Above and Beyond is my latest mural project which promotes and celebrates the tireless and important work done by our city's social workers with a concentration on child welfare. The project was funded by Philadelphia's Department of Human Services and proposed by DHS Commissioner Anne Marie Ambrose as a way to promote understanding and address the preconceived notions of what social work entails in Philadelphia's diverse communities.
I began my work at the end of 2012 by conducting group interviews with social workers, youths, and foster parents from several organizations including Delta Family Services, Wordsworth Academy, DHS, and Jewish Family and Children's Service of Philadelphia. In addition to these sessions I reached out through email blasts and social media to interview additional social workers in varying fields of practice. These sessions provided some important overarching themes and ideas for me to focus on as my design work began.
I paid close attention to direct quotes from the participants, knowing that they would feature prominently in the design in different ways. Three recurring words spoken throughout the sessions take place prominently in the design: advocacy, empathy, and resilience.
My design depicts the work done within communities, emphasizing the intimidating and often times unwelcoming atmospheres in which social workers can find themselves as they are trying to assess a family's needs. The elements within the circular layout of the design show the systems in place around each child that one must learn to work within and address.
They feature vignettes illustrating: advocacy in the courts, the pressures of time while trying to make great strides with each case, outreach, immense amounts of paperwork and time spent at the desk, as well as the feeling of having to become everything for everybody.
The design depicts a breakthrough in the relationship between the Social Worker and youth. Rays issue forth from the circles which carry the images of both Foster and Biological families and key community organizations which also play an important role in each child's continued well-being.
The mural ends on a note that is hopeful, however I am careful to show that Social Work involves a large amount of heartbreak alongside the hope and victories.
The mural features prominent portraits of many celebrated social workers and the families they serve. Many portraits were painstakingly fabricated in Stained glass and colored mirror. They remain highly representational and truly mark a personal high point for myself in the medium.
These glass portraits fall within 3 3'x20' "windows" set inside of faux stonework taken from the architecture of the historic 100+ year old fire house the mural is attached to.
The rightmost window features a portrait of "Julian" a young man who was a success story in the foster care system. He trained and became a professional boxer as an adult, a serendipitous coincidence as the mural faces the site of Joe Frazier's famous gym.
The credits section of the mural includes 10 scannable QR codes, which can be read using a QR scanner app on any smartphone. The QR codes lead to audio files of Social Workers sharing their experiences.
Over 200 volunteers helped paint the mural over the course of two months.
This paint day was held at the 12th and Cambria Rec Center. It was attended by people in the neighborhood, Social workers, and foster families.
This event was held at DHS' office at 1515 Arch St.
It was a full day event for the DHS workers who could come up on a break and contribute.
The models for the main figures were also in attendance, and were able to help paint their portraits.
This panel depicts part of a thousand armed Buddha statue, used as a motif around a social worker. An apt symbol for a person who needs to wear many hats within their profession, one who has to become everything for everybody.
This paint day was part of a Mural Art's experiential tour with people from Wharton Business School. I am introducing the project and its recent history before we kick off.
Olivia Nutter, the Mayor's daughter, kicked off the painting in the studio by blocking in the very first panel of the mural. She is standing next to Salaam, my assistant.
Briana, touching up panels after a paint day.
The left side of the project was painted by my mural class in Graterford Prison.
Jenny working on some of the crisp details in the architecture.
There is a portrait of a man and his son that we had to swap out last minute with people from the neighborhood.
Close up of the main figure. Behind him is Cookie, a foster mother with her children.
There is a timelapse video in the Video section of my site that shows me finalizing this portrait after the paint day.
Studio crew posing on the last day. Brittany was good enough to volunteer a lot of time to the project as well.
The mural's installation took place over the course of the month of July. Learn more about the glass mosaic portion of this mural by clicking here.
The cloth took 5 days to install. Those 5 days were all in excess of 100 degrees.
In the end, the elements that carried across from the glass into the painting did so seamlessly.
We held one final community paint day in late July. This was to create some additional imagery that was specifically meaningful to the community surrounding the mural. Its a challenging task to develop a mural's concept and design with certain stakeholders, and then find a host community outside of those stakeholders who is willing to have the project.
These additions were a way to have people find their voice in the mural as well.
On large meaningful addition to the piece was "Yaya" who has been a fixture of the firehouse since he was 5. Here he is working on his portrait next to Ricardo
The men of the firehouse consider him an adopted son. He regularly east meals with the firehouse, and can be found throughout the neighborhood contributing. In the final mural he is featured wearing a "North Philly Cowboys" shirt. The logo of Engine 50 Ladder 12.
Just about finished.