If you’re looking for a brand new building-sized mural, swing by 11th and Sansom Streets in Center City.

“The Promise of Biotechnology” is the newest addition to Philadelphia’s renowned outdoor mural art gallery, unveiled on a sweltering Sunday afternoon as a way to promote life sciences and the role it plays in Philadelphia’s history and current business community.

At more than 8,000 square feet, the mural looms over the parking lot behind Target and near Jefferson University Hospital at 1101 Sansom St. The local artist, Eric Okdeh, worked with students from Philly schools to create a sweeping history of biotechnology and medicine and the growth of life sciences in the colonial-era city.

“I asked the students to start drawing things they can’t see — like viruses, bacteria, cancer cells, stem cells — as prompts,” Okdeh said.

Eric Okdeh works on his "The Promise of Biotechnology" mural along with Briana Dawkins.
HEATHER KHALIFA / Staff Photographer
Eric Okdeh works on his "The Promise of Biotechnology" mural along with Briana Dawkins.

“So we show all the developments in medicine and the sciences that started here,” Okdeh said, such as the first college of physicians in 1787, and the father of modern psychology Benjamin Rush, all the way to current-day innovations at Jefferson and the University of Pennsylvania, such as stem cell and gene therapies to treat cancer.

CSL Behring, with headquarters in King of Prussia, sponsored the project that was spearheaded by Mural Arts Philadelphia. CSL employs roughly 20,000 people worldwide and is the fifth-largest biotech company in the world, specializing in so-called orphan disease drugs. Those are medicines treating less than 200,000 patients, said Dennis Jackman, a spokesman for CSL Behring.

Designed and created by Okdeh, the mural also featured work by dozens of students and inmates at SCI Phoenix. The teams worked separately to paint and assemble 190 interlocking panels over three months. The students attend the Edward Gideon School, Tilden Elementary and Mastery Charter School’s Shoemaker campus.

The dedication coincides with the opening Monday of the 2019 BIO International Convention, being held through Thursday at the Convention Center. Roughly 16,000 biotechnology and pharmaceutical employees from 70 countries, including industry, academia and government, come together at the networking and business convention.

"We want young people to think about the nexus of art and science," said Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia.
JOSE F. MORENO / Staff Photographer
"We want young people to think about the nexus of art and science," said Jane Golden, executive director of Mural Arts Philadelphia.

The mural unveiling featured remarks from Jane Golden, Mural Arts founder and executive director, former Congressman James Greenwood, now president of the Biotechnology Innovation Organization, and City Councilman Mark Squilla.

“We want young people, particularly women and people of color, to think about the nexus of art and science, and possibly about entering these fields,” said Golden.

Tilden student Angelina Quintos, a fifth grader, drew a red blood cell for the project during an after school program with Mural Arts, a feat she called “really challenging.”

Okdeh praised the Mural Arts program overall, calling it “an opportunity for artists to stay here in Philly and work, instead of having to leave for New York or L.A.”