Favelapainting was commissioned by the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program (MAP) to conceive and engineer a large-scale transformation of Germantown Avenue in North Philadelphia. As major industries have gone bankrupt or abandoned the city, this neighborhood has experienced a slow and steady decline for years. The goal was to revitalize and re-energize one of Philadelphia’s oldest commercial corridors.
We relocated a block from the site and spent eighteen months as committed advocates to direct and execute the project together with a local team. With community leaders, we invited a dozen young men and women between the ages of 18 and 30 who lived in the area. Additionally, teams of (ex)prisoners, making their re-entry into society, worked on the project.
We faced the task of painting over 50 individual buildings on the Avenue while all the individual tenants had input in the design for their building. We devised a system of weaving bands of color creating consistency while respecting the desires of the individual building tenants. The colors were chosen after extensive analysis of the palette seen on the streets of Philadelphia. A swatch system was developed so building owners understood the framework and made their selections accordingly. Colors were then integrated into one building subsequently lending colors to the next. These swatches of “native” color were reshaped and scaled to transcend the architecture of the individual buildings, and lend uniformity to a lively but visually incoherent stretch of the avenue.
Community engagement and sustainability is central to Favela Painting’s social practice.
As exciting as the project was, Philly Painting was not without its challenges: architectural, human and logistical. The commercial corridor between Huntingdon and Somerset is characterized by small businesses and not-for-profits, vacant buildings, wildly varied signage scale, styles and surfaces, deteriorating facades and cornices with boarded up windows. As complex as the challenges were, however, the potential is palpable. As we returned weekly to canvas merchants and seek their approval, the enthusiasm for the potential of this project to create enthusiasm and cohesion through art had grown with more and more merchants wanting to participate.
The project provided training and jobs in an area where unemployment and crime is extremely high, especially within the younger population. Wearing sweaters and shirts with the Philly Painting logo, the local painters were identifiable as transformers of their neighborhood. A local team of filmmakers produced monthly episodes of video updates. Half of the painters went on to work for the MAP.