Over the past two years, a small team of dedicated individuals helped transform a gloomy underpass at Addison and Avondale into a vibrant and dynamic mural by engaging over 200 individuals and businesses. The project first began because local resident, Joanie Friedman, wanted to make the long walk from her house to Athletic Field Park (where her children play) more colorful. After an act of violence occurred in the neighborhood, she became interested in a mural project as a way to bring neighbors together to make the community feel safer and more inviting.
Friedman began cultivating this volunteerism by asking the nearby Athletic Park Field Council if they would be interested in a mural at the location. After the Council agreed, Friedman and a small group of local enthusiasts met with other neighborhood groups and experts such as the Chicago Public Art Group to get an idea of what would be involved and a sense of what sort of mural would tell their story and fit their space. Over the course of a year and countless community meetings, residents garnered donations of time and funds for the mural itself as well as a community garden adjacent to the mural. In all, approximately $100,000 of “in-kind” materials and labor were provided.
After garnering the support of local aldermen, the plan gathered steam. Another public art enthusiast connected Friedman with artist Rafael Lopez of Mexico, who had expressed interest in designing a project in Chicago. Once Lopez heard about the significance of the site and all of the community energy surrounding the mural, he not only agreed to lead the project but offered to do so for free. Fortuitously, the National Museum of Mexican Art had a program to promote Mexican artists in Chicago, and agreed to cover his costs. Lopez suggested a format in which he create the design, work with skilled artists to paint the outline and then invite community members (ages 5 and up) to fill in the mural, paint-by-number style.
A series of bi-monthly public meetings followed, with participants drawn from enthusiastic word of mouth and a stenciled sign at the mural site that read “Mural Here. June 2012” with a link to their Facebook page. Very quickly the Facebook Page gathered over 500 followers. The page also features the artist describing the story of the mural’s symbolic shapes and imagery including the large joining hands, rising phoenix bird, and interspersed plant and human life. During the planning process, community members provided Lopez with an “idea board” including words and images representative of their neighborhood, and the story they envisioned the mural illustrating that they had put together collectively. After a year of communicating with community members, hosting a design-unveiling fundraiser and daily Facebook updates, the mural team raised the remaining $7,000 they needed to carry out the official community paint day on June 21st, 2012.
It took many residents, city officials and community organizations working together to facilitate the planning and installation of the mural. Even secondary details like the installation of pigeon spikes and an anti-graffiti cover paint coat were worked out with the cooperation of multiple parties working together including the City of Chicago, local aldermanic offices, neighborhood associations, and the Chicago Park District.
The finished mural, viewable in the distance from the “L” platform at the Blue-Line Addison stop, features curving, symbolic shapes and a bold color palette that is Lopez’s signature style. An illustrator of many children’s books and U.S. postal stamps who grew up in Mexico and resides in San Diego, Lopez said “a mural always tells you that this is a community that is alive and vibrant, that is present. The other thing that’s great is the sense of ownership that people take.” Lopez described how the mural provided the opportunity for neighbors to gather, some who had never met each other or who have lived there for twenty years or more. Local residents expressed their desire to watch over it and keep it safe in the future.
Following the community paint day, a celebration was held at the mural featuring live music, mural t-shirts for sale and a marching band. Community members continue to update the “Mural at Addison & Avondale” Facebook page which boasts 640 ‘likes’ to date and has morphed into a defacto community information page featuring continued efforts at beautification of the area. To get involved with the project or for more information about the mural, visit the Mural at Addison and Avondale Facebook page You can also view a WTTW video feature of the mural project.
In the fall of 2012, local artists extended the mural with a yarn-bombing project (featured on YouTube) that continued the colors of the mural over the Addison bridge with 45 scarves knit by 30 local residents. When the scarves are taken down from the site, they will be distributed to students at local Murphy School who are learning how to knit and crochet. In addition, a living mural garden is flourishing at the site. To have your name etched in a brick on the pathway, please contact AACommunityGarden@gmail.com.
Research Assistant Emma Heemskerk contributed to this post.