AVONDALE — Last week, five artists from all over the city painted colorful murals with messages like “Black lives matter, “Power to people” and “Grow together” on a handful of boarded-up businesses at Belmont and California avenues.
“Art really is universal and a healing force and … for people driving by, walking by to see it, it give[s] them a little boost,” said Jen Kilgore, whose shop, Bucket O’ Blood Books and Records at 3182 N. Elston Ave., was covered in murals as part of the effort.
Kilgore said the effort came together quickly and spread organically.
The night of May 31, when vandalism across the city was at its height, Kilgore and other neighboring shop owners were all out on the block, scrambling to board up their shops and help neighbors.
At one point, someone threw something through the window at Taqueria Traspasada, Kilgore said, and all of the neighboring shop owners banded together to help board up the windows of the Mexican restaurant.
“It was late at this point and nothing felt good. We all went our separate ways into the night, feeling confused and helpless,” Kilgore said in an email.
The next day “brought a change in the tide,” Kilgore said. Kilgore put out a call for artists to cover boarded-up shops in the area, which was promptly answered by artist and Avondale native Natalia Sustaita.
Kilgore raised money for art supplies. By Thursday, Sustaita and four of her artist friends were out on the block to paint the murals.
They painted at Bucket O’ Blood, but also at Kuma’s Corner at 2900 W. Belmont Ave., The Beer Temple at 3173 N. Elston Ave. and The Wolfhound Bar & Kitchen at 3188 N. Elston Ave.
At Bucket O’ Blood and Kuma’s Corner, two establishments with a fondness for metal music and culture, the artists painted murals of punk rockers wearing messages of solidarity.
“They worked out collaborations, and by the end of the weekend our whole block had been transformed into a colorful message of hope and strength,” Kilgore said.
Sustaita said she was thrilled to “continue the fight” for racial justice by painting murals, which she said are meant to act as their own protest signs, “reminding you every day of what’s going on.”
“I felt helpless at first. I wasn’t sure what to do. Everyone’s scared of coronavirus, being out at protests, worried about getting sick. I wanted to figure out a way to use my art to help people, help the businesses,” she said.
With Bucket O’ Blood still closed to customers, Kilgore said she plans to keep her boards up through the Fourth of July. Chicago Hope Academy eventually intends to gather up the mural boards and put them on permanent display, she said.
Kilgore said everything that happened leading up, during and after the destruction felt like a “really strong community coming together.”
“We got hundreds of likes and shares on social media, plus neighbors and strangers stopping by to remark about how happy seeing the artwork made them,” he said. “It has become a bright spot in people’s day. I even had a woman tell me she burst into tears when she turned the corner and saw it the first time.
“We are so proud of our community for coming together and helping each other and finding the light in all this dark.”
Subscribe to Block Club Chicago. Every dime we make funds reporting from Chicago’s neighborhoods.