Wednesday, June 10, 2009

There are walls ... and then there are walls

The Wonders of Radio mural
43rd & Locust Street

You can't go too far in Philadelphia without chancing upon a wall with a mural. Some of them are spectacular, others whimsical - all of them surprise and delight.

The one pictured at the top of this blog post, "The Wonders of Radio" - is a partnership between radio station WXPN and the Mural Arts Program.
In February, the Catholic Standard & Times contributing writer Arlene Edmonds wrote about students from St. Francis de Sales school who worked on this mural (although the CS&T article is not archived online, read Edmonds' similar piece in the Philadelphia Tribune by clicking here). As with so many of the Mural Arts Program projects, this one brought together professional artists, amateurs, children, members of business and non-profit organizations. The result of the collaboration adds color, life and pride of place to the city.

Be a part of the experience: "The Wonders of Radio" will be officially unveiled and dedicated
at 10:30 a.m. on Saturday, June 13 at 43rd and Locust Streets. Students from the five schools that participated in the project (St. Francis de Sales, John Hancock, Penn Alexander, Greene Street Friends and Alexander Wilson schools) will be in attendance, as will be local musicians and the host of WXPN's Kids Corner program.

My favorite city murals? The one at Hahnemann Hospital, pictured above, the Patti LaBelle mural on Mantua (not far from the zoo) and a mural on the expressway - for which I have so far been unable to locate a title - which enlivened my daily commute for the past four years. Alas, I have no photos to post of the latter two - but take it as a challenge to explore and see them in person. Click here for a printable pdf of a walking tour of murals in Center City .

A no less memorable, but much less pleasant wall is also in the news.

The Associated Press reported today that completion of the U.S.-Mexico border wall is in limbo until a U.S. District judge gets answers to private property concerns expressed by landowners in Brownsville, Texas (read the AP report here).

Photographer Tomas Castelazo has taken some evocative photos of the border wall (here and here and here). Funny how the human impulse to beautify finds expression even here - in Castelazo's example of the colorful and heartwrenching coffins placed on the wall as markers for those who have died trying to cross into the United States.

The promise of a better life always draws, no matter the danger. I am old enough to remember the wall between East and West Berlin, and to have heard the stories of flight across it - people driven by desperation or promise. They often ended the same way the crossings at our border do: deportation, detention, even death.

I watched the Berlin wall come down on TV, during a cocktail party, in the company of a filmmaker, actors, a poet. We watched instead of drinking or eating or socializing. We watched what we had never expected to see in our lifetimes - the wall pulled apart stone by stone by people who no longer wanted to be defined by it or what it represented. We watched silently because words would have called tears and tears would have admitted hope and hope is the province of the poor, the unsophisticated, the desperate. Isn't it?

Hope is what leads people over and under and around walls.

And still, in St. Paul's words to the Romans: In hope we were saved.

I hope I live long enough to see another wall come down.

I hope.

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