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Hyde Park, Woodlawn, South Shore

CPS Students Use Wood From Boarded-Up Downtown Bank To Tell Their Stories With New Mural

"Familiarity — or even just mere exposure — to people who aren't like oneself can go a long way to reducing prejudice and presumptions."

The mural "If I Could Show the World," which will be displayed at the BMO Harris Bank headquarters, 111 W. Monroe St.
Maxwell Evans/Block Club Chicago
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HYDE PARK — A collaborative mural aims to unite individual students’ successes into a collective story of hope.

Led by resident artists Dorian Sylvain and Jeff Phillips of the CPS Lives program, the mural, “If I Could Show the World,” will be installed at BMO Harris Bank’s Downtown offices and later displayed in neighborhoods across the city.

The mural features photos of Chicago Public Schools students of all ages, centered around a collage of recent graduates. It’s made with boards used to protect a bank’s Downtown headquarters during recent protests.

CPS Lives artistic co-director Sophia Guadalupe Padgett Perez works on the mural “If I Could Show the World” June 18 at the Hyde Park Arts Center.

Some photos are of students with their best friends and favorite teachers; others are candid moments of joy at school dances or pickup basketball games. Photos were also taken of children who came to assist in Thursday’s community effort, and those pictures will be included in the mural.

“Familiarity — or even just mere exposure — to people who aren’t like oneself can go a long way to reducing prejudice and presumptions,” Phillips said. “The idea with this mural is … showing the world all of the dynamic, amazing, astounding achievements that these young adults are making.”

A few dozen community members came out to finish the piece Thursday at the Hyde Park Art Center, 5020 S. Cornell Ave.

The idea for a mural was birthed in the wake of civil unrest across Chicago and quickly executed in the following weeks. Thursday’s gathering “was really about pulling the elements together and allowing the public to engage,” Sylvain said.

Sylvain, an established South Side muralist, worked through CPS Lives at Marsh Elementary School this year. The coronavirus pandemic interrupted that project before it could be completed.

For “If I Could Show the World,” Sylvain curated photos taken by community photographers like James Iska and oversaw the mural’s layout.

A closeup of the mural. The girls in yellow and black shirts were attendees at Thursday’s community event at the Hyde Park Art Center.

Though the mural required strategy and “a foundational direction” from professional artists, students had “full control about how they’re arranging the border,” Sylvain said.

“I like things to be a little open. It makes it feel a little more organic when it’s all said and done.”

The student artists deflected much of the credit: “They just kind of told us to glue these shapes, and I don’t even know if I did that right,” one said.

Yet they said they appreciated the opportunity to express themselves and view the achievements of their fellow students throughout the city — some of whom they recognized as they worked on the piece.

Especially during moments like the present, it’s important to center the voices of youth, the students said.

Young people are “not just going to make change in the future; we have to make change now,” said Esperanza Rivera, a senior at the Chicago High School for the Arts. “We’re not just the voices of tomorrow. We’re the voices of today.”

“As cheesy as it sounds, young people are the voice of the future and are what’s going to make the change, versus people who are stuck in the system and in what they think,” added fellow ChiArts senior Jersey Benjamin.

The mural’s next stop after BMO Harris Bank’s Downtown offices has yet to be determined.

CPS Lives is the first of several nonprofits to create art for display at the bank’s offices. Work on a second mural, made by students with the After School Matters program, is set to begin in July.

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