Leading in Tough Times 4 – Problem into Opportunity – Graffiti or Art?


Challenging times.  Somber stuff.  I was going to write about three types of folks challenged by layoffs:  the one receiving the bad news, the one delivering the bad news, and the workers left behind.  A core message was to be this:  stay open to rebirth and deep purpose.  Then I came to Philly.

We’re here for the National Governors Association meeting and I was fortunate to land on a tour of some of Philadelphia’s 2,800 – yes, two thousand eight hundred – murals.  The project began in 1984, when Mayor Wilson Goode created the Anti-Graffiti Network and hired Jane Golden, a muralist, to run it.  Golden began taking graffiti artists (not called artists by many at the time) and directing them in a project to learn about and produce murals.  Twelve years later, Mayor Rendell created a public-private partnership called the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program and it is now known around the world.

Think of all the people complaining, or to put it kindly, expressing righteous indignation about the messy graffiti.  And think of all the people bemoaning urban decay, the decline of an industrial city, the hopelessness of a once-great revolutionary city.  There was plenty of challenge, fear, depression, anger, scapegoating, etc.  Someone(s) saw opportunity.  No one could have imagined 2,800 murals – and 100 more every year; 5,000 people annually touring the sites; 3,000 kids served through 56 sites every year; a prisoner art program and prison re-entry initiative; 100 Philadelphia schools involved in teaching and creating murals to uplift older buildings and playgrounds.  And perhaps most importantly, prior to those 100 new murals a year, 100 community groups discussing their stories of culture, of heroes, of values, of what they want to literally and figuratively uplift for themselves and those who pass through their neighborhoods.  And before those murals were even finished, they set off spontaneous sparks of pride, creativity, and expression on the block and in the surrounding neighborhood.  The vibrancy is palpable.

If there’s something that you are tired of tolerating, ask yourself:  where’s the possibility – the opportunity – for something altogether new and better?  What might you help bring into being, in life’s amazing cycles of death and resurrection, decay and revitalization.  Check out www.muralarts.org or check out the book Philadelphia Murals and the Stories They Tell to get inspired by some amazing examples of folks,

Leading with their best self!