Protest mural dedicated near former site of Rizzo statue

Officials on Wednesday, Aug. 26, dedicates “Crown,” a new mural on the Municipal Services Building commemorating protests following the death of George Floyd. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

The space in front of the Municipal Services Building served as an almost ground zero for the massive protests in Philadelphia following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police.

Activists targeted the statue of former Mayor and Police Commissioner Frank Rizzo, whose reign, they argued, was marked by brutality and racism. In early June, the area was cordoned off, with U.S. National Guard vehicles arranged in formation.

City officials Wednesday unveiled a new artwork on the windows above the entrance to the building, just northwest of City Hall. It features photos of Black Lives Matter protesters, some masked, holding up their fists.

Mayor Jim Kenney, speaking at a dedication ceremony, said the mural is a small step in an effort to reform the city’s government and institutions in the wake of the unrest.

“This place, this spot has been a really difficult place for a long time, and the remnants of what was here is gone, and the remnants of what is being born is right behind me,” he said. “That’s the direction we want to go. That’s the message we want to send.”

Rizzo’s bronze likeness, which had loomed over the outdoor concourse since 1999, was removed in June, a change supported by Russell Craig.

Craig designed the new mural. He and another artist, Jesse Krimes, had previously created a piece on the windows. They added bricks, an homage to Black Panthers who were stripped and humiliated against a brick wall at Rizzo’s command.

“My goal is to hope that the mural inspires people to keep pushing toward change,” Craig said Wednesday.

Artist Russell Craig speaks Wednesday, Aug. 26, in front of his new mural, “Crown,” at the Municipal Services Building. PHOTO: Jack Tomczuk

He became involved in Mural Arts while serving a lengthy sentence at Graterford Prison following a childhood in the foster care system.

Craig participated in some of the summer’s demonstrations, and he included himself in the work, alongside other protesters.

It’s titled “Crown” and inspired by Eugene Delacroix’s famous 1830 painting “Liberty Leading the People.” The raised fists are arranged to form a crown, which, in Latin, is translated “corona,” another nod to the times.

Craig will expand on the piece in phases, officials said, so that it will eventually wrap around the municipal building.

Jane Golden, executive director of the Mural Arts program, said the organization will be unveiling a number of large-scale works this fall harkening to the cries of protesters.

“It’s definitely a moment that we have to seize, and we have to be more intentional and rigorous than ever before if we’re going to move forward, and I do believe that art plays an important role in this process,” she said.