Mural Guide application finds, details Philly's ample outdoor art - Philly


May 3, 2011 11:20 am

Mural Guide application finds, details Philly’s ample outdoor art

Built to help show what can get done with the resources on OpenDataPhilly by a pair of local civic hackers

An iPhone rendering of the Philly Mural Guide, which can be visited on any smart phone or web browser.

(Screenshot from Code for America) was unveiled with a roar last Monday as part of Philly Tech Week. But while a catalog of regional data, APIs and applications is a treasure trove to some, it’s a brick wall to many others.

Data, thou art inscrutable.

As a better example of why releasing data is important, two Code for America fellows with help from a third developed and launched the Philadelphia Mural Guide app. Aaron Ogle and John Mertens, with Mjumbe Poe, used the MuralFarm collection of locations, images and other information on the city’s expansive outdoor art, to develop the project. The app received enough attention that Web 2.0 star Tim O’Reilly tweeted its grandeur.

“It’s a web-based application that can be viewed from a mobile device or desktop browser,” says Jeff Friedman, recently named Mayor Nutter’s Manager of Civic Innovation and Participation, noting it also shares details and images of included pieces. “It will locate your position on a map and your proximity to mural artwork in Philadelphia.”

So, follow this path. Government and institutions, like the Mural Arts Program, had already configured data releases and put them into an ocean of noise, the waves occasionally catching the toes of an interested developer., built by GIS shop Azavea, finally gave a single, searchable, curated catalog of the entire ocean. Using ODP, Ogle, Mertens and Poe walked right up to the water and snatched what they wanted.

“This is something that can help people appreciate Philadelphia,” said Poe at Friday’s Philly Tech Week Signature Event, where the app was formally announced. “And it can help make clear just what the release of data can mean.”

The call for the application came within a City of Philadelphia Division of Technology stakeholders group, when this reporter expressed need for an example of what data could do. A small suggestion was taken by stakeholder group leader and city consultant Paul Wright, of Fuzebox, to Tropo developer Mark Headd and other members who started culling through the then-unreleased data catalog for what could be an easy win.


The CFA fellows caught wind and jumped in, building the Mural Arts app in their spare time. The code for the app is available on GitHub, says Friedman, “so anyone can fork it modify it or use it to build another, similar type of app.”

Christopher Wink

Christopher Wink is a Cofounder, Chief Executive Officer and Publisher of, the local technology news network. In that capacity, he is a co-organizer of Philly Tech Week, Baltimore Innovation Week, Delaware Innovation Week and other events that bring smart people together. Previously, Wink worked for a homeless advocacy nonprofit and was a freelance reporter for a variety of publications. He writes regularly about news innovation and best business practices on his personal blog here and curates a personal monthly newsletter of ideas and links here. The bicycle commuter loves cities, urban politics and squabbling about neighborhood boundaries.

  • Couldn’t the Mural Guide app be a Public Art Guide application? This City has a collection of thousands of works of public art that are NOT murals, including the iconic Oldenburg Clothespin, Indiana’s Love sculpture. These images and locations already exist on the City’s Public Art website and the public art website of the Fairmount Park Art Association. Bringing our renowned murals together with the rest of our public art in an easy-to-use app would be a major public service!

  • @Gary – I totally agree. I would love the app to expand to include all kinds of pieces around Philly.

    I think that the first step would involve opening up the data (maybe via OpenDataPhilly) that is used to make the map on your website:

    If you don’t have the time or technical bandwidth to do this, get in touch with the Code for America team off-thread and we might be able to help.

    Once the data is available on OpenDataPhilly (or via PHL API), then we could integrate it into future versions of MuralApp – and others could develop on it as well.

  • Gary – I’d also be glad to help open the data that powers your site so it could be incorporated into the app.

    Ping me at @mheadd of Twitter if I can help.

  • Like Gary, I’d love to see a full complement of public art made available in the application. A software developer friend of mine, Chris Purdom, runs and would likely be able to make his dataset available.

    • @Travis:
      If there is something usable, I’d strongly recommend it be nominated for

  • Ash

    its a great post . thanks

  • Pingback: Code for America: impact of the inaugural fellowship — Technically Philly()


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