DOWNTOWN — A new art project is allowing commuters to listen to hundreds of Chicagoans while riding the bus.
But this time, they won’t be overhearing phone conversations or gossip between travelers. Instead, the project, called Voices of the City, comes in the form of speaker announcements where Chicagoans talk about, well, Chicago.
The project’s creator, John Nichols, and his team spoke to people throughout the city and surrounding suburbs, asking them to say where they’re from and name their favorite places in and around Chicago. They combined the answers and original music into several audio clips, which they call “voice collages.”
Now, those clips play for travelers riding dozens of Pace buses in Rogers Park and the suburbs. The team hopes the voice collages can be incorporated into the CTA soon, too.
“It’s an inclusive art project that promotes three main areas: integration, inclusiveness and travel,” said Shazia Ilyas, who helped with the project. Nichols “wanted to combat [Chicago’s violent reputation] with some positive messages that reinforce the good things about the city and the Chicagoland area.”
Listen to one of the “voice collages”:
Nichols, a freelance sound designer for theaters, takes Pace to work and had heard announcements while riding the bus. He thought the announcements were interesting, he said; at the same time, his work in theaters meant he was watching other artists “confronting social injustice in the city” through their work.
Combining those ideas, Nichols thought he could speak to a diverse group of people, ask them questions and share those recordings with travelers to “display the common ground that we have,” Nichols said.
One night, he was working when he heard U.S. Rep Danny Davis (D-Ill.) speak. The congressman’s speech left Nichols “pretty impressed,” he said, so he approached Davis with his idea.
Davis encouraged him to pursue the project, Nichols said. So, he reached out to the president of Pace.
So Nichols and his team traveled neighborhoods from Lincoln Park to Chatham and beyond to talk to people and record their responses. Many were receptive to the project, Nichols and Ilyas said.
The team hopes to keep working on the project and collect audio from 1,000 people. They’ll use those clips to make even more sound collages.
“Hopefully our lives are saturated with these positive works of art,” Nichols said.
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