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The Truth About Philadelphia
"Cool Jane"

Glenn Holsten Lead-in:
Philadelphia goes on forever, in fact I was late for most of the first interviews because I always underestimated how far west West Philly goes or how far north North Philly goes, or how far south South Philly goes. In all these neighborhoods I saw murals everywhere. I love them. Besides being beautiful, I wonder about the stories behind each one. I'm inspired by them and by Jane Golden head of the city's Mural Arts Program who I interviewed for this project. And if these walls could talk, these mural walls, they could write a great script about the "truth about Philadelphia."

Jane Golden:

I just can't believe how much drama this little program generates on a day-to-day basis. I mean, incredible drama, like human drama, you know, umm. When I first started working for the City of Philadelphia, I, I was given an assistant, and this guy, uh. I mean, I thought of an assistant, I thought an assistant would be, you know, like a colleague, you know, maybe a graduate from art school. But, no, the assistant was this notorious graffiti writer who wrote Tran. And, umm, through Tran, I met all these other graffiti writers. He, umm, actually brought them to my house on a Friday night, and I invited them in and I, you know, they, they went right to my bookshelf and they pulled out all the books on abstract expressionism. And we start talking about, like, Mark Rothgo, and William Decooning and I, and I thought this is pretty remarkable. These kids have dropped out of school in ninth grade, and here they are. They've got this incredible interest in, in art. You know, it's really sort of a passion.

And I told them that, umm, we, I would be, uh, interested in having them work with me, but they, you know, there was a system, and they had to abide by it. And, and we had this, this pledge called an Amnesty Pledge that kids would sign up and they'd register their tag name. It would be like if I said, "I, Jane, swear I'll never write on walls for the rest of my life." Now, I knew nobody was gonna go cold turkey, but it was this, it was a beginning. And so I laid out my plan of action for them. I said, "This is what you have to do. Sign the pledge, pay your dues, you know, come to some of my workshops. And then, umm, if you do, you know, a good job and you seem serious, then you definitely are eligible for employment." So we shook hands, we all agreed on it.

And, then, umm, the next day I was on my way to work at, to City Hall Annex. Umm, anyway, I noticed on this wall, there were these brand new graffiti tags that said "Tran," "Baby Rock Knife," "PEZ," "Cat," all the guys that were at my house and with one addition; they said, "Cool Jane". And so, on my way between 15th and South and City Hall Annex, there were like 30 "Cool Jane's." So I got to work, and I was like, "Oh, God. I can't believe it. I guess, I just, I didn't make my point clear enough."

So Tran comes in, and he goes, "What do you think?" So I said, "What do you think I think?" He goes, "Well, it was a compliment. They really liked you." So, I said, "Tran, I'm with the Anti-Graffiti Network." And my former boss comes in. He'd been circling Center City. He goes, "Who's Jane?" So they said, "Oh, she's some girl from Kensington."

So, he was like, "Oh, really?" So anyway, so, I said, "Look, we're gonna start our relationship all over again. I'm gonna bring the white paint. You know, you guys show up. And we're gonna get rid of the "Cool Janes" and the new tags and, you know, we'll sort of rethink our relationship." So they did show up and we had a long talk with the big, you know, with the big guys 'cause, see if you could reason with the big name graffiti writers, then you could get the, the 50 kids who are following the, the famous person. So anyway, so, umm, we had a really good talk, and we shook hands, and a lot of them signed up for the program. And it was sort of like that was the beginning of my relationship with these graffiti writers all over the City of Philadelphia.

I think, I think one of the most beautiful things that I've seen was, I think at the Gray's Ferry, with the, with the Gray's Ferry project, I think what to me was really, which, which almost moved me to tears was when I saw black and white people, young and old give me their hands for this mural, to pose for this mural.

Umm, I really felt initially a lot of resistance, especially from the white community. And, umm, I went door to door with an African American woman, Lillian Ray, and we, umm, asked people if they would be part of this mural process. And that we felt like this mural would be a real symbol for the people of Gray's Ferry and it would be theirs. And that, umm, that I just wanted them so much to just give it a cha-- to give this process a chance.

And what happened is I went back to this church and my husband was there 'cause he was going to, to take the photographs of people's hands. I did this design, then we decided to photograph real hands for the mural. And then slowly people started coming in, you know, black and white, and more white people started coming in, and then kids came in, an-and older people came in. And then finally we had a group of about 30 people all sort of clamoring to have their hands in this picture. And they were all grabbing each other's hands.

And these are people who hadn't talked, they hadn't spoken. They had a great deal of conflict. They had all this history in Gray's Ferry. And I felt at that moment that this, this history, this negative history was being overcome in this split second where people were reaching towards each other. And so that to me was such a powerful moment that I, it just imbedded itself in my mind.

Oh, I thought of a funny story. (COUGH) I was working at 17th and Mt. Vernon and I had been called in to do this mural, uh, by the police because the neighborhood was suffering from problems with, a bad drug problem and a very, you know, there was a gentrification was going on, and there was lots of tensions in the area.

And the mural is on a really bad drug corner. I mean, when I say bad, I mean really bad, like a line of people, like a drive-through window at McDonald's, waiting to buy drugs. So the first day we're there, the first day we start the sketch, I'm sketching and I come down from the scaffolding. And this drug dealer comes up to me and he said, "Excuse me, umm, you can't stand here. This is my corner." So I said, "Uh," I said, "Well, you know, I have to stand here. It's, you know, I'm a mural painter, I've got to see what I'm painting." And he said "Umm, you don't understand something, this is, this is our corner".

So I just, I don't know what possessed me, but I pretended like I was in a department store. I said, "Can I see your manager?" So he goes over, he gets this guy. And so the guy comes over and he goes, "Can I help you?," so, just like I was in Macy's. So then I said, "Yes you can! (LAUGHTER) I need to stand here to see what I'm painting. I'm trying to beautify the city. Don't you know that?" I mean, I' like ple-- I'm like telling this to this drug dealer. And he's like, "Okay, okay." So then he says to his posse, "Leave her alone!" So then they let me paint.

So that was, that was a really good. And the good thing about this project is that it really empowered people to pressure the local police who then pressured the DEA. And then there were some major drug sweeps in this area, and it is a changed environment. Now was it just the mural? No, it wasn't just the mural, but the mural was important in that chain of events. And that's why when I see, when I see that murals are catalysts of change, that's what I mean.


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