Mural Arts project commemorates heroes from the pandemic

Remembering a Forgotten Hero by Willis “Nomo” Humphrey. Mural honoring the life of Octavius V. Catto.
Steve Weinik

In the face of the current pandemic, there have been many brave individuals who have put their lives and health on the line to help those in need and to benefit the greater good overall. Whether it’s a doctor, nurse or other health-care professional operating on the front-line, an essential worker leaving their home to provide a service every day or just business owners who are trying to make a difference, everyone can think of an individual who has stepped up to the plate during this precarious situation.

Mural Arts Philadelphia, the nation’s largest public art program based in the City of Brotherly Love, now has a way that we can celebrate these heroes who have fought courageously to combat and overcome this virus. 

With ‘The ExtraOrdinary Figures’ portrait project, the arts-based organization is seeking to recognize and honor the bravery of the many individuals who are protecting and serving our community during the COVID-19 pandemic, and they are doing just that by commemorating certain individuals by painting their portraits. 

Amy Sherald. Mural by Amy Sherald. Steve Weinik for Mural Arts Philadelphia

Why portraits? According to a release, for thousands of years, important figures have been immortalized through portraiture. Portraits capture unique stories and moments in time by paying homage to individuals who have shaped human history, and ensure these important stories are never forgotten. Philadelphians can now nominate someone from the community who has made a valiant effort during this time to be painted by one of Mural Arts’ artists involved with the project. 

Once the portraits are complete, they will be featured in an online gallery on the Mural Arts website and on social media, with the final goal being—once circumstances allow—to have an exhibition featuring the portraits in public.

This new celebratory project was inspired by Luis Suave Gonzalez’s ‘Heroes of the Day’ project and will be sharing in the same sentiment of recognizing and honoring individuals by painting their portrait and sharing their stories. 

“In the wake of the stay-at-home order, Mural Arts quickly shifted, providing new programs, employing artists and bringing together art and public health messaging,” said Jane Golden, Executive Director of Mural Arts Philadelphia in a release. “We recognize the role that public art can play during these times to inspire, celebrate, and bring hope, while providing support to our creative economy by commissioning new work. I look forward to seeing the beautiful stories these portraits will bring to light.”

Portraits from Luis Suave Gonzalez’s ‘Heroes of the Day’ project. Luis Suave Gonzalez/Provided

Mural Arts has certainly already made an impact during COVID-19. The organization has implemented creative ways to help people stay healthy during this time with their Space Pads project to help local grocery stores keep customers shopping at safe social distances and their partnership with Broad Street Ministry to install portable hand-washing stations alongside murals throughout the city. With the main belief that ‘art ignites change,’ the ‘ExtraOrdinary Figures’ project falls right in line with Mural Arts’ continuous effort to have a meaningful impact on the city of Philadelphia. 

According to the release, ExtraOrdinary Figures is supported by the Hummingbird Foundation and submissions for the new project will be accepted until Friday, May 22. This project is citywide and open to the general public. If chosen, nominators will be contacted directly by a Mural Arts representative, and upon contact, nominators will connect Mural Arts with nominees and/or their families to provide a photograph of the nominee. Philadelphians with people in mind can submit their nominations at, and can reach out to for any additional information or questions. 

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