What Does Meaningful Collaboration Look Like?

One of the most important features of This We Believe was the process that guided it.

This We Believe: Living in the Presence of History. Eric Okdeh, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Kien Nguyen (2008-2009). This We Believe was created in celebration of Mural Arts Philadelphia’s 25th anniversary and was painted by over 500 Philadelphians. 29’x105’. (Assistants: Briana Dawkins, Michael Gamble, Andrea Pitt.)

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We are particularly interested in teams that expand your own systems of beliefs and experiences and encourage you to choose a team that reflects the diversity of Philadelphia.

Mural Arts RFQ

Teams of Artists

Mural Arts issued a public call for teams of artists to apply for the project. Organizers selected two teams to attend a series of community conversations and develop a mural design based on what they learned.

Team 1: Eric Okdeh, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Kien Nguyen
Team 2: Phillip Adams, David Guinn, Damon Reaves

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Artistic collaborations can involve balancing different styles, skills, work processes, schedules, and points of view.

Learn more about the artists on their Mural Arts’ Profile Pages:

Eric Okdeh
Michelle Angela Ortiz
David Guinn
Phillip Adams
Damon Reaves

Community Forums

Mural Arts and partners from the Penn Project for Civic Engagement (PPCE) hosted public conversations throughout the city. They invited participants to share stories about their lives, their neighborhoods, and the experiences they associate with Philadelphia. Facilitators used a deliberate set of methods to help people talk openly across differences. Their comments became the starting point for the artists’ mural designs.

Image 1: Center City Community Forum. Image 2: Northeast Community Forum. Image 3: Southwest Community Forum. Photo: Eric Okdeh.

Those who took part held little back. They talked about a city for which they feel an angry love, that particular local mixture of unsparing candor and stubborn loyalty. They told some stories that elicited laughter and optimism, others that were met by distress and tears.

WHYY, “this We Believe: A Mural for the Whole City,” 2009

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We asked them for real stories. This wasn’t about the lights on the boathouse row, about the Rocky statue, about the Art Museum… everybody knows that. We want to know, in your neighborhood, what’s it like?

Harris Sokoloff, Director of the PPCE, 2009

We were “hearing people’s stories and then… going back to their communities and meeting up with them again... to collect visual imagery.

Michelle Angela Ortiz, Team 1 artist, 2013

Public Vote

Each team of artists designed a mural inspired by the ideas that Philadelphians shared at public meetings. Mural Arts invited people across the city to pick their favorite one. From May 4 to May 18, 2009, Philadelphians could vote online or at one of 53 ballot boxes placed in local libraries. 4,500 votes were cast. The mural by Okdeh, Ortiz, and Nguyen was the people’s choice.



Philadelphia is a city where past and present co-exist. Our mural design evokes an awareness of our city’s history through archival photographs, poetry, and personal stories from everyday people living in the city. Our goal was to portray nostalgia and memory along with the evolving nature of the people and neighborhoods. The design shows visions of history, industry, identity, diversity, community, social activism, struggle, survival, and progress that are relevant to the Philadelphia experience. Overall, we reflected the triumphs and hardships that make Philadelphia unique and resilient. – Eric Okdeh, Michelle Angela Ortiz, Kien Nguyen

Philadelphia! What a wonderful and complicated city. How could we capture the identity of the city we love in a single mural? Like Philadelphia, our design is made up of many stories that weave together. Based around a celebration in the street, floating vignettes tell specific tales of the experiences and emotions of life in our city. The subtlety of the vignettes invoke a sense of discovery. Our design works the way Philadelphia works: Each neighborhood has its own identity that, taken together, create the rich spirit of the city.  – Phillip Adams, David Guinn, Damon Reaves

Proposal drawing by Phillip Adams, David Guinn, Damon Reaves.

Community Paint Days

More than 500 people helped paint the winning design.

Image 1: Center City Paint Day, with Mayor Michael Nutter. Image 2: Northeast Paint Day. Image 3: South Philly Paint Day. Image 4: Southwest Paint Day.


When the mural was complete, a dedication ceremony celebrated the many collaborators who helped make the project possible.

The Singing City Choir performs at 30th Street Station for the dedication of This We Believe. The choir, founded in 1948, uses music to connect people across race, religion, and culture. Photo credit: Michael Reali