- The Washington Times - Tuesday, November 11, 2008

PHILADELPHIA | In the city where a young nation held some of its earliest Supreme Court sessions, lawyer Paul Rosen can’t imagine a better place for a mural about justice.

But his opponents say Mr. Rosen - like justice - must be blind if he thinks the planned site near one of this city’s toniest neighborhoods is appropriate.

It would be a typical not-in-my-back-yard controversy except that mural supporters say they hear a darker undercurrent in the resistance: namely, that murals connote blight and aren’t good enough for uptown ZIP codes like Rittenhouse Square, where luxury high-rises, upscale shopping and sidewalk bistros hug a historic park.

“How could anybody complain about this?” Mr. Rosen said. “A mural about justice is proper in every neighborhood.”

The story starts when Mr. Rosen, a longtime Rittenhouse resident whose clients include former local TV anchor Alycia Lane, suggested the mural as a project for his law firm’s charitable foundation.

He chose an “ugly” space on a side street off the square: the entire side wall of a row house bordering a parking lot. Mr. Rosen leased the wall and commissioned artist Michael Webb to come up with an image depicting “justice.”

The proposed 38-foot-long mural portrays a leafy scene in a stone courtyard with statues of legal giants such as lawyer Clarence Darrow and former U.S. Supreme Court Justice Thurgood Marshall.

“Courtyard of Justice” would be one of more than 2,800 murals in a city known for such artwork.

This one, though, has created “so much animosity,” said Diane Dalto, a Rittenhouse resident who is also chairwoman of the state Council on the Arts.

Mr. Rosen sought to put the project under the auspices of the city’s renowned Mural Arts Program, which is celebrating its 25th anniversary this year. Program director Jane Golden agreed and convened two community meetings, starting last spring.

By all accounts, the first meeting, which Mr. Rosen estimated drew 50 people, was cordial and even constructive, with residents suggesting modifications to the mural.

Dissenters first appeared in June at the second meeting; Mr. Rosen described it as having “the underpinnings of prejudice” and using “buzzwords” to convey the idea that murals belonged in less-affluent neighborhoods.

“No one had a problem with the art,” Mr. Rosen said, referring to Mr. Webb’s design. “The only problem was, ‘Not in our neighborhood.’”

Mr. Webb said he sensed that opponents didn’t see murals as professional artistic endeavors, but rather the first step on a slippery slope to tacky storefronts and signs.

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