Jane Golden is the founder and executive director of the City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. She’ll be writing for Billy Penn once a month about the city’s accomplishments and challenges she sees through her work.
Philadelphia is on the verge. The city is pulsing with life, with a burgeoning tech scene, cross-sector partnerships, a blossoming food scene, and an ever-strengthening artistic sector.
And the palpable energy in the city is getting noticed outside of Philadelphia. We’re getting attention because religious leaders and luminaries like Pope Francis and the Dalai Lama are visiting the city and speaking to the populace. We’re getting attention from major publications, like the New York Times, who recognized Philadelphia as one of their 52 places to visit in 2015. We’re getting attention from political leaders; The Democratic Party has entrusted the 2016 Democratic National Convention to Philadelphia.
All of these external focal points lead to the same conclusion: Philadelphia is in the spotlight. My question, however, is: are we ready? Are we ready to be a global city, and are we a city that has the infrastructure, systems and creativity that puts us at a world-class caliber?
Not yet. But we’re close. Catapulting ourselves into the spotlight requires a lot of momentum and an unprecedented ability to take a chance on something new. I sense the momentum, sense Philadelphia’s creative genius is unfurling. I see fledgling collaborations and an increasing interest in the start-up culture, all of which are collectively working to move the city forward. I’ve seen Mayor Nutter set us on a trajectory, embracing forward motion and hiring outside-the-box thinkers to help rev up Philadelphia’s momentum. Momentum is tangible in the city. But we need to match that momentum with its counterpart. It’s time for us to embrace a culture of risk-taking.
We’re at a moment when embracing risk could reap enormous results for the city. The administrative side of Philadelphia is at a transitional crossroads — the state has a new governor and the city is nearing a mayoral transition. With those transitions, there’s a natural sense of anticipation and trepidation that transition entails — the eagerness and uncertainty tangled in the fact that things are shifting, changing, transforming. So what if, within that shift, we dedicate ourselves to going bold and being experimental with our ideas and our attitudes? What if we dedicate ourselves to taking a risk on new programs? New ideas? New partnerships? What can we create, what can we inspire when we plunge forward into the big, the experimental, and the unknown?
Cities around the globe are taking a chance, betting big on art and creativity as the spark that will reward their populace with a profound experience, a happening that will attract attention around the uniqueness of their city, and a focal point that will bring attention and interest from around the globe. Mural Arts’ month-long exhibition, Open Source — our largest undertaking yet — was conceived in response to major public art events like Miami’s Wynwood Walls, Prospect New Orleans, and Germany’s documenta — all events that took a chance on a creative gathering, and found that the art sparked innovation and attention. The cities that host these events are being recognized for their creativity and their solutions. They are being recognized as thought-leaders, drawing the attention and interest of creative thinkers who want to respond to the possibilities and potentialities within each space. I want Philadelphia up there on that list of creative, dynamic, risk-taking, global leaders. Don’t you?
It takes a risk to bet on creativity. And betting on that risk is a part of our organizational life right now as we gear up for Open Source, working with artists and partner organizations to create a whole reflective of the sum of its many intricate parts. We are taking a risk with this new programming, we are taking a risk by expanding the way we consider the intersection of art and social justice issues, and we are taking a risk by thinking in new ways, refusing to let our programming or our approach to the issues remain stagnant or safe. And we know that the organizational, artistic, and personal rewards for betting on that risk can be enormous, creating profound, surprising art that ignites compelling conversation and transformation.
Risk is not always comfortable or easy. It often involves an element of the unknown and the heart-stopping potential of failure, making people – including me! – nervous and unsure about initiating new beginnings. But it is risk-taking that makes great art, and it is risk-taking that sets off great change. Without that leap, we stay fixed to the ground, remaining ordinary instead of becoming extraordinary in our transformation.
Let’s take a risk. Let’s jump on the big-idea-bandwagon, take a chance on the unknown, and watch Philadelphia transform into a city of new ideas and extraordinary creativity.