A street art tour in Philadelphia?
Where do we even begin?
The word street art in Philadelphia is pretty loaded, just because of how many different styles and pieces the city boasts. Everything from sculptures like their world famous LOVE Statue to graffiti-covered abandoned buildings range here.
Like most cities, Philadelphia didn’t always appreciate the latter, but the city came around a lot quicker than the rest of America. Street art in terms of murals and graffiti, though it existed long before, really started to take off in the USA in the 70’s and 80’s. So it’s pretty amazing that by 1984 Mural Arts, a locally-based arts organization, formed and according to their website, began reaching “out to graffiti writers in order to redirect their energies into constructive public art projects.”
What followed and what came before is a street art renaissance in Philadelphia that makes for this dream street art tour.
Let’s start with the bucket list. One cannot visit the city of brotherly love without visiting its most famous symbol! Designed by Robert Indiana, the LOVE Statue was installed in John F. Kennedy Plaza in 1976. Though it had a brief stint off site in 1978, it came back to the city pretty quickly and now is as symbolic to Philadelphia as cheesesteaks and soft pretzels!
If you want an extra Robert Indiana statute to visit, or are visiting Philadelphia during the remodel of John F. Kennedy Plaza (LOVE Statue was removed for this), we recommend visiting the AMOR Statue, located in Sister Cities Park. It was acquired and installed there in 2015 to commemorate the Pope’s historic visit to the USA.
When walking up South Street, Philadelphia’s version of Bourbon Street, it’s hard to miss the many mosaics that start to take over the colonial brick buildings. You can thank Isaiah and Julia Zagar for that.
The couple moved to the area in the 1960s and became passionate about revitalizing it. The pair started turning derelict and abandoned walls and buildings into beautiful works of public art by covering them with mosaics. Located at 1020 South Street, Magic Gardens is an entire building and gardens, inside and out, covered in their famous style which they started creating in 1994 in a then vacant lot.
The owner of this lot sought to sell it in 2002, but the neighborhood and the arts community in Philadelphia wouldn’t have any of that and after a two year legal battle, Magic Gardens became incorporated as a non-profit. This gave Isaiah free reign to really let his creativity shine and the house opened for tours in 2008. You can purchase your tickets to tour Magic Gardens online. It’s $10 for adults.
While a lot of cities do their best to cover up or penalize graffiti and tagging, Philadelphians appreciate it and at no place is that more evident than Graffiti Pier. Also known as Pier 18, this area was originally part of Reading Railroads’ Port Richmond Yards. It was decommissioned and Conrail, the current owners, abandoned it in 1991.
If we could design another dream tour in Philadelphia, it would an abandoned buildings tour, because they seem to take on a new life in Philadelphia after their originally planned purpose goes away. That’s just what happened here. Graffiti and tagging took over the abandoned space. Then came a small, adventurous crowd to check it out. Today, it’s families and visitors as this space, though still considered private, is one of the most instagrammed in Philadelphia.
We only featured one of Phladelphia’s famous murals on this dream tour, because we didn’t want you to miss out on all the styles of public art like the sights we listed above. But one could dedicate, not just a tour, but days and days to visiting Philadelphia’s amazing murals and Mural Arts Philadelphia is a great way to do just that.
Everyone has their favorite mural in the city and this is ours.
Common Threads was completed by renowned mural artist Meg Saligman in 2016. It is one of the city’s permanent murals, located on Broad and Spring Garden Streets in Center City.
The mural “depicts real, contemporary young people imitating postures of historical figurines”. Meg used local high school students as her models for the characters based in current times. These folks paired with figures in history create a link from past to present and the main model located top and center looking out to the future, really brings the piece to make a statement. There are so many figures in our history and our youth who have yet to make it but we are all linked by common threads.
Have you visited any of these famous public art pieces in Philadelphia? Is there something you think we have to add? Please share below!