This is my least favorite time of the year. That said, I love Christmas music, particularly Christmas blues. Before I wallow in the blues, I want to share one of my favorite gospel albums, “Handel’s Messiah: A Soulful Celebration.”
The Mural Arts Program began in 1984 as the Philadelphia Anti-Graffiti Network. Thirty years and more than 3,600 murals later, Philly has become the “City of Murals.”
The murals tell the story of Philadelphia, a city of neighborhoods:
But as stunning as the murals are themselves, they are, most importantly, the visual products of a powerful and collaborative grassroots process in communities. The mural-making process gives neighborhood residents a voice to tell their individual and collective stories, a way to pass on culture and tradition, and a vehicle to develop and empower local leaders.
Murals reflect the character, history, activism and people specific to that location. The faces on the wall are family members and neighbors. Understandably, folks are outraged when a mural is torn down or covered up.
Don’t just complain how gentrification. Get in this good fight. Our fight is not to save brick-and-mortar structures. Rather, we want to preserve African Americans’ cultural, civic and educational heritage in Philadelphia.
To get involved, call Avenging the Ancestors Coalition Arts and Culture Committee at (215) 552-8751. With technology, we can recreate better murals. We can make walls talk.
Philadelphia is changing. From the “Lost Our Lease” signs on Market Street to the “For Sale” or “For Rent” signs in gentrifying neighborhoods, the signs of change are everywhere. There is growing concern that gentrification will displace longtime residents.
Black Philadelphians have seen this movie before. African Americans were pushed out of Society Hill. Black business owners were advised to leave South Philly because an expressway was going to be built. It wasn’t. The neighborhood was once chock-a-block with black-owned jazz spots and small businesses. Dubbed the “Harlem Quarter,” it now looks like its namesake. African Americans are no longer the majority in Harlem.
On the heels of the destruction of the John Coltrane mural, another iconic African American mural is on the chopping block. The Philadelphia Housing Authority plans to tear down the Women of Jazz mural in Strawberry Mansion.
The blonde next to Nina Simone is Dorothy “Dottie” Smith. A longtime resident of Strawberry Mansion, Mrs. Smith died in January 2013. Her family and neighbors are outraged that PHA is doing nothing to preserve the mural. Their outrage is shared by the community at large.
When I brought the destruction of the murals to his attention, Michael jumped on it. I will update the community tonight at the monthly meeting of ATAC, which starts at 7:00 p.m. at Zion Baptist Church, located at Broad and Venango.
On Saturday, I walked the back streets of Philadelphia and cried.
No, I wasn’t crying over a lost love. With no notice to the Strawberry Mansion community, Pennrose, a multifamily development and residential property management company, took the wrecking ball to the “Tribute to John Coltrane” mural at Diamond and 32nd Streets.
My understanding is that they’re supposed to be replacing that mural. How they’re supposed to do it, I don’t know. I’m just waiting to see.
I’m not one to wait. On their “About Us” page, Pennrose says “(f)rom new construction to historic preservation, we maximize value and provide outstanding quality. I will contact the company to find out what they did to preserve the mural. What is their plan to replace a mural that was valued by Strawberry Mansion residents and the Philadelphia jazz community?
One of the goals of All That Philly Jazz is to transform vacant spaces into vibrant places. Pennrose has transformed a vibrant space into what looks like a freshly dug grave.
In my presentation at Fast Forward Philly’s DesignPhiladelphia event, I said what’s next for Philly is to move beyond Ben Franklin’s Philadelphia to John Coltrane’s Philadelphia. “John Coltrane” is a metaphor for an innovative city where people want to live, visit, invest and long-time residents have more pride.
The destruction of the Coltrane mural undermines neighborhood pride, as well as Strawberry Mansion residents’ sense of ownership of their community.
For most folks, Philadelphia’s jazz legacy begins and ends with John Coltrane. To be sure, Coltrane is a giant part of the story. But as James G. Spady wrote in “Lost Jazz Shrines”:
Conversations with pioneers of the jazz community in Philadelphia reveal the city’s illustrious yet largely undocumented jazz history.
We’re working on an app for that. All That Philly Jazz is mapping Philly’s jazz heritage from bebop to hip-hop.
From Dizzy Gillespie at the Downbeat to The Roots mural on South Street, we are breathing life into legendary jazz spots like Union Local 274 (Clef Club), Pep’s, Showboat, Aqua Lounge, Watts Zanzibar, Café Holiday, Geno’s Empty Foxhole and the Red Rooster.
Sadly, few of the physical assets remain. Jazz spots fell victim to race riots and urban renewal. As a result, the legacy largely resides in the memories of those who were there. So to preserve the history for future generations, All That Philly Jazz is crowdsourced. As we build out the interactive map, we have created a placeholder website where community members and folks anywhere in the world can share their memories, photos and videos of the jazz scene back in the day.