Tag Archives: Mural Arts Program

Paint Day: John Coltrane Mural

Philadelphia is the City of Murals. The murals celebrate events, as well as residents who have made a difference. Few are more celebrated than John Coltrane who moved to Philadelphia in 1943. Coltrane resided in an apartment in Yorktown before buying a house in Strawberry Mansion in 1952. The house is now listed on the National Register of Historic Places and is a National Historic Landmark.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit and composed “Giant Steps” in that house.

In 2002, the Strawberry Mansion community, in collaboration with the Mural Arts Program, honored their former neighbor. The Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural in 2014.

Tribute to John Coltrane Collage

To be sure, murals come and go. However, there is too much love for Trane to let the demolition go unnoticed. It has taken a while but a new mural celebrating the life and legacy of the jazz innovator will soon be dedicated. The community is invited to add a brushstroke at a public paint day on Saturday, August 19 from 1-3 p.m., at Fairmount Park’s Hatfield House, located at 33rd Street and Girard Avenue.

So get up for the down brushstroke. Everybody get up and join the Mural Arts Philadelphia, Fairmount Park Conservancy, Strawberry Mansion Neighborhood Action Committee and All That Philly Jazz.

For more info, visit Mural Arts Philadelphia.

Eddie Lang Mural Dedication

Eddie Lang, the “Father of Jazz Guitar,” was born in South Philadelphia. Lang was inducted into the Philadelphia Walk of Fame in 1992.

eddie-lang

On Sunday, October 23, Eddie Lang Day, the Mural Arts Program will dedicate a mural in honor of the jazz legend.

The dedication ceremony will be held at 7th and Fitzwater Streets. For more info, go here.

John Coltrane and Cultural Heritage Preservation

Jazz legend John Coltrane personified cool.

John Coltrane

Coltrane was into cultural heritage preservation before it was cool. His composition, “Alabama” was in response to the Sept. 15, 1963, bombing of the 16th Street Baptist Church that killed four young girls. His mournful tribute captured the zeitgeist of the Civil Rights Movement.

Philadelphia shaped and nurtured Coltrane. On June 5, 1945, the Dizzy Gillespie Quartet, featuring Charlie Parker, performed at the Academy of Music. Coltrane and Benny Golson were seated in the next-to-last row. In an interview with the Smithsonian Jazz Oral History Project, NEA Jazz Master Golson recalled:

When we heard – John and I – when we first heard Charlie Parker and Dizzy Gillespie – I told you he was sounding like Johnny Hodges – our lives changed that night. We had never heard any music like that. Never. We were screaming like these Beatles groupies, when they used to hear the Beatles.

Coltrane kicked his heroin habit at his home in Strawberry Mansion, a neighborhood in North Central Philly. The Mural Arts Program, in collaboration with the community, honored a former neighbor. On or about Sept. 15, 2014, Pennrose Company demolished the Tribute to John Coltrane mural.

John Coltrane Mural - Resized

Pennrose has not contributed a dime to replace the tribute to an American icon. The cultural resource was paid for, in part, by taxpayers. After being called out, a company rep lied about “ongoing discussions.”

I know they lied because I was part of the only discussion that has taken place. At the March 10, 2015, meeting with Mural Arts, Lopa Kolluri, Pennrose’s Vice President of Operations, asked for a “menu of options.” Mural Arts sent a proposal and several follow-up emails to which Pennrose has yet to respond.

Pennrose’s arrogance is particularly galling given the company has feasted on public subsidies seasoned with political donations for nearly 40 years. In 1989, a Philadelphia Inquirer story noted the company’s reliance on government subsidies.

Pennrose doesn’t think our stories matter, but we do. It’s our responsibility to remember the ancestors and preserve their legacy for present and future generations. #BlackCultureMatters

Mary Lou Williams, Jazz Icon

This year marks the 115th anniversary of the birth of Mary Lou Williams. Since 1995, the John F. Kennedy Center for the Performing Arts has paid tribute to the legendary pianist and composer with the Mary Lou Williams Jazz Festival.

Williams is the subject of a new documentary, Mary Lou Williams: The Lady Who Swings the Band. The film premiered on public television on April 1.

Missed it? If you’re in the Philly area, you’re in luck. There will be a screening of the documentary on Tuesday, July 14, at the International House. Hosted by the Scribe Video Center, the screening and conversation with director Carol Bash is co-sponsored by the Leeway Foundation, Philadelphia Jazz Project, Ars Nova Workshop and Reelblack.

