How to Become a Muralist in Philadelphia

For some, a wall on the side of a building may be just a wall, but for Philadelphia muralists, it’s a blank canvas – for sharing stories, empowering communities, educating the public and fight for social justice.

Vibrantly colorful scenes of love, passion, pain and triumph grace the Northern Liberties neighborhoods of West Philly. Memorials to beloved figures, commemorations of celebrations such as Black History Month, and artwork of acceptance for marginalized communities welcome visitors and bring comfort to residents.

In Love Park, six freestanding murals encourage you to go to the polls and vote. The “To The Polls” mural was curated by Conrad Brenner of the Streets Dept blog and is part of a Mural Arts Philadelphia exhibit, returning for its third year.

There’s the mural called “Create Our Future” by Donna Grace Kroh of West Philly, an artist who has been an independent contractor with Mural Arts for over a year. She took photos of the people of Philadelphia and asked them what their future would look like. The mural features portraits of these residents and their responses.

Then there’s De’von Downes. He took a more personal approach to his mural for the “A Chance for Hope” exhibition. The Jersey native explains why he votes specifically – he thinks his younger cousins ​​deserve a better future. The mural by Kensington artist JC Zerbe reflects the power the vote has over the community to “level the playing field”. His work features a young boy wearing a construction hat using a leveling tool in front of City Hall – a thought bubble above the child’s head reads: ‘Vote to build a better Philadelphia!”

Becoming a muralist takes work, but it’s doable if you have the passion and dedication, as well as the resources. And in Philadelphia, there are programs to help you get started in the mural arts community, like the annual Philadelphia Fellowship for Black Artists.

But how do you navigate learning curves, find funding, and embrace your work? The Inquirer asked these artists how aspiring muralists can perfect their craft and create their own vibrant, conversational pieces in Philadelphia.

First, have a passion for it, Kroh said.

“I think that’s really the most important thing,” she said. “Because it’s definitely a lot more work than people would expect.”

Next, find resources that will help you learn about the trade. She recommends the training programs at Mural Arts. The program teaches muralists everything from how to find the right wall to work on, to the various materials and techniques that will help the mural “last for 50+ years.”

In the spring, there’s a mural training class to help artists “learn the whole process,” Kroh said. After the training, she advises diving into painting and volunteering with wall arts or starting your solo journey.

Having a mentor is another way to navigate learning curves, Kroh added.

“In high school, I ended up having a very good art teacher who showed me street art, screen printing and helped me improve my artistic skills in general.”

Downes agrees, networking with other muralists helps you build a community of support and inspiration. “If you want to be a part of (the scene), you have to actually go out there and be a part of it.”

It’s like dating or jumping into the real world after you graduate – you don’t find the right person. Downes suggests that the first step is to “get involved in the Philadelphia art scene.”

Rec Philly, a coworking space for creatives, is a great place to meet people and pitch your work to them, he said. The organization prompted him to think more about how to make himself known as an artist.

Zerbe also advises to “always strive to be where the art is,” and those opportunities will arise. Visit art galleries, meet artists and see what they’re creating, and find out what’s happening around you and in your city.

But the Kensington artist focused on getting the job done. Volunteering with artists can help you get started. For example, Zerbe began his decade-long career as a volunteer at Mural Arts, then eventually went on to do his own work.

“Find opportunities for yourself, because to be an artist of any genre you have to work on them,” he said. “Work on your craft and what you want to do, and be able to accept constructive criticism, because that’s the only way to grow. If you think you already have all the answers or this or that, you don’t ‘m not going to grow any more.

Muralists aren’t “starving artists,” Kroh said, “we thrive” — and that’s because there’s a lot of funding out there.

One way to find funding is to work as an artist’s assistant. Or you can get funding with grants online — Kroh finds many of his grants through the Wall Arts resource page.

“You can see various project requests where they’ll be 100% behind you with your design, as long as you meet the requirements and everything,” Kroh said.

Other grants can also be found at the Office of Arts, Culture, and Creative Economy (OACCE) in Philadelphia, the Leeway Foundation, and the Fleisher Art Memorial.

Artists are paid for their vision rather than the art itself, as Zerbe sees it. He advises to work on this vision with voluntary projects. Once you’ve built the network, the opportunities (and the money) will come.

“It’s important to understand how you got to where you are and pass that information on,” he said. “Artists should support artists.”

And the key to acquiring those gigs is to get out there, show up and be kind to others, Downes said.

“If you’re nice and really have a nice conversation with someone, like a real human conversation, people will remember you and they’ll throw your name in a room…and from there you’ll meet new people. .

“The most important thing is not to be afraid to bet on yourself and put yourself in the rooms you want to be in.”

But be sure to pace yourself and have fun along the way, Downes said.

Think of it as a work/life balance focused on your physical and mental well-being, rather than spending.

Stay focused, don’t get discouraged, and don’t compare yourself to other artists, Kroh said.

“We are all on our own path,” she added. “As long as you have the passion and drive for it, we have enough space for all of us to thrive in art.”

And Downes reminds you to be true to your art and not lose sight of the art.

“I think remembering what you started doing art for keeps you aligned with the right projects and the things that are right for you, because you no longer stray away from the fun,” he said. declared. Now you are just doing art instead of doing work.

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