Murals in Big Cities

“Murals have a very important role in which they can help educate. They can help celebrate. They can help denounce,” says Boston-based Dominican Republic artist Silvia López Suarez. “They can help communicate messages that are so important to that particular community and for the artists themselves, and those messages need to be heard and be accessible to others.”

Suarez is among several prominent painters whose murals help to beautify Boston. Community, she says, is at the heart of her work. 

According to the City of Boston’s online Mural Map, “Artists tell the stories of their communities through murals. More than any other public art form, murals are created mostly by community members responding to the present moment.”

So far, more than 70 murals are featured on the city’s map, a work in progress that is expected to grow more comprehensive in the coming months. Despite Boston’s many murals, it has far fewer than some other major U.S. cities. My research revealed that Chicago is home to approximately 400 murals, San Francisco 1,000 and Philadelphia has nearly 4,500, according to the official websites of those cities.  

Boston’s street art scene is indeed growing but it has been thriving for decades, according to another Boston-based artist Rob Stull, an illustrator who has created books for Marvel and DC Comics.

Stull began spray-painting graffiti as a kid in the 80s as part of the rise of the hiphop movement, a culture that has been a lifelong driving force for him.

In 2020, Stull and Rob “ProBlak” Gibbs, a painter from Roxbury, were named artists in residence at the Museum of Fine Arts, where they co-created the Mural Project in conjunction with the exhibition “Writing the Future: Basquiat and the Hip Hop Generation.” 

ProBlak’s joyous murals of black boys and black girls beautify Roxbury and Dorchester, among other Boston neighborhoods. Both ProBlak and Stull credit their communities and the culture of hip hop with cultivating their creative pursuits when they were kids.

The shared connection of community is also what pushes ProBlak, a self-taught artist with a message of positivity, to continue enhancing Boston’s cultural landscape with his murals— a scene that he says has always been around but is now gaining appreciation.

Urban, outdoor murals have the opportunity to enhance a space in several ways. Not only do they beautify and tell a story of a community, but they also engage citizens, increase foot traffic and tourism, and increase an overall appreciation for the arts and for artists.

“As a city, (Boston is) catching up to what a lot of other cities already have. But as muralists, graffiti writers and participants in this part of the culture, we have a story to tell,” says ProBlak. “And as long as there is a surface to celebrate that on, we’re going to do what we’ve always done. It’s another medium. It’s another surface to take into consideration. And instead of trying to get into galleries, we’re just treating the city like our galleries.”

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