Street Art Philly: Why They Call It “Mural City”

In addition to its reputation as the city of brotherly love, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania is known as the city of murals. Perhaps this is because it has some of the best street art in the world.

We've already told you why art in Philadelphia is exceptional, but now we are sharing the reasons public art, and specifically, Philly street art, is fabulous. From murals to mosaics to sticker art, Philadelphia offers a one-of-a-kind street art experience.


Powerful Public Art Murals

The obvious place to start is Philadelphia's incredible public art program, "Mural Arts Philadelphia." The project funds mural arts in public spaces and is the largest of its kind in the country. The public art installations can be found in most neighborhoods and areas of the city, including North Philadelphia, South Philadelphia, West Philadelphia, and Center City.

The projects employ local artists to create works highlighting social justice issues, Philadelphia history, as well as current events. The program started as a way to take the creativity associated with graffiti and channel it into a sanctioned production of inspired works.“Legacy” mural, photo by Jason Murphy Photography

One notable mural is entitled "Legacy." The giant mural considers the work of Abraham Lincoln and Frederick Douglas to end slavery.

Located on Chestnut Street in Center City as a collaboration among five public schools, one side of the artwork includes over one million hand-laid glass tiles. The opposite side of the piece was created by inmate artists from a local correctional facility, who painted a map of Africa, as though perceived from a slave ship. It also depicts a middle-aged African-American woman who rises from within a blue flame, while a younger girl observes contemplatively. The mural is just one among the city's collection of powerful works.

Where to find it: 707 Chestnut Street, Center City

Mysterious MosaicsPhoto by David Riggs

From the compelling works of Mural Arts Philadelphia, we're pivoting to an artistic mystery of sorts with what is known as the "Toynbee Tiles."

Believed to be named after the historian and philosopher Arnold Toynbee (to whom the "signs" sometimes presumably refer), starting in the 1980s, an unknown artist began sharing his or her quirky form of graffiti by embedding tiles into the streets of Philly (and other cities). They typically conveyed odd messages, including references to Jupiter and Stanley Kubrick. If you visit Philadelphia to experience the street art, don't forget to keep an eye out for these cryptic installations.

Where to find them: map


Heart-Work Public Art

Another popular set of works throughout the city is known as "Power Hearts." These heart depictions were created by local artist Amberella, to mirror the candy hearts you see most frequently around Valentine's Day and contain inspiring and hopeful messages.

Amberella initiated the project as part of therapy services she received in the aftermath of an abusive relationship. The artist hopes the messages will help others seeking healing.

Where to find them: There are dozens of the hearts in various locations throughout the city“Blue Mussel” painting by UGallery artist Kristine Kainer

Magical MosaicsPhiladelphia's Magic Gardens

In a previous article encouraging you to visit Philadelphia, we talked about Magic Gardens, a unique project dedicated to incredible and unique mosaics. The museum was created by artist Isiah Zagar, who has been committed to beautifying Philadelphia neighborhoods since he moved to the city in the 1960s. Starting with buildings near his South Street studio, area residents noticed the mosaics and the concept took off, eventually incorporating as a non-profit and opening to the public in 2008. You can explore the 15 murals and artworks which cover a one-mile area on your own, or take advantage of the guided tours.

Where to find it: 1020 South Street, Philadelphia PA

Whether it's at Center City or city hall, there is much to be experienced by way of street art in Philly. Not ready to make the trip quite yet? You can check UGallery’s website to discover new artworks weekly.