Mural Making 101

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So you want to make a mural? Easy enough, as long as you know how to prepare and properly execute the project. Community murals are very popular and achievable ways of beautifying a neighborhood, establishing landmarks, honoring individuals or ideals, and adding art into the visual landscape of our neighborhoods. Murals can be found anywhere and everywhere around the world. In the United States, the form of community murals that we know today was largely born out of institutions like the Social and Public Art Resource Center (SPARC) program in Los Angeles, California, in the 1970s, and the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program in the 1980s.  

Howard Cook, Steel Industry, 1936, commissioned by the Treasury Section of Painting and Sculpture 
Photograph courtesy of the United States General Services Administration The focus of this resource guide is on large-scale painted murals. It presents information about location selection, artist selection, community participation and design review, as well as fabrication and maintenance considerations.  Painted murals offer a substantial “bang for your buck.” For a fraction of the cost of mosaic, monumental sculpture, lighted or multi-media artwork, one can transform an entire façade or sidewall of a multi-story building or a stretch of a street or intersection. But while murals are relatively easy to implement, they must be maintained—typically more so than artworks made of more permanent materials such as steel, glass, etc. Well-prepared surfaces in appropriate locations, high-quality paint, and a final clear coat are as essential to a long-lasting mural as a plan for routine maintenance that includes retouching, cleaning, and properly removing graffiti.  If this approach is followed, one could expect to get 10-15 years or more out of a painted mural before any major repair or retouch is required. And with proper periodic retouching, one can help extend the life of any mural indefinitely. However, keep in mind that murals do not have to be permanent. The Philadelphia Mural Arts Program’s Eakins Oval project is an excellent example of a temporary mural program in which a ground-based pedestrian path inside of a major urban park is repainted each year with a new artwork by a new artist.  At the Rose F. Kennedy Greenway in Boston, Massachusetts, a new mural is commissioned every 12-18 months in the most prominent part of the park to promote vibrancy and attract repeat visitors.  This guide walks you through creating and maintaining a mural that will leave a lasting and positive impact within your community, no matter how long it is intended to be in place. Enjoy and good luck!

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