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In the Making: Beautifying and Evolving a Neighborhood Through Art

June 30, 2023


Our Schuylkill Yards neighborhood is coming to life in West Philadelphia and our first ground-up development within the master plan, 3025 JFK Blvd, is nearing completion. To beautify the streetscape and elevate the pedestrian experience as our neighborhood evolves, we engaged celebrated artist and West Philadelphia native, Serena Saunders of PassionArt Designs, to create a dynamic mural installation along JFK Boulevard. As you may have noticed, Saunders’ piece, “It’s Only Up From Here,” has created a colorful addition at 30th Street & JFK Blvd. Read on to learn about the vision, and artist, behind this 3D mural in our Q+A with Saunders below.

You talk about creating “walkable moments” throughout this nearly 200-foot-long mural. How do you consider the pedestrian experience when developing a large-scale mural like this one?

The community experience is the foundation of public art-making. Before the color palette, content, or composition is considered, the first thing on the drawing board is to ask, “Where is this Mural going to live, and who and what lives there already?” A few of my personal goals when designing a mural are to celebrate the space it is being welcomed into, to add joy and inspiration to that community, and to speak to its present and its future. While that may sound like a tall task, it has never proven to be so. Each community is overflowing with goodness if we take the time to learn and experience it. This interaction for me needs to be reflective and immersive. I strive to create compositions with flows that lend to the movement of how this space is traveled and to incorporate enough story for travelers who are able to slow down for just a moment, as well as those passing through, to be enlightened or simply lightened.

What is your hope that people take away from this piece when they encounter it?

My hope is that people seeing this mural take away joy, inclusion (by way of connectedness), and upward movement. Art, specifically color and the pure amount of it, undoubtedly speaks to our energy. Here, we curated moments around ideas of such things as collaboration, innovation, and discovery. It was then the task of the mural to not become simply a textbook diagram of these ideals in practice but to invoke the spirit of them somewhere inside of us. As an independent piece of art, the design has stretches of walkable moments that are doing exactly that–collaborating in space and guiding the viewer to discover new shapes and moments as they encounter it.  

To read the full interview, click here. Visit “It’s Only Up From Here,” located west of 30th Street alongside JFK Boulevard in University City, and take in the beauty and evolution of Schuylkill Yards. If you’re interested in luxury rental apartments in University City, view available studio to 3-bedroom rentals at Avira here and schedule a tour.