They say that “blues ain’t nothing but a botheration on your mind.” It’s bothersome that developers are erasing African Americans’ cultural heritage. In Philadelphia, developers routinely – and without notice – demolish or cover up murals that are paid for in part by City taxpayers.
Murals are part of Philadelphia’s cultural landscape. The Mural Arts Program creates murals that engage the community. They reflect a community’s history, identity, hopes and dreams.
City Council members can use Councilmanic Prerogative to require that developers of publicly-subsidized projects replace murals of social or cultural significance. Who will determine which mural meets that threshold? Let’s stipulate that murals that tell stories about events or persons who are the subject of books, songs, documentaries, national holiday, or City and congressional resolutions are culturally significant.
The how of replacement is negotiable. What is non-negotiable is that developers can erase African Americans’ cultural heritage because, to borrow a phrase from Al Gore, there is “no controlling legal authority.” A district Council member is the controlling legal authority in his or her district. He or she decides which projects go forward and which ones go nowhere. While developers view murals as disposable, district Council members must exercise their prerogative and demand that they respect that which came before.