A Mural’s Morals

A new Point Breeze artwork celebrates a vibrant intercultural, multilingual community.

The Aquinas Center, 1700 Fernon St., prides itself on serving as a hub for intercultural, intergenerational, and interfaith connections. For six years, the Point Breeze site has served South Philly residents from more than a dozen countries. This Tuesday, September 24, at 6 p.m., the Center will dedicate a new mural, titled Dare to Understand, that celebrates their inclusive mission.

The Mural Arts Philadelphia-commissioned project, funded by Interfaith Philadelphia, was designed by husband-and-wife artists Jared Bader and Rashidah Salam. As Dr. Bethany J. Welch, the Center’s executive director explained, the mural “centers on an abundant table with plenty of room for people of all different backgrounds and experiences.”

“The St. Thomas Aquinas campus is a unique place where much of what the image depicts is happening already,” continued Welch, “while also giving a visual challenge to our community to continue to ‘dare to understand’ each other, to deepen our commitment to inclusion, and to find new ways to celebrate the abundant goodness of shared work.”

The campus, which includes St. Thomas Aquinas parish church and the Independence Mission Elementary School, became the destination for the mural following a modification of a plan that would have placed it in Old City. Since the Aquinas Center enjoys a reputation as a we-welcome-all haven, Bader and Salam, themselves an interfaith couple, saw the opportunity as a labor of love and a chance to spread the theme of acceptance.

“It felt like a good fit within the grand theme of the mural, daring to understand, and extending it to understanding people of different religious faiths but also cultures and ethnicities,” Bader said.

This is the first artistic collaboration for Bader and Salam, who call Merion Station home. Their project included a Mural Arts photo shoot which ensured that faces from the community were incorporated into the mural.

Welch sees Tuesday’s one-hour gathering, which will include refreshments, as a key to valuing art as a unifier. “I believe that the Dare to Understand mural process and the resulting image is a stunning testament to the beauty of South Philadelphia,” she said. “The mural is also a symbol of all that is good about this particular community. There is room for everyone, there is enough, and there is hope to be shared.”

“The mural reinforces the idea that, regardless of religion or belief tradition, every human deserves respect,” added Bader, who noted how happy he is that wide open space surrounds the mural, as that quality of the surroundings will enhance inspections of the couple’s handiwork. “Our message for the mural is the continuing appreciation of diversity and the ability to live and let others live. It is the ability to exercise a fair and objective attitude toward those whose opinions, practices, religion, nationality and so on differ from one’s own.”