While a certain someone aspires to build a big, ugly wall made of cement and fear along the approximately 1,900 miles of border between the United States and Mexico to keep people out of the country, Johannes Leonardo is already building a big, beautiful 1,900-mile-long wall consisting of inspiring, hopeful art aimed at bringing people together through a global art project called Wall That Unites.
And anyone can participate. The New York City-based advertising agency is asking artists of any discipline and all levels of experience to create messages of unity on the walls of buildings (with the permission of the owners, please). They should then submit images of the finished art along with the length of the wall upon which it appears to the Wall That Unites website so it can be added to a virtual wall online that will expand in length until it reaches 1,900 miles. “The final piece will be a powerful symbol of unity as well as a stand against building a wall that does the exact opposite of what makes us as humans and Americans great—our love for our fellow humans and our love for diversity,” says Jan Jacobs, co-founder of Johannes Leonardo.
The ambitious, artful endeavor began in New York City—where nearly 40% of the population is foreign-born, according to a study conducted in 2013 by the City Planning Commission—with a piece of art that went up on Presidents’ Day on the side of a building on 10th Avenue and West 25th Street facing the High Line, a public park that exists on a stretch of elevated railway running through Manhattan’s Chelsea neighborhood and draws millions of visitors from around the world. “I couldn’t think of a better location to kick this off,” Jacobs says, crediting Michael Kirchmann, the founder and CEO of international design and real estate firm GDSNY, with providing the space. “We discussed ideas about how to jumpstart this project, and he told me he was developing a building in West Chelsea, set to replace an existing structure, that had an incredibly prominent wall visible from the High Line, and offered it up to Johannes Leonardo to launch the project before the existing structure was demolished.”
Laurène Boglio, an illustrator and graphic designer who hails from France and is now based in London, was commissioned to create a piece for the high-profile launch wall. Johannes Leonardo presented her with an open brief that simply requested a work of art depicting unity. “Because that’s what all of this is about. How it’s interpreted by artists from here on out is up to them,” Jacobs stresses.
Boglio’s art depicts a wall that slowly recedes, giving way to birds flying freely. “Walls shouldn’t divide us. They should unite us,” reads copy at the base of the wall. Passerby are encouraged to share the art via social media using #WallThatUnites.
In the coming weeks, Johannes Leonardo will continue to work with GDSNY to create other walls of art in New York City to kickstart the Wall That Unites campaign, which stands at 49 feet of completed wall at the moment.
There are 5,280 feet in a mile, so there is a long way to go, but who better than a group of ad agency employees adept at crowdsourcing, getting the word out, and meeting insane deadlines to get this wall built? Wall That Unites is a prime example of how creative people working in advertising can use their skills to spread positive messages.
The project is a labor of love for everyone from Johannes Leonardo involved in the effort. “This is being created by a ragtag group of American citizens, immigrants and foreigners, all of varying backgrounds and cultures who have love for one another and what this country is meant to stand for,” says Jacobs, who came to the United States from South Africa.
Like so many of us, the people who work at Johannes Leonardo have been dismayed by the anti-immigration rhetoric that has taken hold in the United States as well as other countries. “But it wasn’t until the immigration ban last month that it really hit home for us. We’re an American agency made up of people from all over the globe because we know diversity makes us stronger,” Jacobs says, “and any threat to that affects all of us.”