Sep 1

One World, A Monument to the Diaspora

by: Chad Eric Smith

In 2001, Philadelphia painter Ann Northrup undertook the large-scale painting of murals with Mural Arts Philadelphia, then called Philadelphia Mural Arts Program. Her projects were conceived in creative discourse with community groups in the spirit of participatory public artwork. As a drawing and design teacher at several colleges and universities, Northrup has instructed students ranging from youth, prison inmates, ex-offenders, troubled teens, and retired seniors. She even served as director of the Foundation Design Program at Philadelphia University from 1998 through 2005.

Ann Northrup

According to her official website, Northrup’s art creates “harmony through a synthesis of real-world problems and her own aesthetic.” One of those problems is the perishable and transitory nature of meaningful public artwork. The reasons for this problem vary. Sometimes the artwork goes away because it is old and has had its share of natural deterioration. Alternatively, it can become obscured due to real estate development. Mural Arts Founder and Executive Director Jane Golden once said, “I understand that cities grow and evolve; things are always moving. And that some works of outdoor art will go away, as well. We cannot stop development — but we can and should work together to create a city that speaks to everyone and respects everyone’s desire to be seen and heard.”

In 2010, Mural Arts dedicated Northrup’s 49-foot high and 34-foot wide impressionist mural One World at the Independence Charter School, located at 16th and Lombard Streets. The mural depicted an international marketplace in diverse ecosystems, with vignettes of people from countries including Nigeria, Bangladesh, and Mexico. The idea was inspired by a fruit market that students from the nearby Independence Charter School were operating at the time. Under Northrup’s leadership, painting began two years earlier, with the help of charter school students, Philadelphians who were incarcerated or recently released, interns, and volunteers.  Later, expansion of the charter school caused the mural to be obscured.

One World © 2021 City of Philadelphia Mural Arts Program / Ann Northrup, 21st & Ludlow Streets. Photo by Steve Weinik.

Before the mural was obscured, Maine-based panoramic photographer Aaron Priest of Vast Photography took an extraordinarily detailed photo of the mural. Hundreds to thousands of photographs of the mural were stitched together, resulting in a 260 GB file. Nine years later, a suitable wall was found and Ben Volta of Mural Provisions printed it on parachute cloth and sized to fit the new location as can be seen today on 21st street, just south of Market. This re-creation, now entitled One World, A Monument to the Diaspora, was installed in 2019 by Northrup with assistance from Eric Okdeh, Daniel Lipshutz, and Tash Billington. The new mural site required additional design work to fit the wall, which was designed by Northrup and painted by Greg Prestegord.

One World, A Monument to the Diaspora demonstrates the diversity of the earth and humankind and our similarities as we interact in our daily lives. The hope is that this depiction of who we are fosters empathy towards each other locally and globally. What a noble idea to keep alive. That’s why Mural Arts believes it’s vital not just to honor the artworks that make up Philadelphia’s world-renowned outdoor gallery but to preserve them, keeping the themes behind the painting at the forefront of the consciousness of its observers. The artistry and imagery represented in these works are an essential part of Philadelphia’s history and civic landscape.

Join community members on Thursday, September 22, 2022, at 6:30 pm for a celebratory dedication of the One World, A Monument to the Diaspora mural now located at 21st and Market Streets in Center City West. As an added treat, Artist Ann Northrup will be present at 6 PM to meet attendees who would like to chat with her!

This project was sponsored by Margaret Harris & Phil Straus, the City of Philadelphia, and Julia & David Fleischner. Partners are The Barnes Foundation, REIT, Violette de Mazia Foundation, Ford Foundation, and Independence Charter School.

Last updated: Sep 4, 2022

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Ann Lesch says

September 22 is Thursday, not Wednesday -- is the Northrup mural dedication on Wednesday or Thursday?

Catherine Allen says

Wow! What a mural…….congratulations and happy birthday!