Fostering curiosity in kids (and their parents) since 2011

50 States of Public Art: The Work Now program in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania

Sanctuary. Artist: James Burns. Photo: Steve Weinik. Source: Mural Arts Philadelphia website.

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? 

My book, What’s That, Mom?: How to use public art to engage your children with the world around them… without being an artist yourself, is full of them.

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 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, an online bookstore that provides financial support to local, independent bookstores. At the time I wrote this post, had already raised $12.8m for local bookstores. If you use the link in the previous paragraph to purchase my book on, 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 BookstoreRegardless 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 Affiliate.

Happy public art hunting!

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