The truth is, we all need beauty. It feeds and nourishes us. And I’ve seen the results, thanks to our work at Mural Arts. Our Art Education program, which serves over 2,000 students each year, has a 100 percent graduation rate among seniors in our open enrollment classes, compared to 65 percent citywide. The Guild, our paid apprenticeship program for previously incarcerated individuals and young adults on probation, helps reconnect participants with their communities through projects that bring beauty to local neighborhoods. Last year, 85 percent of Guild graduates found employment or moved into educational opportunities, and their recidivism rate was less than half the statewide rate.
I presented this challenge to these leaders-in-training because I believe in the natural correlation between art and social change.
Generations of creative makers and thinkers have employed music, paintings, technology, and other mediums to stir and inspire activism, and to raise awareness about oppression and injustice. Today, artists in Philadelphia and beyond have turned their attentions to a variety of issues such as climate change, race, gender inequality, and poverty.
The power of art is such that, when approached strategically, it can break through or transcend seemingly steadfast barriers to transform lives and bring about social reform. So, I asked these students: How do we consider an artistic approach to the school-to-prison pipeline? How could a creative campaign help to broker change?
An idea that begins with beauty often ends with new ideas and creative solutions around equity, opportunity, and access. I’m proud to say that five participating schools have taken up the challenge, and I can’t wait to see the brilliant ideas these students propose.