Graffiti or Art? Both Seem to Coexist in South Philadelphia

Philadelphia is well known as the mural capital of the world, housing over one thousand murals throughout the city. The Mural Arts program began as the Philadelphia Anti Graffiti Network in 1984, and has since successfully combatted the graffiti problem all over Philadelphia. The Mural Arts program helped artists create a name for themselves by immortalizing their art on walls and leaving their own distinct mark on the city. By influencing these artists to use their creative vision on blank walls in Philadelphia, it gave many sketchy neighborhoods a feeling of unity and artistry. Not to mention the value the murals add to whatever building or wall they are depicted upon.


There are quite a few murals in South Philadelphia, the Magic Garden on South Street being one of the most prominent and well known. Also a few murals off of East Passyunk, and down by the Schuykill Expressway. You can even find some murals just walking down Snyder or one of the other main streets in South Philadelphia. However, in the huge chunk of residential buildings in the entirety of South Philadelphia, there are a few walls that are not big enough for such majestic murals, and have begun to generate graffiti of all shapes and sizes. Some graffiti is just the simple, illustrious tags, but others are on a much grander scale.


Many people of the Philadelphia community find graffiti a troublesome issue. After all, graffiti tags are ugly, and most artwork created by spray paint is not considered art at all. Merely a mark left by a struggling artist on someone else’s property. However most graffiti in South Philadelphia (at least the artistic ones) are left on buildings that are abandoned, or community buildings that just have a blank wall they would like to fill. The Mural Arts Program only makes a few murals a year throughout the city, and they have to go through the process of finding the right artist and project for the right blank wall, not to mention finding funding and community support for such a mural. It can be a tiresome process, one that many people hoping to reach out simply do not have to time to go through, or don’t know where to start. But if a graffiti artist happens to make his or her mark on a blank wall that a person was looking to fill anyway with some sort of paint, and it adds culture to the area, and saves the Mural Arts Program money and hard labor. Tags that are made with one stroke of spray paint should not count as graffiti, but as someone crying out for attention. But if a tag is created with enough artistry and integrity, why shouldn’t it be left up and enjoyed by the community?

A good portion of graffiti in Philadelphia is done on big pieces of stickers that can be printed at any Kinko’s, and slapped on any wall the artist likes. The stickers come down with time from weather and wear, and don’t bother anyone in particular. If a graffiti sticker offends someone, they rip it down, with little if any damage to the building. This, well not new, but safer way to create graffiti is less offensive to property owners, and doesn’t really cost them anything to remove. With the exception of a little labor to take the sticker off the building. And really, who doesn’t like free art that doesn’t last anyway?

The moral of this article is, in a way, to forgive those graffiti artists that are trying to brighten the somewhat gritty areas of South Philly. An artist must create, otherwise what good is s/he? Letting a few artists vent in this slowly recovering economy and bring some culture to the community isn’t a bad thing. Being open to the new ways graffiti artists try to better South Philadelphia will help the entire area flourish. By all means take small graffiti tags down, but leave the real art up for all to see. And if you can’t see it my way, think about this: you can’t argue it doesn’t add some tourism through the Graffiti Tours of Philadelphia.


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