History of Mural Arts

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In 1984, former Mayor Dr. W. Wilson Goode, Sr. based his citywide effort, the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network, on a modest neighborhood program, the Anti-Graffiti Task Force, developed by Tim Spencer, the young director of the Haverford Recreation Center in West Philadelphia.

Goode’s plan for eradicating graffiti focused on rewarding correct behavior, although the possibility of prosecution was never abandoned. Philadelphia’s teenage wall writers instead received amnesty from prosecution for earlier graffiti crimes in return for signing a promise to give up graffiti. They called it “The Pledge.”

“I really grew up at Anti-Graffiti. I learned about community transformation and working with people there. Tim gave me an entree into the community that I could never have had otherwise. He gave me the opportunity to develop the mural program and to work with so many young people. For that I’ll always be grateful.”- Jane Golden

Goode broadened graffiti-removal efforts and expanded Spencer’s program of art workshops to include potential youth employment. After working at volunteer jobs such as cleaning and preparing walls for repainting, former writers were eligible for paid jobs with the city.

Murals were not central to the mission of Spencer’s task force; however, in future years, the opportunity to paint murals would become the key to success for many young people.

“Illustrator and art teacher Dietrich Adonis was in his early twenties when he joined the Anti-Graffiti staff in 1985, about six months after Jane. He worked as assistant art director through the early years and later as assistant director. “We had a certain kind of magic in the early years,” he reflects. “Tim [Spencer] had a vision; Jane had a vision; and I had a vision. We had different personalities, but it just worked.”- Dietrich Adonis

Jane Golden was hired by Tim Spencer in 1984, along with two others, to coordinate a six-week summer program for youth. “I was not hired to paint but to work with the kids part time every day from nine to twelve,” Jane recalls. “Tim had alluded to the fact that the three people who were hired for the summer program would compete for a full-time position in the fall.

Tim Spencer

At the end of the six weeks, I told Tim how I really wanted to paint murals. Just at that time, we were driving over the Spring Garden Street Bridge, which was covered with graffiti, and he asked if I could do murals on both sides of the bridge with kids from [the] Mantua [section of West Philadelphia]. He asked if I could finish them in three weeks so they could be dedicated on Labor Day. Tim later said that Wilson Goode had told him, “If that girl can do it, it will be a miracle,’ and that I would get the full-time job. So, I did what I do best: I can out-work anybody!”

Difficult conditions, poor materials, and inexperience of the painters ensured that the Spring Garden Street Bridge mural would have a naïve charm at best, but Philadelphians saw it as a major improvement to the busy thoroughfare. “People loved it. The kids were seen as heroes. I remember people pulling over and stopping traffic on the bridge, beeping and waving, and the kids taking bows. Really, it wasn’t about art, it was about the fact that kids were doing something productive for their community.” At the end of the summer, Jane was invited to join the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network’s full-time staff.

Philadelphia Mayor Michael Nutter: