Art is often hard to put into words, to measure and quantify its effects on a community.
But if Friday night’s VIP kickoff celebration of the Harrisburg Mural Festival is any indication, many in the Harrisburg community are embracing, excited and uplifted by the 14 new murals being created under the umbrella of the nonprofit Sprocket Mural Works.
More than 300 people gathered—artists, community leaders, mural sponsors and volunteers—on the plaza between the PA State Archives Building and the PA State Museum to celebrate the 2019 festival launch, which will add 14 colorful new murals to the city’s collection.
It was an impressive showing, and I was excited to emcee the event. Likewise, TheBurg is honored to be a strong supporter and media sponsor of the festival, as we believe that the murals both beautify Harrisburg and foster community here.
So, what is it about public art that has drawn hundreds of people together?
“Murals are making this town beautiful, interesting and dynamic,” said Brad Jones, president and CEO of Harristown Enterprises.
The company, which owns Strawberry Square, sponsored murals for both the 2017 and 2019 festivals. One such mural is currently being created on the entire back of International House, an apartment building housing students from around the country and world, located at 314 Chestnut St., with the mural along its rear-facing Blackberry Alley.
“I want to thank all the wonderful muralists who are bringing their art and their stories here to Harrisburg to share with us—you’re giving us a really special gift for our community,” Jones said to the crowd gathered Friday night.
While Harrisburg’s mural gifts are still being unveiled and unwrapped, so to speak, other communities have already measured and studied the effects of murals, which send ripples beyond their colorful surfaces and into the surrounding community landscape.
Sprocket co-founders Meg Caruso and Jeff Copus are inspired by many city mural programs, including the groundbreaking Philly Mural Arts, considered a national and international leader in the mural arts movement.
What started as an anti-graffiti movement in 1984 has blossomed into an organization considered the nation’s largest public art program with a portfolio of 3,600 murals.
A 78-page, 2003 impact study cited both economic and social benefits from Philly Mural Arts’ work.
“For a government agency or public program, costs and benefits are never calculated only in economic terms,” stated the report. “A community mural represents a public good, both as a process and product, and is therefore worthy of public investment.”
“Murals are part of a community ecosystem in that they are a way to engage and mobilize people to address other local issues,” the report said. “Murals are part of a cultural ecosystem in that they intersect with other cultural programs and traditions, urban design and local history.”
While Harrisburg’s mural program is still in its infancy compared to Philadelphia’s program, many in the community recognize the power of the arts to energize Harrisburg.
“Nothing is better than seeing local businesses and artists from all over the world come together to make our city a more beautiful place and we are honored to be a part of that,” said Anna Vazquez, marketing director at XL Live, which is sponsoring an abstract mural incorporating Jimi Hendrix, by nationally known artist Ryan “ARCY” Christenson, on the exterior wall of the live music venue.
Friday night, Jones acknowledged that Sprocket’s second full-length festival is only the beginning for Harrisburg.
“We are so excited for the 2019 murals to be done because then we will truly have a mural trail connecting the many murals in downtown walking up to Midtown,” Jones said. “Public art like this inspires people in so many positive ways.”
The Harrisburg Mural Festival runs through Sept. 8, with a block party on State Street in front of the state Capitol building, and coinciding with 2019 Gallery Walk. This week, many artists will be painting their murals, and they urge you to stop by and watch them at work. For more information, visit the Sprocket Mural Works’ website.