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Putting Art to Work

Monday, August 5, 2019

BY PATRICK BILOW  for The Philadelphia Citizen

In the southeast concourse at SEPTA’s Suburban Station, a poorly-lit and once stained white wall now welcomes commuters with a 57-foot hand painted mural boasting big bright flowers and radiant summer colors. But the real significance of the mural, unveiled this week, is less the art—and more the artists. 

The mural is the first installation in a 28 week pilot program by Mural Arts Philadelphia called Color Me Back, a same day work and pay program that pays economically insecure people in Philadelphia $50 cash for three hours of public art making. The program, which launched on April 23 and is funded by grants from The Barra Foundation and The Sheller Family Foundation, holds a lottery every morning from Monday to Thursday at Love Park, where 10 people are selected to work that day. An average of 54 people show up to Love Park every morning to participate in the lottery; 29 percent of them live in a shelter and 22 percent live in a public area. 

Color me Back mural. Photo by Steve Weinik

In the first 13 weeks of the program, over 430 participants received payments totaling more than $21,950. But the impact of Color Me Back extends beyond cash payment. Participants also work with outreach specialists who connect them with social and behavioral health services and potential opportunities for long term employment.