Eli Steiker-Ginzberg: Peace through Paint

In my personal experience, peace through art is an expression of my Jewish upbringing. Although my family and I are not particularly devout to Judaism, it expresses itself in our dedication to social justice, personal improvement, and peacebuilding. At the synagogue I was brought up in, a lefty, Reconstructionist synagogue in Philadelphia, young boys and girls preparing for their Bar and Bat Mitzvahs design and carry out a project in an effort to do tzedakah as part of becoming an adult in the Jewish community. Becoming an adult then mandates a greater commitment to those in need beyond your immediate community. When it was my turn to pursue ceremonial adulthood I chose to volunteer at the Philadelphia Mural Arts Project and incorporate the ills of my city, big public art, and my emerging jewish identity. The piece that we were working on was titled “When the City is at Peace.”  In the hostile climate of unprecedented gun violence across Philadelphia at this time, this mural was both a vehicle and message for peace making and community. This piece demands of us to ask ourselves what kind of city of so-called Brotherly Love we want to live and what kind of legacy we want to leave behind.

The planning, designing, production, and enjoyment of murals serve to illustrate an important sentiment, image of beauty, or commemoration of a person/event/place. Some murals, like the one I worked on, are explicit in their pursuit to promote peace in a struggling city. Other murals promote peace just by the sense of calm amidst the hustle and bustle of urban life. In these ways murals act as a message of peace and community. Simultaneously, murals bring people together, cutting across religious, racial, socioeconomic, education, class, and occupational lines. The very act of painting sections of mural next to a new friend, sharing stories, and getting to know another, is how murals act as vehicles for peace. Working with strangers to create something beautiful, something that engages people from across the city against senseless gun violence is peace and love in action.