Transforming Your World with a Can of Paint


Imagine being a part of something larger than life, when you can’t even see beyond the prison walls. Crouched on hands and knees you add the details, steadying your hand to stay in the lines, as you feel the cold concrete floor beneath this massive canvas. You tear up when you picture your boy’s face gazing up at your wall taking in your message: ‘This is my life, but it doesn’t have to be yours.’ And for once in your life, you feel proud because you are giving back.

Visionary Jane Golden, founder and executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia is in the business of saving people, giving them a fresh start and literally a clean canvas. “I think for many who are incarcerated it’s like a window that is suddenly open,” explained Golden. “Am I going to save everyone, of course not; but from what I see we save a lot of people.” When mural artist Jane Golden was living and working in Los Angeles, she discovered her passion for creating public art and witnessed its impact on communities.

Well, years later, that’s exactly what Golden envisioned for Philadelphia when she moved back to the East Coast and proposed to the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network (PAGN) to wipe out graffiti by training troubled youth to create collaborative mural art. In 1984 Mural Arts was established as a division of the PAGN.Restore neighborhood pride

“We did these murals and no one touched them,” explained Golden, “so everyone started requesting murals. Word quickly spread: if you were a graffiti writer and took a pledge with the mayor, then you would be eligible for a job once you did “scrub time.” Initial youth skepticism turned to pride: “They realized that they could make their mark on the city in a big meaningful way, and also get paid for it.”

It began as an afterschool program in 1984 with a handful of high school drop outs, expanded to include a summer program and rapidly grew from a hundred to several thousand. After PAGN ceased in 1997, Golden launched the nonprofit Mural Arts Philadelphia. Cynical neighbors wanted housing and jobs—not public art. But Golden realized that the key to building consensus in a community was to invite people into the process. Producing murals became a catalyst for cleaning up and greening nearby lots, which then led real estate developers to partner with Golden’s team.

Art sparks world-wide movement

Golden has seen how Mural Arts has ignited change over the past 30 years. In the past five years, global cities– like Paris, Rome, and Madrid—have been seeking advice from her nonprofit. But she believes that it’s not just about creating magnificent public works of art; it’s about the power of art to transform lives:

  • Work with hospitals, prisons, and special needs communities on projects.
  • Partner with math and science teachers to develop school programs.
  • Leveraging private dollars with public funds.
  • 100% high school graduation rate for art education students; 92 percent aspire to higher education
  • Low recidivism rate 12-15 percent among Mural Arts former prisoners (compared with the national average of 65 percent)

“I feel extremely inspired by the impact public art has had on people both in small and in big, major ways, and I feel a huge responsibility to keep maximizing our impact and growth,” said Golden. “I am moved and privileged that I get to do this work.”

Final Thoughts

Each issue I will be sharing philanthropic women’s life-changing missions. I hope this encourages you to take your dream off hold. Follow Bold Favor Media Group on Facebook @futurefavorsthebold and visit then share your stories so that we can grow together!

These philanthropic women empower the silent, forgotten, and neglected members of society; by lifting up communities, healing old wounds, and teaching tolerance and acceptance.

Article By Lynda Dell



  1. This article shows how one women can make a profound difference in the world .It’s a beautiful thing when someone believes in you !These kids were offered a second chance .Lynda Dell is a master story teller .I look forward to more inspiring articles .

  2. When I arrived in Philly as a grad student in 1995. I loved exploring the city for community murals! As a Creative Arts Therapist, I know how much the living arts can open up new options that were once hidden from consciousness for those brave enough to heal by engaging the expressive arts!

    Thank you, Lynda Dell, for giving us a glimpse at the origins of this now global movement!

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