Work begins on the Bredenbeck's Bakery mural. (Photo by Sue Ann Rybak)

by Paula M. Riley

Philadelphia’s Garden District is getting a new garden in the form of a beautiful mural on the south side of Bredenbeck’s Bakery & Ice Cream Parlor. The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s newest mural will feature a three-story high garden landscape created by mural artist Ann Northrup.

With 3,600 murals across the city and a waiting list of 2000 other locations, the Mural Arts Program has come to Chestnut Hill. Designed to depict the confluence of the Cresheim and Wissahickon creeks on a fall day, the final mural drawing was chosen by Karen Boyd, Bredenbeck’s owner and mural committee member who championed the effort to get a mural in Chestnut Hill.

“This has been a long dream of mine,” said Boyd, who began the process four years ago by collecting more than 1,000 signatures and donations from her customers at the ice cream counter. “We had an overwhelming response from the community throughout the whole process. People were so open and positive about it.”

Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts Program, praised Boyd for her passion and commitment to the project.

“Karen Boyd is a real beacon in the community,” said Golden, who first came to Chestnut Hill with Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, searching for a good wall for a mural. She was pleasantly surprised to find that Boyd had already begun collecting signatures.

Soon a mural committee was established, composed of Boyd, Bill Valerio, director and CEO of Woodmere Art Museum; Richard Snowden, owner Bowman Properties, and local artists. Working alongside the Mural Arts Program, they oversaw planning and fundraising. After getting input from local committees, they provided the design criteria to five artists.

“We wanted more of a nature scene,” Boyd explained. “Plus, we wanted something that every time you looked at it, you saw something new.”

The committee narrowed the entries to three, and the final drawing was chosen by Boyd. Northrop began painting last month.

When the mural design and plans were formally presented to local organizations, including the Chestnut Hill Community Association, Chestnut Hill Business Association, Business Improvement District and Development Review Committee, they were received positively. The CHBA and BID both contributed to the mural project.

“Jane Golden was very compelling and energetic at the meeting,” said Brien Tilley, CHCA president. “I really am excited about this project, and I think it’s great for the community. Now, Chestnut Hill is becoming part of the internationally recognized Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.”

The few concerns expressed at the CHCA meeting included the permanency, precedence and maintenance of the mural. Boyd explained that a fund had been established specifically for the maintenance and repair of the mural, which, she noted, is expected to remain in “great shape” for 25 to 30 years.

The total cost of the mural, including the repair fund, is approximately $35,000. Funds were generated through local community and business donations and through the Mural Arts Programs.

“I am so thrilled to receive any donation, whether it was $25 or $7, 000,” Boyd said. “I was also very touched by the fact that we had many businesses contribute to this effort.”

McNally’s Tavern was one of the businesses that donated to the mural.

“This is great for Chestnut Hill,” said owner Anne McNally. “It is just one more attraction to make people come to Chestnut Hill.”

Paul Walsh, Elfant Wissahickon Realtor, mural contributor and new president of the Chestnut Hill Business Association agreed.

“This is a wonderful drawing card to the Avenue and it is good for the businesses,” he said.

An independent study by the Econsult Corporation in 2009 found that mural arts projects are one of the top five investments the city can make on commercial corridors, reducing blight and increasing retails sales and properties.

Golden explained that communities throughout Philadelphia have realized various benefits of murals in the neighborhoods. In discussing this impact, she speaks of the power of art.

“Art is truly beautiful and inspiring – it can be catalytical in many ways,” she said. “It can inspire people, attract artists, attract businesses and increase property value and pride in the neighborhood.”

Golden said she expected the Chestnut Hill retail district to experience a direct impact since the Mural Arts Program is adding a Northwest Philly tour in the fall.

“Imagine this – the tour stops in Chestnut Hill, they have lunch, see the mural, look at the businesses and many think about coming back to Chestnut Hill,” she added. ”It’s all about raising consciousness.”

The Mural Arts tour program runs year round and hosts more than 18,000 patrons each year. Golden plans to package tours with restaurant deals.

“Now that is something exciting!” she said.

Richard Snowden was a bit cautious when the mural idea was first presented, but now he shares the same hopefulness for the mural’s impact. A donor to the mural and a member of the planning committee, Snowden believes that the process of getting the mural in Chestnut Hill was an excellent example of how Chestnut Hill is changing for the better.

“This was a wonderful illustration of civic engagement,” he said. “It was remarkable to have so much support among different parties that have disagreed in the past.”

The process reminded him of Chestnut Hill 40 years ago when people got excited about projects and helped to support them. He said he hoped the civic engagement of the mural translates into other upcoming projects the community will be facing, including street trees and pocket parks.

“Hopefully we can keep the momentum of working together,” he added.

Boyd, who serves on both the CHBA and the BID boards, remains as passionate as she was when she got that first signature.

“I think it’s going to be wonderful for everyone that walks by and sees the mural,” she said.

Anne McNally points to Boyd’s relentless pursuit of this project.

“We have her to thank,” she said. “Karen never stops believing in this.”

The Mural Arts Program at its heart is about transforming public spaces and individual lives, but it only works when the community is fully engaged in the process, and this, Golden said, starts with someone believing in it.

“You have to believe in something before it’s real,” she said. “You must believe that art impacts the environment and lives. You must believe that people want art and beauty.”

Boyd believed and so did the Chestnut Hill community.