Wednesday, October 21, 2009

Two Shared Experiences for the Price of One!

Mural Arts ASL Tour
The Nor’easter rains finally cleared and Sunday, October 18th turned into a fine, soft and gray day for the first ever Art-Reach/ Mural Arts Program (MAP) ASL tour.  A small but mighty group of about 14 tour participants got together with Art-Reach Director Michael Norris, Donna and Brian, our ASL interpreters from Hands Up Productions, and me, Maureen Zug, Mural Arts Guide and Art-Reach Board Member for a tour of Broad Street murals. Our group included both hearing and deaf participants who came from Bethlehem, Hopewell, NJ and the Philadelphia area.

We saw over 32 murals -- the day’s gray diffused light really made the paintings colors pop from the walls. As a special feature of the tour, we stopped at the “Independence Starts Here” mural located at Broad and Race Streets. MAP artist Don Gensler boarded our trolley and talked about his work with the disability community to make this mural a reality over a period of three years.  Don answered our questions about the artist’s process of painting this very large and complex work.  Of particular interest was the ASL alphabet depicted on the wall.  Don worked with students from the Pennsylvania School for the Deaf who modeled the individual letters.  He talked about the challenge of retaining the kinetic nature of the ASL letters on a static medium, which is the painted wall.  After our stopover with Don, our group proceeded on our tour.  Along the way, we talked about the individual murals we viewed, MAP’s community-based art program, the Broad Street neighborhoods, and buildings, a little history of the city and the importance of providing art access to all Philadelphia communities.

Louis, our trolley driver, negotiated the narrow streets in North Philadelphia to give us great views of murals just off Broad Street.  With the street traffic, weather, and other external factors, mural tours are not like a visit to a gallery or art museum! I always say that mural tours show “real-time art” in a community context.  The final phase of our tour showcased murals on the Avenue of the Arts South and the 2 “Lincoln Legacy” murals on the return to the Independence Visitors’ Center.

Our tour was a great way to celebrate Mural Arts Month and the 25th Anniversary of MAP.   The post-tour surveys were very positive and a typical response was “I would love more ASL tours…it was amazing…More, More, More Please!”  As a tour guide working with Donna and Brian, I realized the exciting possibilities of including more folks in the beauty of the art experience.

If you are interested in finding out more about accessible cultural events in Philadelphia, please visit

-Maureen Zug

Serving Reshaped My Thinking

Tonight will be my first time serving as a Host Ambassador for Art-Reach and I’m really excited! I find the opportunity to help serve the community through the arts to be uplifting and fulfilling. Over the summer I served an abbreviated internship in the Art-Reach office as an Intern Ambassador. Though not the best fit for my serving interests and capacity, the Intern Ambassador track had lasting impact and helped reshape my thinking about the accessible needs of others. This became apparent to me a few weeks ago when attending class.

I am an architecture major enrolled in the Drexel University part-time evening track program. This term I’m attending classes with a gentleman who uses a wheelchair. Our first assignment required a site visit to Mt. Pleasant – a historically commissioned mansion here in Philadelphia which is not accessible. Upon visiting the site, I thought of my classmate who uses a wheelchair and how I could help serve his need to complete the assigned task. I photo documented the site and e-mailed the photos to the professor to forward to my classmate.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m neither saint nor sinner but, I’m convinced that volunteering with Art-Reach helped reshape my thinking and encouraged greater consideration on my part for the accessible needs of others. Some have said to me “oh, poor guy; that was nice of you”. I beg to differ however. Poor us who don’t take the time to share our experiences with others who may not have the good fortune to experience them in the same capacity… thanks Art-Reach for sharing your capacity to serve with me.

For more information about serving with Art-Reach's Ambassador Program visit

-Dawn Hood


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