Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program presents

Philadelphia Family Examiner - April 11, 2012

Philadelphia Family Examiner

Family is not just about blood relatives. Family can be extended members of a community such as neighbors, schools, churches, and local businesses. Though these people may not actually reside together in a home, they are family in a sense that they know who belongs in their community and who are the visitors.

The Mural Arts Program is a community organization that extends their arms to local families, which is why they chose April as Restorative Justice Month. Restorative justice is exactly what its name implies, justice in the form of community service. Restorative in that, participants, their victims, and the communities which are the scene of the crimes, are restored to their former selves.

Sketching and painting are art forms that double as therapy. Some of our greatest artists—Vincent Van Gogh, Pablo Picasso, and Claude Monet, suffered with major psychiatric disorders. Lesser knowns such as Mark Landis, Yves Chaudron, Tony Tetro, John Myatt and John Drew, and Tom Keating combined their artistry skills with the criminal element. These men are known as art forgers—duplicating an exact copy of well-known works of art, passing them off as the real thing, then make huge profits off some naïve aristocrat with an obscene amount of money to burn.

Albeit none of the participants in the Mural Arts Program are of that caliber, but nonetheless some have committed violent crime. Everything from petty theft to murder has been perpetrated by the adults and youths in the program. Restorative Justice  requires convicted criminals to make amends to those they have harmed by admitting that their behavior was heinous and immoral. This is hard therapeutic work for the perpetrator because it means that they have to strip away that hard exterior and reveal a vulnerability that they deny exists. It also makes them take a look at who they’ve become; usually someone they never thought they would be in their wildest of dreams.

Humble Beginnings

I spoke with Robyn Buseman, Restorative Justice Program Director, to learn about the history of the program. She told me that both Restorative Justice and the Mural Arts Program are a continuation of the old Anti-Graffiti Network started way back in the 1980s. The Network goal was to stop youths from tagging walls and buildings. Here is more of the interview:

At what point did the Anti-Graffiti Network decide to start painting murals?

Very early on, Jane Golden received some donated paint and decided to use the paint to create murals to cover the graffiti, working with graffiti writers. The murals were not defaced once they were painted on the walls.

How long has the mural arts program been reaching out to those incarcerated?

At least the last 10 years.

What year did you begin working with the adult population?

Mural Arts started working at the Philadelphia Prison System in the late 1990’s and at Graterford in 2002.

What year did you begin working with youths in residential?

Mural Arts has worked at the Youth Study Center for at least 10 years, and has free art education programs throughout the City for youth. In addition, Mural Arts has programs with youth on In Home Detention and at St. Gabriel’s Hall, a residential program for delinquent youth.

Explain the process in which the perpetrator is able to make amends with those he had harmed?

While Mural Arts does not handle individual reconciliation with victim and offenders, we provide opportunities for those who have been convicted of crimes to learn new skills and competencies, participate in community engagement processes and restoring spaces, and engage in dialog with victim advocates. Participants develop competencies, such as improved job skills and the ability to engage in positive social activities, enabling them to seek employment and avoid returning to criminal behavior.

How often do they meet with victim advocates?

Sessions are scheduled throughout the year as needed, most of the sessions are held at EMIR, Every Murder is Real, located in Germantown.

Just how are those fantastic murals assembled?

Most murals are painted on a primed cloth, enabling artists to work in studios, schools and also prisons. The designs are projected onto the cloth in sections, and the artists mix colors. The design is painted onto the cloth and then installed on the wall, similar to wall paper.

This Saturday, April 14th, you are having the Restorative Justice Mural Tour on the second floor of The Gallery at Market East. Would you like to explain a little bit about the tour?

This tour is cancelled, sorry. We do have tours throughout the year that start at the Gallery, if you check the website and click on tours you can find out more…

I want to thank Ms. Robyn Buseman for taking time out of her busy schedule to grant me this interview, and for reaching out to those incarcerated. Criminals are people who need help too. Unfortunately it takes breaking the law for them to get that help. The Mural Arts Program uses them to turn Philadelphia’s eyesores into refreshing billboards.

 For more information about the Restorative Justice Program or the Mural Arts Program itself, check out the Mural Arts Program website

, Philadelphia Family Examiner

Yvonne Jessey is a human services advocate devoted to providing solutions to families. She holds a bachelor’s degree in human service management from the University of Phoenix and is a published writer and poet.