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5 Reasons Why Philadelphia is an Art Lover’s Paradise

Outdoor art in Philadelphia (Image by David Mark from Pixabay)

Located just two hours west of New York City, Philadelphia is often overshadowed by its bigger, busier brother. Yet the city holds its own when it comes to art. From world-renowned museums and art schools to murals and public works, Philadelphia is an art lover’s paradise.

Here are just five reasons why you should visit if you appreciate art:

1. Pennsylvania Academy of Fine Art (PAFA)

Founded in 1805, PAFA is the first and oldest art school and art museum in the United States. The museum is known for its permanent collection of over 16,000 works from the 18th, 19th, and 20th centuries. Permanent exhibitions include diverse works from artists such as:

  • Benjamin West

  • Mary Cassatt

  • Alice Neel

  • Andy Warhol

  • and Kehinde Wiley

PAFA's archives are also home to important documents regarding American art history, museums, and art training.

Fun Fact: American filmmaker David Lynch once attended, and made his first feature length film, Eraserhead, while living in Philadelphia.

2. Philadelphia Museum of Art

Located on a hillside at the end of Benjamin Franklin Parkway, the Philadelphia Museum of Art serves as the city’s own Parthenon. Hike up its 72 steps, and you’ll enter the world of over 240,000 works from around the world. Permanent collections include works from the:

  • Ancient world

  • Medieval times

  • Renaissance

  • Impressionist movement

  • Modern day

Ranked the 30th largest museum in the world, be prepared to spend several hours here.

Fun Fact: The 72 steps leading to the museum’s entrance are known as the “Rocky Steps”, thanks to Sylvester Stallone’s training montage in the movie Rocky.

3. Institute of Contemporary Art, Philadelphia (ICA)

Founded in 1963, the ICA was established to showcase the latest trends in contemporary art and culture. It started out by hosting some of the first exhibitions by Andy Warhol, Laurie Anderson, Agnes Martin, and Robert Indiana, among others.

Today, the ICA, which is a non-collecting museum, features performance art, multimedia installations, and more. It has also stayed true to its mission to shine a light on new and underrepresented artists.

Fun Fact: Andy Warhol and his entourage nearly caused a riot here in 1965.

4. Mural Arts Philadelphia

Mural Arts Philadelphia transformed the city into a gigantic canvas. What started as an anti-graffiti initiative in 1984, now employs over 300 artists who help produce up to 100 public art works each year.

You can explore the “City of Murals” on your own or book a tour. Just don’t miss out on the world’s largest outdoor gallery.

Fun Fact: Mural Arts of Philadelphia is the nation’s largest public arts program.

5. Public Art in Outdoor Spaces

You don’t need to buy a museum ticket to enjoy Philadelphia’s statutes, fountains, and other outdoor art installations.

With upwards of 700 works, you could spend your entire trip checking each one off your list. And nearly 400 of these were created as part of the city’s Percent for Art program, which helps fund and install public art.

Fun Fact: Established in 1959, Philadelphia’s Percent for Art program was the first of its kind in the United States.