By Andy Sharpe
In the shadows of the Community College of Philadelphia and the state office building at Spring Garden St., community youth watch over Broad St. 24 hours a day. At least they do in Meg Saligman’s “Common Threads” mural, which features depictions of local adolescents overlooking the busy Broad St and equally busy Spring Garden subway stop. The mural was re-dedicated this past week, as it underwent about a year of re-glazing and re-painting.
“Common Threads” was originally completed in 1997, and was one of the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s largest and most expensive murals at the time. The mural is a melange of portraits of Ben Franklin and Creative and Performing Arts High School students and figurines owned by artist Meg Saligman’s grandmother. Another notable aspect to the artwork was it was the first time Photoshop was used on a Philadelphia mural.
One subject in the mural is a boy who went on to become a noted tap dancer. He was on-hand at the dedication to thrill and set off car alarms with his resounding taps of the foot. A girl in the mural became a presidential scholar under the Clinton administration for outstanding achievement in high school. Ironically, Saligman gets calls from other people who swear they’re in the mural, but actually aren’t. She takes these e-mails as a sign of how famous her mural has become.
Saligman laments that the mural began to fade over time, as it was painted on the western-facing side of the building, which gets considerable sunlight. “It was so sad that ‘Common Threads’ had lost its pop and was fading so fast,” mourns Saligman. Thus, she knew something had to be done to freshen up her mural, as it was continuing to decay. In 2009, the Mural Arts Program and the Saligman Charitable Foundation received money to rehabilitate it. Work began in autumn, 2010 on the top half of the mural, while the bottom half got attention starting in Spring of the next year.
The re-painting and re-glazing of “Common Threads” was a labor of love. It consisted of Saligman, a couple of people from Saligman’s firm MLS Studios, and some interns. All in all, the re-painting cost $20,000, along with donated lifts from United Rentals and hours upon hours of volunteerism. It took a while for the muralist to become truly satisfied with the work. “The mural was missing zing until the very end of renovations,” says Saligman.
With all this in mind, there’s no guarantee the mural will last, and it has nothing to do with sunlight. There have been a number of proposals to alter the building that the mural graces, some of which do not include the mural. As the re-dedication made clear, the mural likely won’t be removed without a quarrel. At least for now, local students will continue to stand guard on North Broad St, as their now grown up models reflect on the power of art, and dance.
Source: Meg Saligman
Writer: Andy Sharpe