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New Book Documenting Chicago’s Year Of Public Art Captures Murals, Sculptures And More From All 50 Wards

The book, now available at neighborhood public libraries, chronicles the city’s 2017 initiative that brought 100 new public art projects to life in every city ward.

Ji Yang
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CHICAGO — A newly published book documenting the Year of Public Art in Chicago is now available at neighborhood public libraries and can be downloaded for free.

The book chronicles the city’s 2017 initiative that brought 100 new public art projects to life in every city ward.

Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events Commissioner Mark Kelly said the book allows the public to see the full scope of the project and can be used as a guidebook to explore new neighborhoods.

Credit: Ji Yang

“There were all types of announcements about ‘this public artwork,’ there were openings and dedications recognizing a work, but they were all singular events and you didn’t get a sense of the project overall,” Kelly said. He added the book was Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s idea and was a gift to the city underwritten by Michael Sacks, chairman and CEO of Grosvenor Capital Management, along with his wife Cari.

The project involved several city departments, including the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, the Department of Transportation, Chicago Park District, Chicago Public Library and the CTA.

Along with highlighting the work that was created in 2017 (and still remains up), it also honors the 50th anniversary of two of Chicago’s most iconic public artworks: the Picasso in Daley Plaza and the Wall of Respect (which once stood at 43rd Street and Langley Avenue) on Chicago’s South Side, according to the city.

Artist Sam Kirk worked on public art projects in Humboldt Park, Lakeview and Logan Square as part of the project.

“For the project in Logan Square that I did, the alderman there reached out to me and I won the project,” Kirk said. “For the one I did in the 44th Ward, I presented an idea to the alderman around the time it was happening; and in Humboldt Park, it was something that I was working on for about four years. I had already spoken to the Puerto Rican Cultural Center about doing it before ‘The Year of Public Art’ came up so when it did come up, it was a perfect fit. We went and spoke to the alderman about it and he just loved it.”

Kelly said the city put out an open call to all Chicago artists to apply, with the only caveat that the artist must be established with work in the public realm.

Credit: Ji Yang

The budget generally ranged between $10,000 and $20,000 per project, which included production costs along with the artists commissions, Kelly said. The budget for the entire project was $1 million.

Vanessa Sanchez, director of the Chicago-based National Museum of Mexican Art, had 15 high-school and college students from it’s Yollocalli Arts Reach Program take part in the public art project, completing murals at three elementary schools in the 22nd Ward, which includes parts of Little Village, South Lawndale and Archer Heights on the Southwest Side.

“When we saw that it was going to be the year of public art, we heard about the call,” Sanchez said. “There was an application process. We worked with the Alderman Ricardo Munoz of the 22nd Ward who selected us to be the artists of the ward. We also worked with him to think about what it would be, and then we reached out to the schools and they were all very open to having the murals done on their walls.”

Sanchez added that although the public art projects are permanent, the book is another way to document it and adds to the sense of pride for the young Yollocalli artists who participated in the project.

“They are supposed to be permanent but there is always going to be wear and tear and sun damage,” Sanchez said. “Some of the kids are from the neighborhood so I think for them it’s a sense of pride to see their work.”

Kirk said she’s she’s happy the book provides documentation for the artwork, but does wish the city printed more hard copies so residents could purchase them.

“It’s definitely cool that it’s documented and they added some cool features,” Kirk said. “I know on the mural that I worked on in Logan Square, there’s an app that goes along with it that if you download the app and scan across the page, it pulls up video and shows us in the process of painting the piece.”

“So many people saw it in my studio and are interested in it. Anytime anyone picks it up they ask if they can buy it somewhere. Hopefully they do make it available.”

Kelly said publishing more books is something the city may consider.

“It’s not in the plans right now but if the demand exceeds supply, it’s a wonderful problem to have.”

You can check out “The Year of Public Art” at any Chicago Public Library location or download it here.

Credit: Ji Yang