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Participants involved in Color Me Back are making the city a brighter place. Photo: Arts.gov
Participants involved in Color Me Back are making the city a brighter place. Photo: Arts.gov

Color Me Back: The program using art to brighten public spaces in Philly

To date, Color Me Back has provided paychecks to 650, totaling over $150,000 for same-day work.

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Philadelphia’s art scene is one of the most prominent in the country. One nonprofit organization coloring the city and changing lives in the process is Color Me Back, which is bringing local, struggling artists the opportunity to create murals at SEPTA stations and other areas in Philly.

The program was initially founded in April 2019 as a 28-week starting project. However, Color Me Back became a major hit, and has built a strong following since.

Participants were recruited from around Philadelphia’s Suburban Station, leading to a lottery each morning in Love Park.

Color Me Back gets its funding from the Scattergood Foundation, SEPTA, the Sheller Family Foundation, and Mental Health Partnerships.

The program focuses on helping local residents experiencing financial instability, finds their hidden talents, and transforms them into confident team members.

Participants will receive payments of $50 per day for three hours of work, making their total pay $200 for four days. The artists also receive their money on the same day.

So far, Color Me Back has provided paychecks to 650 people, totaling over $150,000 for same-day work.

Local contributors are recruited through outreach and are also present to help individuals find many assistance programs, including social and behavioral health services.

Outreach also works to find long-term employment.

“I stayed in the parkway when they had encampments,” Arlene Williams told CBS News.

She was encouraged to join Color Me Back by an employee at the organization, who also faced financial hardships.

“Being on the street wasn't a place for me, I wanted better for myself and having places like this was a stepping stone, they give you many chances,” she said. “This is a place of love.”

With the help of Color Me Back, Williams was able to get back on her feet by finding a home, and finishing school. She is now able to focus freely on her art and spend time with family and friends.

Jane Golden, founder, executive director at Mural Arts Philadelphia, said she is thrilled to see the project turn into a thriving and successful place of employment for struggling artists.

“Art is a lifeline that opens other doors,” Golden told CBS.

She grew Mural Arts Philadelphia into a beacon of hope for artists. With the help of the program, participants are able to build self-confidence, increase self-motivation, and skill-building.

“Suddenly, when you make an investment in the human spirit and human potential, this is what you see, it leads to other things,” said Golden. “And that is how you change the world.”

To date, Color Me Back has transformed almost 200 columns in Suburban Station along the Broad Street subway line, located between City Hall and Walnut Street.

For more information on Color Me Back, please visit Mural Arts Philadelphia’s website.

This article is part of Broke in Philly, a collaborative reporting project among more than 20 news organizations focused on economic mobility in Philadelphia. Read all of our reporting at brokeinphilly.org.

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