Mantua hopes art will help rebuild the neighborhood

Residents of Mantua pass by the McMichael Morton School and find Ben Volta and seventh graders painting a mural on the building’s facade.

They holler: “I love it!” And then — “What is it?”

The mural features a globe, DNA strands, atoms and neurons overlapping.

“But it’s not immediately recognizable,” said Volta, the resident artist.

The 12,000-sq.-ft. mural, titled “Micro to Macro,” is being installed on the Fairmount Avenue school’s facade and rear of the building.

The goal, Volta said, is to use the art to cultivate vibrancy and energy and bring some light to the blight.

“I think things begin with education,” Volta said. “And having this as a beacon, having these bright colors, the content on the walls, it can have a ripple effect on the rest of the community.”

The school, built in the 1960s, “felt very much like a fortress,” Volta said.

But he worked with seventh grade math and science classes on the design. The kids took to aspects of the universe, and got out the protractors and rulers and helped incorporate the themes.

Mantua, Powelton and West Powelton are West Philadelphia neighborhoods filled with dilapidated buildings and severely lacks businesses and vibrancy.

Volta said the artwork, which is slated to be finished by the end of the month, can become a conduit to reinvigorate confidence.

“The idea,” Volta said, “is how do we have these kids come to school and see how Mantua fits into the universe. So it’s really who you are in relation to the world and not being stuck on a block.”

Arts into the ‘hood

Noreen Shanfelter, director of University City Arts League, said her group is working with Samuel Powell Elementary School in Powelton Village with arts after-school programs weekly, and last year worked with the whole school on group projects.

Shanfelter, a longtime West Philadelphia resident, said her group started working to bring art out to the neighborhoods about three years ago.

“Art is a relationship builder, art is a confidence builder,” she said. “You see the joy in the face of a child when they create.”

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