By Tara Loughman
Recently, I have spent a good time in the graduate studio working on some of my thesis homework, along with other graduate students. A few weeks ago, while I was leaving Quigley Hall to go home, I picked up a Nightlife magazine off the stand in the hallway. Curious to see what was inside, I started to quickly read the paper looking for something interesting to do around campus. Soon enough I noticed an ad for the Big Muddy Film Festival. I have heard of the film festival before, but, personally, I have never been to it or have never had much interest in going. After being in school so much, I felt that I needed a change of scenery and continued to read the list of featured films and stopped at the first one that caught my eye; Concrete, Steel, & Paint. Soon enough I decided that I wanted to check it out and go see it along with some other friends from studio the next day.
As the film starts, I notice right away that this is not the same idea I had for its title. The film took place in one of our country’s most historical cities, Philadelphia, PA. Over the past few decades, Philadelphia has experienced crime on its streets much like the rest of America. The story starts out in a local prison; home to many-convicted inmates who may spend the rest of their lives behind bars. The prison provides many different types of classes for the inmate to take. One of the more recent popular classes held is an art class. This class can be taken as part of their requirement for a recreational activity. A local artist in the community was asked to come into the prison and teach the inmates about mural making.
In recent years, Philadelphia has been known for their artistic walls around the city. At first, this was due to vandalism and crime, but with the help of many people in the community, this is changing and for the good of many people. Last fall, I was in Philadelphia for school and while on a bus tour, we learned of this great community service that the film was mentioning. This made it much more interesting to me because I had seen some of these murals in person and had learned the facts behind them and their true meaning.
Before the class was over, many inmates where inquiring about how they could make a mural. Many of the inmate’s felt that painting was therapeutic and a release for how they felt. They wanted to make a mural for their victims and their families, to express their forgiveness and hopefully heal many scarred wounds. Jane Golden, the artist and founder of Philadelphia’s Mural Art Program, the went home with many of the inmate’s ideas in her head and soon meet with her group of mural artist to discuss the possibility. After much debate and talks with the prison, it was decided that a mural would be made with the prisoners and victim’s families together. At first things looked good for the inmates, this was an opportunity for them to express forgiveness and remorse, but when the victim’s families were shown the mural concept, they felt as if it was still about the prisoner’s life, not the innocent victim. After much debate, two murals were made, one from the inmates view and the other from victims and their families.
At the end of it all, the film showed a side of people in many different ways, both positive and negative. The film proved healing for many different people and on multiple levels. The movie may not of been about concrete, steel, and paint in the way I may have thought it would, but it taught me something else and reminded me the true meaning behind some of those colorful murals I had seen in Philadelphia.
Link for more information on Philadelphia’s Mural Arts Program: http://muralarts.org/