Promise of Biotech Mural Takes Another Step

Students paint with CSL Behring employees to bring a biotech-themed mural to life.

Philadelphia high school student paints at biotechnology leader CSL Behring's King of Prussia campus
Asaiah Lawrence, a student at Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus, paints a biotech mural that will be installed in center city Philadelphia.

Art doesn’t happen without creativity, but if you’re mounting a 60-foot-high mural in Philadelphia, it helps to have project-planning skills, too.

Fortunately, Mural Arts Philadelphia has 35 years of experience creating public art and those organizational skills were on display at a recent “Paint Day” event at CSL Behring. The King of Prussia, Pennsylvania, biotech company has partnered with Mural Arts to create a massive work of art that communicates the promise of biotech, especially for patients with rare and serious diseases. The new mural will join thousands of others in Philadelphia, known for the iconic large-scale paintings.CSL Behring employees painting part of a mural illustrating the promise of biotechnology 

“These things don’t just go up. They’re very complicated,” said CSL Behring’s Senior Vice President for Global Health Care Policy Dennis Jackman, who has been leading the project for the company. Jackman welcomed employees and students who came to paint, then put on a smock and grabbed a brush.

Multiple shades of botanical greens and oceanic blues filled small paint cups, each labeled with a number. The numbers corresponded to small and large sections of each panel, like a giant paint-by- number set. Before the volunteers could start painting, artist Eric Okdeh and the Mural Arts team had to do a lot of prep work. The design for the 127-foot-by-60 foot mural was digitized, broken into color segments and then divided into 5-foot-by-5-foot sections. Those sections became panels, printed on primed parachute cloth, which serves as the canvas.

On “Paint Day,” Mural Arts staff members were ready with more than 30 individual panels. They laid them across cafeteria tables, where CSL Behring employees and a dozen students from Mastery Charter School – Shoemaker Campus worked together, painting “family-style.” By early June, each completed panel will go up, in order, on a blank wall at 1111 Sansom Street to realize the full design.

CSL Behring sponsored the biotech mural to honor the life sciences in the Philadelphia region, an area chock full of research universities, hospitals and biotech companies. Jackman can imagine people walking by the mural – maybe medical students from nearby Thomas Jefferson University Hospital – and feeling inspired by the sight.

“This will last for decades, that’s the intention,” Jackman said.

The mural’s unveiling in June will coincide with the BIO International Convention – being held in Philadelphia. BIO 2019 is an international gathering of 16,000 people from 70 countries - all working in biotech. CSL Behring, located near Philadelphia, is the world’s fifth largest biotechnology company with a long history in developing therapies for rare and serious diseases, such as primary immunodeficiency, hemophilia and hereditary angioedema. More recently, the company has been investigating potential new therapies for transplant medicine and cardiac health.

For 15-year-old Khadija Samuel, helping to paint the mural brings together several of her diverse interests, including science, medicine and the arts. The ninth grader said she wants to learn more about “how the Earth works.” After getting a sneak peek at the design, Samuel said she likes how the mural’s individual elements depict science education and nature. 

Philadelphia high school students painting part of a mural illustrating the promise of biotechnology“Now in this world, in this age, we need more science people to solve cancer and other diseases and stop suffering,” she said.

Mural Arts Philadelphia weaves community involvement into each project, supporting its mission to make neighborhoods better and provide arts education for students in Philadelphia. This project is part of a three-year initiative to tap into the power of adding art to STEM education (STEAM) in Philadelphia's schools. The initiative creates collaborative public art inspired by science and math, engages students in project-based learning, and helps them envision a future for themselves in biotechnology and other scientific fields.