Something you probably knew: West Philly is covered in graffiti.
Something you probably didn’t know: West Philly is also covered in Valentine’s Day cards.
That’s right, the area from 45th to 63rd Streets along Market Street is one giant Valentine’s Day card. In collaboration with the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, artist Stephen Powers painted a series of 50 love–themed murals on buildings and rooftops across the neighborhood. With messages like, “Hold Tight,” and, “If You Were Here, I'd be Home Now,” Powers has outdone Hallmark with heart–warming messages that are beautiful and available to the public for free.
The Mural Arts Program was founded in 1984 as the Anti–Graffiti Network and led by artist Jane Golden. Its mission was to give graffiti artists a chance to improve the city rather than vandalize it. Powers is a great example of a former graffiti tagger who has used his talent to start a conversation about art and love. Powers got his start in West Philly, where he was infamous for writing his alias “ESPO” on every surface he could get to with a spray can. Then, in 1994, he left illegal activity behind to open a studio in Brooklyn to work as a sign artist.
In 2010, Powers returned to his roots in the City of Brotherly Love, and thought, where is the love? Realizing that he could use art to “put something on these rooftops that people would care about,” he enlisted fellow graffiti artists to create 50 murals that are continuously being restored, and more have been added. The public art project has morphed into a movement called “A Love Letter For You,” and has been reviewed by publications like The New Yorker, The Wall Street Journal and Art in America.
Like a Hallmark Valentine’s card you might buy at the bookstore, the murals are unaddressed and unsigned. "A Love Letter" exists for everyone, and at the same time, has powers (pun intended) (Ed. note: Ugh.) to speak to each individual passing. Maybe for you they’re about a significant other, maybe they’re about your TA last semester you still have a crush on or maybe they’re about you. Maybe they’re not about a person, but love for West Philadelphia.
Living on Penn’s campus, the neighborhoods beyond 40th and Market Streets may have a reputation of being the opposite of warm and fuzzy. Powers' Love Letters contest that notion, and Mural Arts presents an opportunity to open yourself up to the heart of the neighborhood we live in. For $22 (which includes a SEPTA token), you can take a train tour of "A Love Letter," which is visible from the Market–Frankford line, while learning from a guide about the history and arts culture of West Philly. Whatever your plans this February 14th, "A Love Letter" is there for you. Let the city be your Valentine.
More information on train tours is available here.