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Who are the murals really for?

HSBurke's picture

So many thoughts are running through my mind after yesterday's trip. First off, I'd like to say that it was really a joy exploring the city with you all. Getting out of the classroom felt so freeing; I hope we have another opportunity to get into the city as the semester progresses (fancy Philly 360 dinner, anyone?). 

I was really, really excited to go on the mural tour. But, as soon as I got onto the trolley I began to have misgivings. Unfortunately, it was difficult to physically see the murals. As we learned by looking at the restorative justice mural up close (versus the picture on Barb's PPT) there is so much detail that really transforms and adds to the meaning of the art. I felt handicapped not being able to see that detail. Riding in a trolley through some poorer neighborhoods of Philly also felt particularly awkward. Not only were we blatantly advertising our tourism of the neighborhood, but the tour guide encouraged us to "wave to everyone" which made the fact that we didn't belong even more obvious. This feeling of foreignness encouraged me to think about who the murals are really for. Are they for the tourists who go to see them? This question was extremely relevant as we passed this mural:   

The wall was covered in QR codes. I was immediately surprised by these -- they seemed out of place. My thoughts were confirmed when I heard Shannon also comment of the classed-ness of the wall. How many people in that neighborhood can afford classed luxuries such as phones with QR scanners to be able to "use" the wall? It would have been so much more accessible to simply put writing on the wall. While our tour guide argued that the wording would be unreadable, the codes also must be directly approached to be scanned. Even on the tour we barely had time to get out and scan the codes. Would someone driving through, especially someone unfamiliar with the neighborhood, feel comfortable parking and getting out of their car to approach the wall? I doubt it. I wonder who this wall is really for. The tourists who won't/can't get close enough to scan the wall for information or the resident who likely doesn't have the technology to do so. 

Adding to my curiosity was the fact that our guide didn't seem to know much about the role of the community in the mural planning process. Does this mean that their input is less than we would like to imagine? Or just that he couldn't provide us with the detailed information that we wanted.

Despite some problematic moments, I really enjoyed this tour. I never knew that Philly was the mural capital of the world, and that makes me proud to be a (temporary) Philadelphian. Despite their physical silence, these murals spoke so loudly. And personally, I was more than happy to listen. 



S. Yaeger's picture

I'd like to have an

I'd like to have an unofficial ride on the EL to see the Love Letter murals and a dinner out together.  Maybe we can do something over fall break?