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Philadelphia's mural art program ignites change

Forget the Liberty Bell. There are more colorful sights in Philadelphia.

For 30 years, the Philadelphia Mural Arts Program has brought collaborative creativity to the City of Brotherly Love by way of 4,000 large-scale paintings scattered throughout the city.

Jane Golden, founder and executive director of the program, joined CNBC's "Squawk Box" to share her inspiration. "People are coming here from all over the world to see the incredible work. There's a real renaissance happening in Philadelphia that I could have never imagined."

The interest and passion over three decades for this transformative art have translated into exponential growth for Mural Arts, and Golden said hundreds of cities in the United States and around the world have spoken with her about replicating the project.

(Before and after of Henry Ossawa Tanner: Letters of Influence © 2011 Keir Johnston/Philadelphia Mural Arts Program; photo: Steve Weinik)

Officials from Paris to Hanoi have reached out about potential collaborations. "Over the years we have seen an increase in the number and variety of cities and other civic and arts organizations who have reached out to us for support in creating projects and establishing similar programs around the world," said Golden.

Public mural projects are spreading throughout other American cities like Atlanta, Baton Rouge, and Detroit, among others.

The Mural Arts Program first started as an anti-graffiti movement in 1984. "When we started the program, we opened doors for all kids, and were made part of the division of social services," said Golden.

But the program has since evolved from simply eradicating vandalism to creating inspired artwork. The city of Philadelphia funds 35 percent of the efforts, while private donors and corporate partners provide the rest. The program commissions and executes 100 art projects a year with the help of 10,000 artists—both professionals and amateurs.

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(Before and after of How Philly Moves © 2010 Jonathan Laidacker and Jacques-Jean Tiziou/Philadelphia Mural Arts Program; photo credit: Joel Avery)

The mission of Mural Arts is to cultivate a spirit of positivity and ingenuity for future generations. "We want to create a workforce for the 21st century—kids who are resilient, tenacious, persistent, and embrace creativity and innovation," said Golden.

Mural Arts also runs an education program, which boasts a 100 percent graduation rate, with 85 percent of its students moving on to higher education.

The group has expanded its reach to other social service areas, including helping former inmates who are reentering society, victims of violence, and people struggling with mental illness.

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"When you have success it's not a time when you become complacent," said Golden. "It's actually a time when you become hyper-strategic. People clamored for art because in the art there was hope and possibility."

Disclosure: Philadelphia-based Comcast, CNBC's parent company, is one of the corporate partners, working closely with Mural Arts for its flagship volunteering day, Comcast Cares.