Philly Moves

by Amanda Land

July 2011 marks the completion of Philadelphia’s 18-month public art endeavor, construction of the second largest outdoor mural on the planet. Extending across an area of 50,000 ft2 the stunning work of art is displayed along the shell of parking lot decks facing Interstate 95 at the Philadelphia International Airport. This community-based urban renewal effort was undertaken by the Mural Arts Program in conjunction with the City of Philadelphia’s Office of Transportation and Utilities. 35 artistic individuals were employed to construct the illustration, originally designed by artist/photographer Jacques-Jean “JJ” Tiziou. The masterpiece is entitled How Philly Moves, and its theme is a celebration of movement that encompasses Philly’s creative vision and appreciation of dance as an art form.

Touted as a gateway to the surrounding region, Philadelphia International Airport (PHL) hosts 32 million travelers each year from across the world. The main visual feature at the entrance to PHL is the parking garage where the mural is situated, stretching the entire distance from Terminals A thru F – a spread of nearly a half mile. Vibrant dancing figures are captured mid stride, contrasting nicely with the black background. How Philly Moves captures the pure essence of movement with a vivid palette of colors. The dancers portrayed prominently manifest as a striking burst of colorful enjoyment for your eyeballs, in an otherwise drab environment. In addition to being spotted by airport patrons, a key attribute of the mural’s placement is the bold display will be visible to commuters traveling up and down I-95, a highway that spans the entire length of the eastern seaboard.

Official sources claim Philadelphia boasts the most murals of any city in the world. More than 3,000 outdoor murals in almost every art style possible grace the exterior surfaces of Philadelphia’s row homes, skyscrapers, parking garages and public schools. Since 1984, the Mural Arts Program has been pivotal in helping Philadelphia gain international recognition as the “City of Murals.” This program engages over 100 communities each year to transform aesthetically neglected neighborhoods through the mural-making process. They offer free art education serving nearly 2,000 at-risk youth through outreach programs. Mural Arts also caters to adult offenders in local prisons and rehabilitation centers, using the restorative power of art to break the cycle of violent crimes in local communities.

The creative outlet of dance allows Philadelphians to forge bonds throughout time by connecting with their past, present, and futures. Dance is a long-standing tradition; its roots are buried deep in the soil of Philadelphia’s historical culture. From tap and ballet to traditional Aztec dance introduced by recent immigrants, the mural provides a wide variety of visual imagery, complete with multi-faceted symbolism. How Philly Moves will foster an appreciation for our shared community through the commonality of dance in previous and future generations alike.

Lead artist JJ Tiziou offers a particularly charming endorsement of How Philly Moves, quite possibly his greatest work to date. “Because every viewer can see his or herself somewhere among these dancers, this installation will go beyond just providing a beautiful piece of art to the viewers. Rather it will awaken viewers to the art in the movement around them and provide an inspiration to go out and create more.”

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