by Lou Mancinelli

Murals in this area will be showcased during a Mural Arts Tour of Northwest Philadelphia hosted by the City of Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program.

The tour, which celebrates this month’s dedication of Chestnut Hill’s first mural, a building-sized Wissahickon Creek-themed piece on the south wall of Bredenbeck’s, 8126 Germantown Ave., will take place from 10 a.m. to noon Saturday, Nov. 24. It leaves from the Trolley Car Diner at 7619 Germantown Ave and will include more than 20 murals. The cost is $30 for adults, $28 for seniors, and $20 for children 12 and under.

Whenever a new mural is dedicated in a neighborhood, Mural Arts conducts a tour of various murals throughout that neighborhood.

“Jane Golden and Mural Arts is incredible,” said Ken Weinstein, owner of the Trolley Car Diner, who was involved in the five-year process of bringing a mural tour through Chestnut Hill, Mt. Airy and Germantown. “They just know how to get things done.”

Any mural represents the synthesis of a community process. Before the Mural Arts Program will approve a project from applicants, a list with thousands on the waiting list, its staff hosts community meetings to collect input about potential locations and concepts.

Once a concept is selected, numerous drafts are presented for review. Last year, a contest was held to choose the artist for the $35,000 Bredenbeck’s mural, “Wissahickon Crossing,” created by Ann Northrop. The mural, Northrop’s ninth, is a a piece 32 feet high at its highest point,and 40 feet wide.

“We never want to put anything anywhere until we get buy-in from all parties,” said Dawn Frisby Byers, director of tours and merchandise for Mural Arts., noting that the process can sometimes be lengthy. She said in some neighborhoods it can take a few months.

A mural tour is a way to see an illustrated narrative of a neighborhood. For example, in North Philadelphia various murals celebrate civil rights, while others advocate for overcoming drugs and demonstrate how those drugs have affected members of the community.

The “Healing Walls” mural in that area brought together prisoners at a state correctional facility to discuss their loved ones, victim’s advocates and justice.

“It brings you into places you wouldn’t have necessarily known about and acquaints you with their [community members’] social problems,” said Northup.

The mural itself represents a long process in which the artist considers the identity of the community and thinks about how the character of neighborhood can be represented artistically, she explained.

For the Northwest tour, the heated trolley will pass murals like the “Seeing our Voices, Signs of Germantown” by Michelle Ortiz, and “Wister Eagles Dream Yard” by David McShane, among others.

As the tour progresses, participants will be able to get a sense of the issues affecting the area from murals like Northrup’s “Growing up in Germantown” mural painted on the side of the Mount Tabor Baptist Church at 110 W Rittenhouse St. To generate ideas, meetings were hosted where senior citizens and teenagers congregated to discuss what it was like to grow up in the neighborhood.

“To me it’s all about economic development,” Weinstein said about the benefits of murals. “The art provides a reason for both local residents and people from other neighborhoods to travel throughout the Northwest. More people in the neighborhood can ultimately translate into a stronger economy.”

Founded in 1984 as the Anti Graffiti Network by activist Jane Golden, the program continues to emphasize its beautification mission. Golden befriended graffiti artists, who impressed her with their self-taught knowledge of art history and their artistic abilities.

She worked to transform vacant lots into pieces of public art that serve to benefit the community. Today, more than 3500 murals grace city walls. The program has expanded, creating art out of trash and recycling materials, transforming a dirty business into something charming.