Diamond Street mural is inspired by North Central residents

Using stories from Diamond street residents, the mural celebrates ‘diamonds in the rough.’

Artists Doug Woods, Carolina Gomez and Monica Mathieu work on a mural at Diamond and 10th streets as part of Mural Arts’ Railway Enhancement Project on Sept. 1. | TEJAS DODIA / THE TEMPLE NEWS

The walls of the SEPTA station on 10th and Diamond streets will soon be filled with a portrait of the Diamond Street community.

A mural being painted in the underpass on Diamond Street between 10th and 11th began over the summer and is expected to be complete by Oct. 1. Its design shows images of residents amongst flowers, local architecture and alongside the words “community grows here.” 

The mural is part of the Railway Enhancement Project, an initiative led by Mural Arts Philadelphia to give voices to community residents while creating a cleaner and more attractive space, said Cathy Harris, director of community murals.

“There was an overarching pride in the neighborhood and in the things they have achieved with assistance and on their own,” Harris said. “It was a very strong community group that we worked with who has done a lot in the community to keep the kids busy.”

Community members who live on Diamond Street are shown participating in the local Dazzling Diamonds Drill Team, basketball games, local church services and other activities unique to the community, Harris added. 

Kien Nguyen, who’s painted for Mural Arts for 15 years, is the lead muralist for this piece and chose supplies and how the mural would be painted. 

Nguyen worked on a number of projects across Philadelphia, including a mural for a playground on 8th and Diamond Streets, and is acquainted with the surrounding community.

“The response we’ve had on this project has been really positive,” Nguyen said. “As the mural progressed, people started to see it come to life. People have been really excited about it. So it’s really rewarding. It makes it worthwhile.”

Mural Arts staff invited community residents to four information sessions in February. Staff stood on the corner of 10th and Diamond Street and handed out water ice. Community members then shared photos and stories of living in the community, Harris said. 

Together, staff and residents decided the themes they’d represent in the mural would be family, education, spirituality and community, said Andrea Legge, the head designer for the mural. 

Legge was inspired by quotes from local residents referring to themselves as “diamonds in the rough” because “it takes pressure to make a diamond,” she said. She symbolized these quotes with shiny paint, resembling diamonds over an uneven, jagged wall.

“We can now be able to tell the story of those who have been put up as positive people in the community who have made a difference over the years,” said George Clark, president of the Advisory Council and 64-year-old resident, who lives at Franklin and Norris streets. “I think if you look at the pictures that were selected, it really represents the intergenerational aspect of our community.”

Shawn Theodore, a photographer for Mural Arts, took photos of residents posed in various roles, like teachers, students and fathers. 

“All these sites being so close to Temple, longtime residents start to feel a little threatened and pushed out and so going through our community mural process, it’s an opportunity for them to have their voices and point of view on the wall so they can’t be [in] anyway displaced or forgotten,” Harris said.

The mural is also seen as a way to welcome others to the neighborhood, Nguyen said, as the area intersects the Temple community and space of long-time residents.

The mural is being painted at the perfect time, Clark said, who believes engaging with the community in face of the COVID-19 pandemic and new Temple construction projects will strengthen community ties.

“This has created energy now where people are seeing faces reflecting on how those faces have impacted on the community,” Clark said. “Because the pictures are up there now, the energy is like, ‘Well how can I be involved?’ ‘How can I be engaged?’”

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