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Muralist Jane Golden brings her vision of art as a medium for social change to Penn—and
to one wall in the Mantua neighborhood north of campus.

 

BY KATHRYN LEVY FELDMAN

 

From the third level of scaffolding, approximately 24 feet above the southwest corner of 36th Street and Fairmount Avenue in Mantua, a neighborhood north of the University, Julie Cardillo, a graduate student in painting, is dropping a chalk line to Trish Abbott, an exchange student from University College in London, on the level below her.

“Flick it against the wall to make a mark and then follow up with the ruler,” directs a slim woman from the ground. She sports a shocking-pink head kerchief, paint-spattered blue jeans, and has a cell phone pressed to her ear. “Now move it over 12 inches and do it again. I’ll be right up as soon as they take my call.”

As usual, Jane Golden, instructor of Fine Arts 222/622—aka The Big Picture—and founder and director of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program, is “multi tasking.” As she supervises her 11 first-semester students in the technique of gridding the massive 58 feet wide by 24 feet high wall they are designing and painting for the course she teaches on the history and practice of the contemporary mural movement, she’s on hold with the Streets Department, waiting to complain about the pile of trash that has been accumulating in front of the site.

“You’re doing a great job,” she shouts as she paces back and forth, watching the chalk line progress steadily across the wall. Shaking her head at the discarded sofa cushions, newspapers, and torn trash bags that are encroaching on the lot, Golden tries another tactic. She punches in the numbers of her office.

“It’s me,” she says to the voice on the other end of the phone. “Look, I’ve been on hold with the Streets Department for 20 minutes and I need to teach. I’ve left three messages at [Councilwoman] Jannie Blackwell’s office about the pile of trash in front of 36th and Fairmount. Can you follow up and remind her that I want it removed today? Thanks.”

Two neighborhood residents walk by and overhear the end of her conversation.

“Good luck lady, we’ve been trying to get that stuff hauled away for a month,” one says.

“Oh, it’ll be gone by the end of the day,” the intrepid instructor predicts as she clambers up the scaffolding. “I want the students in my class to become agents of social change, so I’m teaching them the Jane Golden technique.”

Last fall, seven undergraduate and four graduate students became Golden’s second class from Penn to get a hands-on education in the design and creation of public art in one of Philadelphia’s most economically challenged neighborhoods (she previously taught the course in spring 1999). Coursework has included meetings with Mantua community leaders, guest lectures by local mural artists Tish Ingersoll, David McShane, and Josh Sarantitis, and organizing and participating in a community cleanup day at the McMichael School, all toward the design and execution of a mural that meets with the approval of community residents.

It is perhaps telling that the predominant subject in the class’s finished mural is an oversized map of Mantua. For while Golden’s students certainly learned (among other things) to navigate around and between the two distinct neighborhoods of Penn and Mantua, they also discovered that the shortest distance between two points is not always a straight line.

 

Photography by
Candace diCarlo

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Left: Students in Fine Arts 222/622 painted a mural at 36th Street and Fairmount Avenue and also participated in a Mural Arts Program painting project. Below, Golden and one of her favorite Philadelphia murals, Winter, by David Guinn.

 

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