I think Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program is one of the best programs of its kind in the country. I know some call Philadelphia a “city of murals.” It’s true they seem to be everywhere.

I’ve been thinking about murals for a few years, most recently on a visit to State College where I’m working with a few people to build out the Nittany Valley Heritage Walk to surround and ultimately conserve the enormous Inspiration Mural on Heister Street. A more recent mural addition to State College is the one that appears here, on the blank wall of McClanahan’s Downtown Market along Calder Way.

These are beautiful things. But it’s also true that the existence of most murals (like the one here) is possible only because of the failure of our architecture. What McClanahan’s built was a structure with a hideous and worthless blank wall that contributed to the deadening of a key portion of a main artery of the town. The mural above, like most opportunities for grand murals that I’ve seen, are creative responses to failure.

They should be celebrated for what they are, and for the stories they tell. They should also be a call to our architectural and civic sensibilities to start building structures that are themselves works of art.