by Wesley Ratko
Jane Golden, Executive Director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, showed the CHCA Board of Directors a concept for a mural planned for the side of Bredenbeck’s Bakery at 8126 Germantown Ave. Her presentation, which was intended to answer questions and receive feedback from the oard, received a mostly favorable reception, though some members expressed reservations.
“We’re really excited, but we want to make sure that we have community buy in,” Golden said.
Golden, whose work arranging for murals to be painted on the sides of Philadelphia buildings has attracted international attention, said that places all over the city request murals from the Mural Arts Program. She said she was in Chestnut Hill because of the efforts of Karen Boyd, the owner of Bredenbeck’s, who started a petition in her store last year asking for a mural on the east-facing wall of her building.
The Mural Arts Center raised money, and the program worked with the director of the Woodmere Art Museum and curators from the Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Arts to find the artist, muralist Ann Northrup. Northrup’s work is featured throughout Center City, including a mural on the side of the Independence Charter School at 16th and Lombard streets.
Golden said Northrup’s work represents some of the best work in the city for her ability to consider context and incorporate it into her work.
“We want to create an environment that is inspiring and exciting,” Golden said, adding that she wants to be “a good community partner.”
She said that mural arts tours in the city have attracted thousands of visitors and are a good thing for commerce, adding that restaurants have been active participants, willing to work with the program because the murals attract business.
“We want to do everything we can to look at that nexus of public art, community and economic development,” said Golden.
Golden was joined by Caroline King, fundraiser for the Mural Arts program. King, a Chestnut Hill resident, told the board she was there to solicit advice to raising the last bit of funding needed to pay for the mural. One idea she suggested was the possibility of auctioning off the name of an ice cream flavor at Bredenbeck’s for a donation. Bredenbeck’s has raised some of the money for the mural, and the Mural Arts Program would also help to fund the effort.
The cost of the mural is estimated at $25,000 and funds are still needed before work can begin. Murals are created with special paints that are guaranteed to last between 20 and 25 years.
That permanence was off-putting to some board members. Board member Elizabeth Bales was concerned that the mural didn’t fit the aesthetics of the Avenue.
“I’m afraid that it sets a precedent for something that’s not in keeping with the style of the community,” she said.
She suggested a temporary arrangement using less-permanent paint or a panel system that would allow the mural to be added to and removed from the wall. Golden was receptive to this and referred to a material called Alumalite, a weather-proof material that can be affixed to the building in 6’ by 8’ panels.
“I love it,” said Board member Joyce Lenhardt. “That blank wall has not contributed to our historic district.”
Board member Jean Wedgewood, ultimately the only dissenting vote, felt the mural should be “more architectural” and asked whether the example shown to the Board was the final version.
King said that the final decision is Boyd’s, but the example shown to the board was the result of multiple committee meetings, with Boyd and adjacent property owner Richard Snowden, who have both given their approval.
Wedgewood worried that without a formal vote from the board, the community association were “superfluous” to the process.
“We don’t want to do something the community doesn’t want,” Golden said. She added that while the concept shown is the final submission, the artist is open to community input. “You are not superfluous to this process.”
Bales suggested that the mural should be temporary and the concept taken to the community at-large through a write-in campaign with the Local. In response, Golden said she would confer with her director of operations to put together an alternative budget for the cost of doing the mural on Alumalite panels.
Bales asked if painting murals would attract graffiti. Golden vehemently denied that it did.
“No it absolutely does not,” she said.
She added that the Mural Arts Program has done between 1,800 and 1,900 outdoor murals since their inception in 1984 and in all of that time, only 6 have been defaced in any way.
“It’s a startling statistic,” she said.
Board member Mark Keitz asked about the kind of endorsement her group was looking to receive from the Board.
“We have a very intensive design review process,” Golden said. “This still have to be reviewed by a panel of [the artist’s] peers.”
Golden’s presentation is the culmination of a year’s worth of planning, during which she met with Boyd and Snowden, formed a design committee, and selected an artist.
Work on the mural is hoped to begin this spring. The board took no formal action.