Community Mural Project Comes to Fruition

A large group of community members cut a large purple ribbon in front of a colorful mural full of people and winding streets in Hunting Park
Community members cutting the ribbon to dedicate the mural

On Tuesday, November 1, 2022, Hunting Park community stakeholders, including ARTZ Philadelphia, Esperanza Health Center and Mural Arts Philadelphia staff, community residents and advisors, church members, friends, and family gathered in the parking lot of Esperanza Health Center for a special mural dedication. The mural, titled “Transforming with Intention,” was painted by artist Betsy Casañas and designed in collaboration with ARTZ staff, ARTZ in the Neighborhood’s Hunting Park community advisors, Vocatio Career Prep High School faculty and students, staff and clients of the Aramingo Day Center, local churches and organizations in Hunting Park and the Ortiz family.

An orange forklift against a blue wall with artist Betsy Casanas adding panels to a large mural of community members
Artist Betsy Casañas works on the mural

This mural project was first launched as part of ARTZ in the Neighborhood, a multi-year project created and facilitated by non-profit organization ARTZ Philadelphia in collaboration with advisors from the Hunting Park community for the purpose of engaging people living with memory loss — along with their care partners and concerned neighbors — in co-creating programs that enhance quality of life for people with memory loss in the neighborhood. ARTZ in the Neighborhood programs have all been designed based on participants’ answers to the question “What Brings You Joy?,” which is also one of the central themes of the mural.

When discussions about the mural project first got underway, one goal of the project was to represent the resilience, creativity, and contributions of people living with memory loss and those who love them in the neighborhood. As conversations broadened, it became clear that there was also a strong desire in the neighborhood to create a mural that would honor the late Pastor Manny Ortiz and his wife Blanca. (Blanca Ortiz is also one of the longtime community advisors for ARTZ in the Neighborhood and as such, a powerful bridge between the two sets of aspirations for the mural.) Community meetings with artist Betsy Casañas germinated the metaphor of seed-sowing and drew attention to the many ways in which the legacy of Pastor Manny and Blanca has inspired continuing generations of people to plant and sow seeds of change for the better in Hunting Park — with deep, abiding intention.

The mural features a number of beloved members from the community, including Pastor Manny and Blanca (featured at the top center of the mural) who have planted and sown many seeds in North Philadelphia and around the globe through their ministry. Other longtime community members are shown in the mural celebrating and sustaining the Ortiz’s legacy by continuing to sow and plant the seeds of creativity, inspiration, and faith. Members of ARTZ in the Neighborhood’s community advisory group — some of whom knew and loved Pastor Manny — are shown as his successors in sowing seeds of compassion, respect and honor for those living with memory loss and making it possible for them to live lives made richer with meaning and joy through the support of their community.

Community members admire the mural

The mural is understood by stakeholders as inspired in part by imagery from 1 Corinthians 3:6-9, serving as a reminder that the work of sowing and planting seeds requires the hands of many, but growth and transformation ultimately belongs to God. Said Debra Ortiz-Vasquez, Esperanza’s Director of Community Health and Wellness and daughter of Pastor Manny and Blanca Ortiz, “That’s our calling…intentionally sowing into others, seeing potential in someone when they can’t see it [in themselves], seeing what the human eye can’t see. My hope is that the mural will be a constant reminder of this.” ARTZ Philadelphia’s Community Engagement Manager Cleo Smalls adds, “I am grateful I had the opportunity to be a part of this mural project, to see the emotions, memories, and voices of the Hunting Park community transform into a joyous work of art.”

The mural can be seen on the side of the Joy in the City building in the parking lot of Esperanza’s Hunting Park site (4417 N. 6th Street). It will become an integral part not just of the community, but of ARTZ in the Neighborhood programs to come for people living with dementia and those they love.