Sadly, luck is running out on the Women of Jazz mural, which depicts jazz icons including Williams, Billie Holiday and Nina Simone. This cultural asset is on the Philadelphia Housing Authority’s chopping block.

Women of Jazz Mural

On June 1, I provided public comment before the Philadelphia City Council Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and the Homeless, which is chaired by Councilwoman Jannie Blackwell. I brought to Blackwell’s attention the Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to demolish the mural. I made it clear the goal of increasing the availability of affordable housing and preserving the City’s jazz heritage is not mutually exclusive.

COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: Thank you very much. So you’re saying they’re slated to tear down the mural?
MS. ANDERSON: Yes. The Women of Jazz mural at 3200 [block] of Arlington. It will be torn down sometime this year. The date to be determined.
COUNCILWOMAN BLACKWELL: All right. I’m happy to work on that.

The complete transcript is available here. Clap along if you’re happy.

Why Murals Matter

June is Black Music Month. First observed in 1979 at the White House, I’m kicking off the celebration at City Hall where I will offer public comments at a hearing on the Philadelphia Housing Trust Fund. Some background.

Last year, the Pennrose Company demolished the John Coltrane mural in Strawberry Mansion. Pennrose has been feeding at the public trough of government subsidies for decades. But in an instant, the company erased a tribute to an American cultural icon.

John Coltrane Collage

While the nation celebrates the centennial of the birth of Billie Holiday and  Mary Lou Williams, the Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to demolish the Women of Jazz mural.

Women of Jazz Mural

Now, you might be wondering what is the connection between murals and the affordable housing crisis? Kelvin Jeremiah, President and CEO of PHA, said it best in his remarks before the City Council Committee on Housing, Neighborhood Development and The Homeless on April 27:

It is my view that the affordable housing crisis that confronts this great city is also an issue of deep-seated structural poverty. … Solving the poverty problem will go a long way to solve the affordable housing crisis.

Philadelphia is the poorest big city in the nation. A whopping 40 percent of school-aged children live in poverty. There is a correlation between education and poverty. If the educational achievement of poor children is increased, fewer will end up on PHA’s 10-year waiting list for public housing.

A growing body of evidence shows that students with access to arts education perform better on standardized tests. In addition to improved student achievement, arts education contributes to the development of cognitive and social skills, nurtures a motivation to learn, increases student attendance and fosters a positive school environment. At-risk students cite their participation in the arts as a reason for staying in school.

Students involved in arts instruction report less boredom in school. Ask students why they dropped out of school, they will say they were bored.

The School District of Philadelphia has drastically cut arts and music programs; 25 percent of schools offer no music instruction. In the absence of arts education, murals may be poor students’ only exposure to the arts.

At the opening of the new Whitney Museum, First Lady Michelle Obama said the arts “could inspire a young person to rise above the circumstances of their life and reach for something better.”

Community-based public art inspires young people to reach for their star.

Reach for Your Star

To be clear, it’s not about preserving brick-and-mortar. Instead, it’s about the transformative power of the arts to engage, motivate and keep students in schools.

It’s also not about money. Through digital and mobile technology, a mural can be recreated at a fraction of its original cost. Indeed, the cost of preserving this great city’s cultural heritage would be far less than, say, Pennrose’s hundreds of thousands of dollars in political contributions.

Whose Murals Get Saved?

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.

John Coltrane Collage

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.

Women of Jazz Mural

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.

City Council Resolution - June 2001

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.

Women of Jazz Mural

The Women of Jazz mural features many of the most iconic female jazz performers in the world, including Nina Simone, Billie Holiday, Dinah Washington, Betty Carter, Shirley Scott, Dottie Smith, Ella Fitzgerald, Sarah Vaughan and Mary Lou Williams. The tiles below and to the left of the mural were designed by students at several of the city’s public schools.

Women of Jazz Mural

Smith, affectionately called Miss Dot, is the blonde next to Nina Simone. She was a longtime resident of Strawberry Mansion and a former manager of the legendary Gert’s Lounge. Miss Dot died in December 2014.

Women of Jazz is included in the Mural Arts Program’s African American Iconic Images Collection.

UPDATE: In 2016, the Philadelphia Housing Authority demolished the mural.