Four blocks of Philly's Germantown Avenue brightly transformed

Posted: December 03, 2012

At first glance, there's something very eye-catching about the four blocks of Germantown Avenue. Walking along the North Philadelphia corridor, visitors can't help but feel like Dorothy when she first stepped foot into the technicolor world of Oz.

The buildings, spanning the 2500 block to the 2800 block, have been touched up with vibrant stripe patterns and painted with rich tones of cream, pink, aqua, and more.

The newest and by far most expansive project for the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has left observers thinking that they, like Dorothy, have ventured into the colorful land of the Lollipop Guild and Yellow Brick Road.

While murals are typically painted on the sides of buildings, this mural, which was dedicated Saturday, encompassed the facades of 55 storefronts.

The Philly Painting project, a vision of the Dutch painting team Dre Urhahn and Jeroen Koolhaas, was brought to Philadelphia by Mural Arts director Jane Golden with $350,000 in funding from the city, state, businesses, and nonprofits, including the Knight Foundation. The duo, known as Haas & Hahn, have been working together since 2005 and are known for using vibrant public art to transform urban landscapes.

"We really got into this project because we've recently become very interested in corridor work," said Golden, who was attracted to Haas & Hahn's paintings in the favelas, or shantytowns, of Rio de Janeiro. "This was a pivotal moment for the Mural Arts. We believe in creativity and thinking outside the box, and Dre and Jeroen's philosophy mirrors ours."

To Koolhaas and Urhahn, positively affecting the surrounding community is at the heart of their work.

"We've been so amazed how hospitable the community has been, inviting two weird Dutch guys into their lives," said Urhahn. "This neighborhood is now like a big family we've created, and that is something very special."

Added Koolhaas: "The way the art looks is just a small part of what this project is all about. It was definitely exciting and ambitious to work on, and we hope other cities will follow our lead."

The murals, completed by a crew of 20 to 25 local painters with varying levels of experience, is just the first step in an urban revitalization plan. The Commerce Department has budgeted $3.5 million to fund storefront and street improvements in other areas of the city.

"For years we've been dealing with losing business due to the rusty, dilapidated buildings," said Tim Smith, owner of Timco Designer Fashion at 2607 Germantown Ave. "The paint has made the avenue more lively and inviting. There has not been an increase in business as of yet, but I fully expect the colorful scenery will help us in the future."

The project has already left its touch on those who created it. "As a neighborhood resident, this whole project meant a lot to me and will be a memory I will never forget," said Muhammad Costis, a member of the painting team assembled by Haas & Hahn. "Hopefully we can bring in more traffic to the area, and make it more comfortable for the people who actually live and work here. I hope to see more projects like this throughout Philadelphia."

"Haas & Hahn pushed us in our thinking about muralism in the 21st century," said Golden. "Their ideas challenged us and made us think about the future of Mural Arts in this city."

Contact Joe Trinacria at 215-854-2771


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