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USciences Honors Past Community Landmark with Rebirth of Mural

By Nicole Carrera

Published on November 11, 2020

The Alexander Wilson Elementary School had been a landmark in its West Philadelphia community for decades. When the Philadelphia School District made the choice to close the school, USciences acquired the space at 46th and Woodland Avenue to build the Living and Learning Commons (LLC) however, the University still wanted to honor the elementary school’s legacy. 

One notable aspect of Alexander Wilson Elementary was it’s beautiful murals. One mural in particular, which was created and painted with members of the community and students from the school, held a deep meaning to those who enjoyed it’s beauty each day. With the help of Mural Arts Philadelphia, USciences was able to track down muralist Jon Laidacker, the artist of the original piece, and work with him to recreate and update it. 

“The mural that’s going up is an evolution of the mural that stood here before,” said David Forde, Vice President of Community and Government Affairs at USciences. “We didn't just want to build a building- for us it's another way of being able to beautify the neighborhood.”

Community Paint DayThe original mural was painted with a group of students from Alexander Wilson Elementary, and USciences was able to follow in that path by hosting community paint days so neighbors, students, faculty, and staff could make their contribution to the piece.

“The group of 4th, 5th, and 6th graders came up with the theme, the idea, the iconography, and the imagery of the [original] mural all by themselves. So to be working with other groups of students was sort of a natural progression,” said Laidacker. “And if you look at the photographs that are flowing out of the doorway in the design- in the original there were just photographs flowing out to the viewer’s left hand side. In this one they’re flowing out on both sides. So the left hand side is paying homage to the elementary school that was here before and the right side are photographs representative of USciences.”

Laidacker shares that the original mural on Alexander Wilson Elementary has always held a special place in his heart. Painting it at the beginning of his career as a muralist, he was sad to learn that it was going to be torn down. Getting the call to discuss bringing the mural to life on the new LLC was a surprise for Laidacker, and he jumped at the chance.

“That was something unique that especially doesn’t happen with painted public art that often,” he said.”

While the original mural was located along 46th Street, the recreation can be found on the Saybrook Street side of the LLC. 

"I am proud to work for a university that listens to the community..."

-- David Forde

“We at the university are really proud of this project,'' shares Forde. “And in particular, I am proud to work for a university that listens to the community, heard the concerns, and acted upon those concerns. That to me is a really special touch about this mural.”

For Laidacker, the sentiment of the original mural is reflected- and expanded- in this rebirth. “I think [the mural] has probably expanded upon its original purpose, actually,” he said. “Just simply by the introduction of new voices and new elements to the creation process. I personally think that yes, it still does serve the original purpose and also builds upon that.”

Categories: News, Community and Government Affairs, Residence Life, Students, Community, West Philadelphia