Barnes Foundation teams with Mural Arts' re-entry program

In a new collaboration between the Barnes Foundation and Mural Arts Philadelphia, muralist Ben Volta and emerging artist Russell Craig, pictured here, will work with Mural Arts’ Restorative Justice program. Craig is a former participant of the program.

In a new collaboration announced Tuesday, the Barnes Foundation is transforming its ticketing gatehouse into a studio for participants in the Mural Arts Program Restorative Justice program, which gives incarcerated or formerly incarcerated individuals an opportunity to reconnect with society through art.

Full-time Mural Arts artists will work on public art projects alongside members of the Guild, the organization’s paid apprenticeship program for previously incarcerated individuals and young adults on probation.

“The great thing about creatively reusing this space is that we can bring the Barnes out to the sidewalk,” Peg Zminda, executive vice president of the Barnes Foundation, said during a news conference. “Mural Arts was just a natural partner for us in terms of that.”

The connection between the Barnes and Mural Arts began in summer 2017, when the museum reached out about repurposing the gatehouse. Mural Arts wound up using the space as the hub for the Monument Lab, its big public art project last fall. When the project ended, the question turned to whether the space might support a more permanent collaboration.

With a grant from the Connelly Foundation, that idea soon became reality.

“Often in big cities, organizations run fast and in their own lanes,” said Jane Golden, founder and executive director of Mural Arts. “But when we share resources, there’s nothing that’s out of reach.”

Mural Arts artists Ben Volta and Russell Craig are taking over the space first to work on their latest project, a movable and modular mural called Proclamations, inspired by Charles and Ray Eames’ House of Cards. The project is funded by the Presbytery of Philadelphia in collaboration with Olivet Covenant Presbyterian Church. Craig is a former Guild participant.

Camera icon Grace Dickinson
Guild members and artists are  working on “Proclamations,” a movable, modular mural touching on themes of re-entry and restorative justice.

The public will be able to visit the new Mural Arts studio from noon to 2 p.m. Sunday as part of the Barnes’ free First Sunday programming. Members of the team will talk with visitors about what they’re working on and the themes behind the project. Mural Arts officials said future open-studio days are planned.

“People will get to see why Mural Arts exists and the importance behind what they’re working on,” said Shelley Bernstein, deputy director of audience engagement at the Barnes. “They’ll be able to engage with the artists in a way that wasn’t really happening before.”

Educators from the Barnes are also teaching participants in the Restorative Justice program, both at the Barnes and at Graterford Prison.

“A lot of people think that Dr. Barnes was a really cranky guy,” Zminda said. “But he really believed that art is for everyone, and we’re hoping to return to the core of what he intended through this partnership.”

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