Mural Arts Program: A Place to Call Home

Homelessness is a problem that needs to be tackled in America and especially in Philadelphia. This problem needs to be eradicated especially since it affects more than 1,000 Philadelphia children and youth every evening.  The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program presents a new three-part art installation, A Place to Call Home, which will raise awareness of this  problem.  Make sure you are there for the Opening Event for A Place to Call Home is free and open to the public at the Art House, 3828 Melon Street, on June 10, 2011, 4 – 6:30 pm.


While housing is globally recognized as a human right, for many Philadelphia residents it remains a dream.  More than 1,000 Philadelphia children and youth will sleep in a shelter tonight*.  The City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program presents a new three-part art installation, A Place to Call Home, which will shed light on the unique housing challenges facing urban children and youth while embarking on a significant effort to equip them with the skills and resources necessary to ensure they remain healthy and housed.

The three unique art projects that make up A Place to Call Home were inspired by the voices of the youth whose photography and interviews generated the professional work.  These projects include mixed-media animation created with artist Damon Reaves, a mural and installation of youth stories cast into a paper dining room by muralist Ernel Martinez, a series of site-specific small murals designed by Shira Walinsky (produced in collaboration with her University of Pennsylvania class, Big Picture: Mural Art), and the painting of over 30 facades of homes on the 3800 block of Melon Street, led by muralist Ernel Martinez, all designed to bring the project to the art house where the installation is sited.

Working with University of Pennsylvania Epidemiologist and Professor Carolyn Cannuscio using the process of photo elicitation, 48 Mural Corps student participants from the Mural Arts Program’s Art Education classes are sharing their stories through photographs and interviews. From the experience, Dr. Cannuscio will produce an academic paper about the impact of housing on health that can be used to communicate the issue to policymakers.

The three art installations are all in the same neighborhood in West Philadelphia:

§  Pathway to the Art House – A series of site-specific small murals and a temporary wheat pasted “pathway” throughout University City designed to bring the project to the art house installation. Shira Walinsky, muralist

§  Community Mural, 3800 Block of Melon Street – Using geometric color-blocking, the block will become a “community mural” where over 30 facades are painted to create a unifying identity. Ernel Martinez, muralist


§  Art House, 3828 Melon Street – An installation that includes two mixed-media animations, sound mural, installation of youth stories cast into a paper dining room, and a resource room with housing information and petitions for the public. Damon Reaves and Shira Walinsky, mixed-media animation; Elisabeth Perez-Luna, sound mural; Ernel Martinez, paper dining room installation


Jane Golden, Director of the Mural Arts Program said, “The Mural Arts Program believes deeply that art can facilitate social change, and A Place to Call Home is a great example of how we help make this happen.  The heart of our work is to give expression to critical issues as well as give a voice to those who have been excluded from social power, with the hope that creativity will be stimulated and we will, in the end, help advance participation and equity.”


The Opening Event for A Place to Call Home is free and open to the public at the Art House, 3828 Melon Street, on June 10, 2011, 4 – 6:30 pm.  The only other times to view the Art House are Friday, June 17 and 24, 12 – 8 pm and Saturdays, June 11, 18, and 25, 1 – 6 pm. These open houses are also free and open to the public.


In addition, FREE guided walking tours of A Place to Call Home will be offered on Saturdays, June 11, 18, and 25 at 11:30 am, departing from Rowan House, 325 N. 39th Street.  Docents from the Mural Arts Program will show guests the full project.  Reservations are required at


To further shine a light on this ever-increasing problem, media partner WHYY 91-FM will produce a series of segments that focus on the issue, giving voice to youth, service providers, and concerned citizens and community members.  These public forums and periods of advocacy will yield art-based storytelling that conveys narratives of the youth to visitors and community members alike.  WHYY’s segments will also form an “audio mural” with the young people’s voices coming from the walls of the house, telling their stories.



Ernel Martinez is a Philadelphia based artist from Belize who helps transform Philadelphia edifices with murals that celebrate the human experience and affirm greatness often through layered text and bold color. His color choices and interest in narration and allegory reflect his Caribbean heritage about figurative based work.  A 2004 MFA graduate from The University of Pennsylvania, Ernel worked in Harrisburg doing historical conservation in the state capital building until he audited a Mural Arts Big Picture class taught by Jane Golden and Don Gensler. He has been a lead artist on ten projects with the Mural Arts Program and has a strong focus in youth engagement.


Damon Reaves is a multidisciplinary artist exploring issues of identity and social interaction. His work converts the abstract concept of identity into a physical form (most often liquid) that is applied, worn, and dripped off. Drawing on a background in


theatre, his pieces explore the ways in which we “perform” who we are.  He received his BFA from Miami University in 2001 and his MFA from The University of Pennsylvania in 2008. He has also studied at The School of Visual Arts in New York and The Frank Mohr Institute in Groningen, The Netherlands. In 2008 Damon was awarded The Locks Foundation Post-Graduate Fellowship.  He also participated in the 2011 Delphi Art Futures Programs through the Philadelphia Museum of Art.

As a resident of Philadelphia, Damon has been a Mural Corps Instructor for the Mural Arts Program since 2007 and is well experienced with youth engagement. He is currently working on his first book – an experimental graphic novel.

Shira Walinsky received a B.A. from Sarah Lawrence in Fine Arts and Film Studies in 1995 and an M.F.A. in painting from the University of Pennsylvania in 1999. In her work, she explores portraiture, pattern, and typography and her interest lies in the changing shape of cities and how immigration is effecting this change. In 2000, Walinsky won a Pennsylvania Council of the Arts grant in painting.  Shira has designed and painted eighteen murals across Philadelphia through the Mural Arts Program and focuses on youth engagement. Currently, she is co-teaching a class at Bryn Mawr College with Jane Golden which focuses on women, activism, education, and murals and which culminated in a West Philadelphia mural that has just been dedicated.


A Place to Call Home is sponsored by City of Philadelphia Department of Human Services, Hummingbird Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Surdna Foundation.  Partners for the project are WHYY 91-FM, University of Pennsylvania, People’s Emergency Center, Philadelphia VIP, and Opportunities-PA.

The Mural Arts Program is the nation’s largest mural program. Since 1984, the Mural Arts Program has created over 3,500 murals and works of public art, earning Philadelphia international recognition as the “City of Murals.”  The Mural Arts Program engages over 100 communities each year in the transformation of neighborhoods through the mural-making process, while award-winning, free art education programs serve nearly 1,500 youth at sites throughout the city and at-risk teens through education outreach programs.  The Mural Arts Program also serves adult offenders in local prisons and rehabilitation centers, using the restorative power of art to break the cycle of crime and violence in our communities.  Each year, nearly 10,000 residents and visitors tour the Mural Arts Program’s outdoor art gallery, which has become part of Philadelphia’s civic landscape and a source of pride and inspiration.  For further information, call (215) 685-0750 or visit


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