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PAFA Philadelphia

Art, Philadelphia, Tours

Philadelphia Mural Art Tour

A tour of Philadelphia’s fascinating mural art is an absolute must, to get a glimpse of the city’s home-grown creativity.

There are over 3000 murals in Philadelphia, telling the stories of the communities, scenes from everyday Philly life and paying homage to prominent historical figures.

The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as an initiative to combat graffiti, headed up by then Mayor Wilson Goode.  Muralist Jane Golden reached out to graffiti writers and encouraged them to channel their creativity and energy into painting murals to beautify the neighbourhoods.

Our tour guide Jerry, of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, picked us up in a big silver van outside PAFA for an afternoon of mural spotting.

We visited mural sites in West and North Philadelphia, including many residential areas that are definitely off the beaten track.  The murals we saw depicted the city’s love of baseball, the influence of Diego Rivera and Frida Kahlo and geometric, non-figurative patterns in predominantly Islamic areas.

A particularly touching mural was ‘Alex’s Lemonade Stand’ – a tribute to young Alex Scott who set up a lemonade stand to raise money for cancer research at the local hospital before sadly losing her own battle to cancer.

Producing a mural is a dedicated process; the Mural Arts Program receives over 1000 applications per year and just 100 are granted.  Some are financed by donors, however, many are sponsored by corporations giving back to Philly.  I asked Jerry if working with corporate giants affects the grass-roots philosophy of murals, but he had a more straightforward approach – whoever pays, the community benefits from the support.

Once the wall is approved and prepped, murals are either painted directly onto the wall or painted onto parachute cloth in a studio and then transferred onto the wall.  Once the mural is complete, the residents celebrate at all-day block parties with music, food, performances and activities for children.

The Mural Arts Program offers a number of public and private mural art tours, including the guided group tour lasting 2 hours.

For more, visit: and

Art, Music, Philadelphia, USA

Arts & Culture in Philadelphia

Philadelphia is the city to watch for art and culture this summer, particularly with the monumental re-opening of The Barnes Foundation and the Rodin Museum.  Whether it’s a downtown hidden gem or a world renowned institute on ‘Museum Mile’, Philadelphia’s art scene has plenty to discover…

Philadelphia Museum of Art is the third largest art museum in the United States, with an impressive permanent collection ranging from artefacts from Asia since the third millennium BC to iconic Modern Art.

The striking Neo-Classical building houses more than 227,000 objects and each floor is dedicated to different eras and cultures in art.  Prominent collections include American Art, Indian & Himalayan Art, Costume & Textiles, European Decorate Art & Sculpture and Modern & Contemporary Art.

The steps of the Philadelphia Museum of Art are immortalised in the film Rocky, as he uses the city as his training ground.  Look out for Rocky impersonators – I was lucky enough to capture one in the picture below.

Pennsylvania Academy of the Fine Arts (PAFA) is the oldest museum and art school in the United States.  The exquisite Victorian Gothic building houses an internationally renowned collection of American paintings and sculptures that span three centuries.  Alongside the permanent collection are exhibitions featuring works by prominent contemporary American artists.  During my visit, I saw a powerful installation by video artist Bill Viola and PAFA & Dr Barnes, in celebration of The Barnes Foundation’s new home.

Also part of PAFA is the acclaimed art school with an impressive studio and gallery space.  Visit the Undergraduate and Postgraduate exhibitions to see an overwhelmingly high standard of work from America’s next big artists.

The re-opening of The Barnes Foundation in Philadelphia has been one of the most talked about happenings in the international art world for many years.  The Barnes was founded in 1922 by Dr Albert C. Barnes, a chemist who made his money by co-developing a revolutionary drug, thus selling his company to pursue his passion for art.

The Barnes is world renowned as having one of the finest collections of Impressionist, Post-Impressionist and Modernist paintings.  Dr. Barnes amassed an impressive number of paintings by the great European and American masters such as Matisse, Cézanne, Renoir, Picasso, Modigliani, Glackens and Pippin.

Click here to read more about the Barnes Foundation.

The Rodin Museum re-opens this month after extensive renovations, housing the largest collection of sculptures by Auguste Rodin outside of Paris.  Opened in 1929, the Rodin Museum owns nearly 130 sculptures including bronze casts of The Thinkers, The Burghers of Calais, Eternal Springtime and The Gates of Hell.

On the day of The Barnes Foundation media preview, we were treated to a sneak peek of the Rodin Museum.  It’s an elegant, petite space with stunning gardens, close to The Barnes Foundation on Benjamin Franklin Parkway.  Take time to linger in the gardens and enjoy the contemplative atmosphere of the museum.

Philadelphia’s Magic Gardens is the spectacular mosaicked wonderland by artist Isiah Zagar on Philadelphia’s bohemian South Street.  Back in the 1960s, Zagar dedicated his life to beautifying the South Street neighbourhood, buying and transforming derelict buildings into creative masterpieces with his wife Julia.  In 1994, he started work on the vacant space near his studio, which became the Magic Gardens.

He constructed staircases and walkways and adorned them with emblems of his travels, evenings with friends and disused ‘scrap’ material.  The Magic Gardens are most prominently decorated with bicycle wheels, coloured bottles, ceramic tiles, mirror mosaics and hand-painted inscriptions.  Look closer and there are personal dedications to Julia and his sons Ezekiel and Jeremiah.

Philadelphia’s Kimmel Center is the home of the celebrated Philadelphia Orchestra, Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia and Philadanco.  The Kimmel Center was built in 2000, designed by architect Rafael Viñoly and named after philanthropist Sidney Kimmel.  Located along the city’s ‘Avenue of the Arts’, the Kimmel Center is one of America’s best venues to enjoy classical music.

I had the pleasure of seeing chief conductor Charles Dutoit’s farewell concert, marking his last performance with Philadelphia Orchestra after four seasons.  The Philadelphia Orchestra performed a varied programme of Glinka, Chopin and Ravel’s epic Daphnis et Chloé in the spectacular Verizon Hall.  Seeing the Philadelphia Orchestra play in their hometown is a great experience and one that should not be missed!

For more arts and culture in Philadelphia, visit:

British Airways offer three nights at the 4* Philadelphia Marriott Downtown, Philadelphia from £749 per person based on September 2012 departures.  Includes return British Airways flights from Heathrow and accommodation only.  For reservations visit or call 0844 493 0758