After heading south for the winter, we here at Caterpickles Central are cautiously migrating back north for our monthly public art fix. For the first spring installment of our ongoing series, The 50 States of Public Art, we visit Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, where an unconventional public art program is being used to give jobs to homeless residents looking for work.
The Work Now program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Public Art Program: Work Now
Purpose: Provide a day’s labor and $50 to homeless residents searching for jobs in the area
Location: One of the SEPTA concourses in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania
Starting April 1, a new public art program will provide a steady stream of day jobs to some of the homeless residents of Philadelphia. The program, called Work Now, may at first glance seem similar to day labor programs in places like Lexington, Kentucky and Portland, Oregon. Those programs, aimed at clearing the streets of panhandlers, have homeless residents picking up trash, pulling weeds, and performing other types of manual labor.
Like those programs, Work Now won’t ask its workers to pass a drug test or present an ID. But unlike those programs, Philadelphia’s Work Now program will put its participants to work creating public art–specifically, painting a mural in the SEPTA concourse. Philadelphia’s program is also unique in that it employs trained peer specialists–people who have a history of serious mental illness or substance abuse–to provide encouragement and support to the day laborers employed by Work Now.
Philadelphia’s program, which has been funded for two years of operations by a variety of private donors, will be run by Mural Arts Philadelphia and the nonprofit Mental Health Partnerships. The program will operate five days a week, and give 10 workers the opportunity to earn $50 a day painting the mural.
It seems really weird to post a public art story without a photo of some of the actual art produced by that program.
Because the mural associated with this program hasn’t been painted, or even started yet, there are no photos to post of it. But I wanted to give you a taste of the community mural scene in Philadelphia, so I found a photo of a different mural painted under the auspices of Mural Arts Philadelphia, although not as part of its Work Now program to use as the featured photo in this post.
Want to see Sanctuary for yourself?
Painted by James Burns in November 2016, Sanctuary is located at the corner of 13th and Chancellor Streets in Philadelphia’s Center City neighborhood.
Looking for some tips on viewing public art with children?
What’s That, Mom? provides 15 accessible, practical strategies for using public art to spark conversations with children between the ages of 3 and 10 — no artistic talent or insight required. What’s That, Mom? is available at Bookshop.org and Amazon. There’s even a journal to go with it so that your kids can sketch their favorite works of art and you can record your favorite moments from your outing.
NOTE: The above paragraph contains affiliate links to Bookshop.org, an online bookstore that provides financial support to local, independent bookstores. At the time I wrote this post, Bookshop.org had already raised $12.8m for local bookstores. If you use the link in the previous paragraph to purchase my book on Bookshop.org, I’ll earn a commission on your book purchase, as will your preferred independent bookshop. You can also find my book in the new Caterpickles Bookstore. Regardless of whether you use my links or visit the Caterpickles Bookstore, thank you for spending part of your day reading Caterpickles. Learn more about Affiliate Links, the Caterpickles Bookstore, and why I decided to become a Bookshop.org Affiliate.
Happy public art hunting!
- From panhandling to paycheck: How day labor can provide opportunity to Philly’s homeless (by Samantha Melamed, The Inquirer)
- Information page for Sanctuary at Mural Arts Philadelphia
- A compendium of posts on the The Dedham Public Art Project, the public art project that originally inspired my book on using public art to spark conversations with your children, What’s That, Mom? (Caterpickles)
- More Caterpickles posts on public art installations around the country