Murals: Collaborative Expressions of Diversity, Unity and Community Pride

The earliest murals date back over 30,000 years ago when man first crushed minerals to make pigments, and drew, scratched, and painted human and animal figures with sticks and stones on cave walls. Murals are a fascinating window into the culture and community that created them. They educate, inspire and help build community.  Ancient Egyptian, Greek and Roman murals illustrate the heroic exploits of their gods and goddesses.  The walls of the Indian Ajanta cave temples dating back to the 2nd century, contain masterpieces of Buddhist religious art, informing the community of the Buddha's teachings and his life. Painted by Michelangelo in the early 1500's, the ceiling of the Sistine Chapel illustrates scenes from the Book of Genesis of the Christian Bible.  20th century Mexican murals celebrate the country’s history and artistic heritage and promote social and political messages in an effort to build solidarity among its people.

Today murals continue to inform, persuade and inspire us.  They help to build and celebrate community, enriching our everyday lives and transforming our environment.  I have seen this transformation firsthand, while working with elementary students to paint a mural of endangered plants and animals on a dilapidated school courtyard wall, and watching the space transform into a dynamic outdoor learning laboratory.

In many cities and towns murals are collaborative expressions of diversity, unity and community pride. One such collaboration is the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program.  It unites artists and communities to create art that transforms public spaces and individual lives.  Jane Golden, its founder and director, began the project in 1984 to fight graffiti and gang violence in the city and revitalize neighborhoods and lives.  Golden believes that “Art ignites change” and she and her team have worked with at risk youth to create over 3,000 murals, allowing the community to share their stories, traditions and culture.

The Groundswell Community Mural Project brings artists, youth, and community organizations together in New York City to use art as an instrument for social change.  The lives of young people become transformed as they learn new life skills, especially in the areas of creativity, collaboration, critical thinking and compassion.  Director Amy Sananman first started the Project with the mission "to create high quality murals in under-represented neighborhoods and inspire youth to take active ownership of their future by equipping them with the tools necessary for social change."

As the renowned Mexican muralist, Jose Clemente Orozco once said "The highest, the most logical, the purest and strongest form of painting is the mural.   It is for the people."