Every day, the Mural Arts Program demonstrates the value of art as a way to dig deep, reconcile, and transform our experience through active investigation, creation, and collaboration — engaging dozens of adjudicated youths, inmates, ex-offenders, and lifers while attending to the harm done to their victims. Mural Arts doesn’t always know where these efforts will lead when they begin, but it dares to ask the questions that need to be answered. In seeking truth and reconciliation, Mural Arts rebuilds connections for its participants with history, identity, and culture, and transforms their individual and collective experience.

The criminal justice symposium was rooted in the power of practice. It drew teaching artists, social workers, justice workers, policymakers, and funders from all over the country to share wisdom born of experience and courage. And, though the energy in the room at the end of the day was palpable, the attendees were also aware they have a lot to learn about themselves and their co-practitioners, as well as inmates, ex-offenders, victims, and victims’ advocates.

I applaud Philadelphia for nurturing Mural Arts. My hope is that other communities might catch that vision, learning from this city the value of arts in building community and seeking justice. If that happens, I will probably still have Philly envy, but for different reasons.

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