Structure and Surface

Mural Arts Philadelphia



A site visit to Clemson Winding as part of Mural Arts' Structure and Surface project, 2012. Photo by Katie Winkler.


A site visit to G.J. Littlewood & Sons as part of Mural Arts' Structure and Surface project, 2012. Photo by Katie Winkler.


A site visit to Churchville Fabrics as part of Mural Arts' Structure and Surface project, 2012. Photo by Katie Winkler.


Project site visit to Wayne Mills, 2012 Photo by Katie Winkler.

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.