Mural Arts Philadelphia (formerly Philadelphia Mural Arts Program) is the largest public art program in the US. Mural Arts engages communities in 50–100 public art projects each year and maintains its growing collection through a restoration initiative. Its core program areas—including art education, community murals, and environmental justice—yield unique, project-based learning opportunities for thousands of youth and adults.
Mural Arts Program undertook planning for Structure and Surface, a community-based public art initiative that explores the complex and largely overlooked history of Philadelphia's once-booming textile industry. From the late 1800s to the early 1900s, Philadelphia was at the forefront of high-quality textile production and design. By the 1950s, nearly half of the city's population was employed in manufacturing, prior to the industry's steep decline. Structure and Surface will investigate this legacy, including the consequences of the industry's losses among Philadelphia communities and the potential for future rebirth. Mural Arts connected Philadelphia-based artists and designers with local textile manufacturers to complete summer residencies in 2012. Work conducted during these residencies will inform implementation of public art installations that explore the nexus between labor economics and cultural history—a first for Mural Arts. Discussions between advisors and project participants also allowed Mural Arts to further examine how public art can illuminate and contextualize history—an inquiry that began with Journeys South, a project that brought immigrant histories of South Philadelphia to life through community engagement and "off-the-wall" public art projects.