Philadelphia is a unique organization that mobilizes public and private funds to drive a very tenacious group of artists and administrators to cover the city in murals. Started in the 1980s as an anti-graffiti initiative, it’s since become a public art dynamo that serves as a model for cities around the world.

But the structure of the group is only part of the reason Philadelphia has all those murals — their benefits provide another answer. The wall art is a formidable tool in the fight against urban blight, and it also draws tourists to different parts of the city. Murals can also transform the lives of people who paint them: Mural Arts Philadelphia has programs for schools, prisons, ex-convicts, and people recovering from substance abuse issues, all of which have been shown to improve outcomes.

All those social goods complement the aesthetic benefit. Philadelphia has figured out how to transform chipped brick and concrete into a canvas. That can transform a city, too, one wall at a time.

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