Class of 1981 First Annual Community Service Project – The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program

Author: Leslie B. Posnock, C’81

Our group of dedicated volunteers!

We expected a good time – after all, we were with old friends and family, giving back to the Philadelphia that nurtured and entertained us more than 30 years ago. But, the Class of 1981’s First Annual Community Service project – in partnership with the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, wowed us from beginning to end.

Perhaps our first clue was the bright sunshine, when the forecast called for rain. Or the brightly colored trolley we boarded as a group.  Every day, Philadelphia residents are amazed by the more than 3,500 dynamic, larger-than-life images that grace the city’s neighborhoods and have earned international acclaim as the largest outdoor art gallery in the world.  Now it was our turn to explore this important and beautiful project.

Lots of familiar faces from the Class of 1981 joined us – Dale (Borenstein) Bell and Allan Bell, Debbie (Margulies) Buchwald , Lisa (Higgs) Dutton, Rhea (Schwartz) Finkelstein and Eddie Finkelstein, Caryn Feuer Liss, Jeffrey Lonoff, Leslie Posnock, and Wendy Sardinsky. Other Penn alums included Jon Liss (Class of 1976), Karen (Friedman) Lang (Penn Med 1990), Brittany Bell (Class of 2011), David Fine (Class of 2011), and future grad Brandon Bell (Class of 2014). Old friends, new friends, spouses and children shared soft pretzels and took in the sights.

Our tour took us through neighborhoods blighted by poverty, but brightened and made hopeful by the enormous, intricately detailed murals created by the talented and dedicated people of the Mural Arts Program, along with volunteers and professional artists. Among the highlights of our tour was “Holding Grandmother’s Quilt,” depicting a grandmother and her three grandchildren, which spans two walls in the West Philadelphia neighborhood of Mantua. A former empty lot – a haven for drug dealers and junkies – now a community garden – lay between them.

“Common Threads,” a mural located at Broad and Spring Garden Streets, conceived as a celebration of Philadelphia’s youth, astounded us with its sheer size and artistry.

“Shadow of a Church,” located at 22nd and Walnut Street, formerly an empty wall abutting a service station, amazed us with its realistic depiction of a church – no longer there – reflected in the windows of a (nonexistent) brick office building.

We passed murals celebrating history, vocations and organizations. We passed murals depicting sunflowers and celebrities. We passed murals painted by children who had seen too much fear and sadness, but who dared to dream of a better tomorrow. We saw murals which depicted the everyday struggles of the people who live in their neighborhoods. Each mural brought a burst of color and light to the walls it graced.

Mid-tour, we grabbed paintbrushes, joined the Mural Arts Program staff in their studio, learned the innovative process for creating these installations, and had a blast painting a mural called “Finding the Light Within,” which seeks to bring awareness to suicide prevention. The project, slated for completion this summer, will be installed near Penn’s campus at Horizon House (120 South 30th Street). Each of us pledged to attend the opening ceremony.

After a tasty detour at the E. Craig Sweeten Alumni House for snacks and drinks, we headed to the Palestra and cheered our Quakers as they convincingly beat Yale, 68 – 47, in the final home game of the Penn basketball season.

We hope you’ll join us in March of 2013 for our Second Annual Community Service Project. If you would like to help plan our next event, please contact Caryn Feuer Liss, 215-888-9598, carynfl@aol.com, or Leslie Posnock, 732-895-0814, lposnock@schwartzposnock.com.

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Filed under Alumni Perspective, Alumni Programming, Guest blogger, Philadelphia, The Arts, The Arts at Penn, Volunteering

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