If you live in Chicago, chances are you have seen a mural or two. You probably even drive or train past one on your morning commute. Whether you realize it or not, hours of thought and preparation go into each work of art you see.
Murals have the power to represent an entire neighborhood on just one wall. Through symbolism, realistic portraits or whichever methods the artist chooses to depict the neighborhood, the wall comes to life. I had the privilege of sitting in on a meeting between members of some important Logan Square community groups as they discussed a new mural project beginning this spring.
The Logan Square Neighborhood Association (LSNA), Latin United Community Housing Association (LUCHA) and The Dill Pickle Food Co-op have teamed up with local artists Darius Dennis and Jason Benton to create a mural that depicts the bond between community and climate resiliency. LUCHA was awarded a grant to create a mural within a half mile radius from the Logan Square Blue Line stop, specifically at the Northwest corner of Spaulding Avenue on the side of The Dill Pickle (2746 N. Milwaukee Ave.).
This mural is part of a larger initiative to boost community pride in seven transit-focused spots throughout the city. All are in areas that don’t typically make you want to hang around and relax, but these organizations are working to change that.
The unique thing about this mural’s design is all of the input from community youth. LSNA youth were part of meetings to share their creative ideas of what they would like to see in a mural in their community. They brought up cultural elements, aspects of nature and feelings of community.
Darius Dennis, the lead artist behind the mural’s design, is a local mathematician, fine artist and lyricist. Once the final mural is rendered, he will begin the process of laying a grid over the entire paper mural and transferring that grid to the wall.
“My work is about the science of mixing pigments and attempting to calculate the impact of the imagery that the human hand creates. I intend to invest my skills in mathematical science and numeric proofs to blur the sharp line drawn between pure science and the rigor of traditional painting, as tools to our ways of thinking,” his Facebook bio reads.
The first rendering of the mural came at the end of a meeting in February to discuss developments in the community grant and the mural design. Members of each of the three organizations were represented and they were all very impressed with the first rendering. After bringing up a few key comments about the design, Dennis went back to the drawing board.
In a meeting just last week, he presented the second and final draft of the mural. While the first draft took a more cartoon-like approach, the second uses key points in the neighborhood and life-like representations of citizens in the Logan Square community. The only words in the mural nod back to the famous former mega mall in the neighborhood at Sacramento and Milwaukee that most residents remember and miss. As we recently reported, it will be turned into apartments with retail spaces after more than a year of inactivity, but the mural shows its place in the community will not be forgotten amidst the changes and developments Logan Square is witnessing, also seen in the art.
“Our goal with this project is to make the design process as collaborative as possible, and I have to give Darius and Jason a huge hats off for the way in which they have synthesized so many ideas and input from youth and the Dill Pickle into their stunning design,” said Rachael Wilson, the health and wellness fellow at LUCHA.
To accompany the mural, there will also be a bio-retention swale—bioswale for short—a bench and varieties of native flowers going in near the Spaulding entrance of the Logan Square Blue Line stop. The bioswale will collect excess rainwater that would otherwise flood the street and remove toxins from stormwater runoff. Above ground, passersby will see trees and native flowers but below ground, this system will be working toward the goal of climate resiliency.
Plans are still being discussed on how all of these elements will come together to create one beautiful, peaceful space that honors the neighborhood and makes people want to slow down, sit and connect with one another. If you are one of the Blue Line commuters who can usually be seen rushing to catch your train, make sure you stop and smell the flowers once this installation takes shape.