Beautiful murals made by talented artists can brighten, inspire or simply add a touch of atmosphere to an otherwise flat exterior. With over 3,000 murals in Philadelphia, it’s difficult to pick the top among them, because like all art, each piece will speak to each person differently. Here are a few worth a look in Philadelphia’s art scene.  

Civic Engagement (Courtesy of City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Photo by Steve Weinik)
Civic Engagement
16 S. 20th St.
Philadelphia, PA 19103 ‎
Artists: James Burns and Ernel Martinez

This mural nearly fully covers the side of a four-story building and is one of the most popular murals in the city. It portrays community leaders and was created by quite a few people, a lot of them troubled youth that were just out of school or jail and now under the care of four areas of the Department of Human Services Centers. The result showcases that everyone can do something good for the community — no matter their past.

Common Threads (Courtesy of City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Photo by Steve Weinik)
Common Threads

N. Broad St. and Spring Garden St.
Philadelphia, PA 19123 ‎
Artist: Meg Saligman

This mural is over eight stories tall and displays many cultures and time periods. Common Threads demonstrates the shared aspects of cultures and epochs. Saligman incorporated the building’s grand ornaments and architecture. The elaborate composition depicts antique figurines, similar to those of the artist’s grandmother’s figurines. The other people in the mural are 15 specially selected local high school students chosen by the artist herself.

Love Letter
4800 Market St.
Philadelphia, PA 19139
Artist: Steve Powers

Love Letter is a popular series about trying to find true love. The collection of 50 murals includes love letters to a loved one, to Philadelphia and even to a local community. Most of these murals are on rooftops and each one is numbered as to where they are in the series, which has earned widespread interest, a publication and even a movie.

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Reaching for a Star
3666 Mount Vernon St.
Philadelphia, PA 19104|
Artist: Don Gensler

This mural, which covers the complete side of a three-story residential building, helped to revive the neighborhood and stop it from going downhill, according to residents. It’s brightly painted in purples with a child reaching up for a star that seemingly pops out of the building’s roof. Reaching for a Star was also painted by Artworks participants and students from the University of Pennsylvania.

Malcolm X (Courtesy of City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Photo by Steve Weinik)
Malcolm X
33rd and Diamond Sts.
Philadelphia, PA 19121
Artist: Ernel Martinez

Nearly the complete side of a row home is covered by this portrait of Malcolm X from the chest up. On the mural is the quote, “Education is our passport to the future. For tomorrow belongs to the people who prepare for it today.” The quote suits artist Martinez’ story very well – brought up in L.A. and Detroit, gangs were part of his life. His education at the University of Pennsylvania changed his life path.

The Peace Wall (Courtesy of City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Photo by Jack Ramsdale)
The Peace Wall
29th and Wharton Sts.
Philadelphia, PA 19146
Artists: Jane Golden and Peter Pagasat

Grays Ferry has, unfortunately, had its fair share of bad news over the years and was even known as a racially tense neighborhood. This mural was painted in 1997, when artist Golden and other community leaders decided to obtain permission. Later, the hands of locals were photographed forming a pact to end racial tensions, and the mural has stood as an icon of peace for the city ever since.

The Heart of Baltimore Avenue
4722 Baltimore Ave.
Philadelphia, PA 19143
Artist: David Guinn

David Guinn could not have made a better love declaration to his beloved neighborhood than this mural, which was conceived as a memorial for one of the fixtures in the community who owned a restaurant. In fact, the artist painted the many residents he got to know during the time he worked on the mural and went so far as to record interviews with them and create a soundtrack on a low-frequency radio station. 

Related: Top Permanent Exhibits in Philadelphia

Christina Dagnelli is a freelance writer in Philadelphia and the author of Little Squares with Colors: A Different way to look at autism. Her work on examiner can be found here