CALUMET HEIGHTS — Wrapped along the wall of the True Life Foundation Arts and Community Center in Calumet Heights, a new mural by Kayla Mahaffey depicts the hopes and dreams of two children.
Mahaffey uses whimsy and realism to tell the story of inner thoughts and personal issues. Most of her work includes children, whimsical characters and bold colors, such as the new piece, “Light the Spark” at the True Life Foundation Art and Community Center, 8828 S. Stony Island
“I wanted to show not only a community but also show a coming together,” said Mahaffey. “I wanted to show and bring that little spark of hope and hopefully someone will see it and think about working together and helping one another to be better.”
The community center has been a staple of the Calumet Heights community since 2017 when president and founder Velinda Alexander opened it.
“Velinda has been a business owner in this community for more than 20 years,” said Frankye Payne, executive director of the Southeast Chicago Chamber of Commerce. “Because of her love and engagement with the community, and since Stony Island is a busy street and you just glide through it, we wanted to bring public art here to really drive traffic to her business.”
The building itself has gone through many changes, first as a Social Security Administration office and then a library before closing and remaining vacant for around 10 years. That’s when Alexander opened the art and community center.
According to Alexander, the center offers an array of programs and services for all ages including after school programs, summer day camps and workshops for seniors such as “The Art of Ceramics”.
There was no doubt in Alexander’s mind that she wanted a mural, a piece that would reflect what the art center means for the community and its youth.
“Before I knew it, it was happening,” said Alexander. “Everything was unbelievable, the transition, meeting the artist and having the garden transformed.”
To commemorate and welcome the new mural, a small community event took place on the sidewalk of the art and community center late last month. Community members were invited to participate, get free tacos from Taco Sublime, learn more about FroSkate and grab a goodie bag for kids that included science kits provided by My Block My Hood My City and the Museum of Science and Industry.
There were also performances by My Cheer Now and former Jesse White Tumblers.
The mural and the beautification of the area, which includes an upgraded garden, wouldn’t have been possible without the help of Free Lunch Academy, Alpha Bomber Productions, and Henry Annan, a community resident, Mahaffey said.
Payne is always on the lookout for locations where a mural would amplify the already existing surroundings, she said.
“All projects are meant to give positive attention to this community really trying to assure that the narrative is different from what you see on the south side,” said Payne. “There are not many female Black muralists and you just want to let other girls of all ages know that that’s possible and it is something that you can attain and do in the south side.”
Mahaffey has done work throughout the South Side including a collaborative piece with Max Sansing last year across from 1843 East 79th.
According to Alexander, the new piece will serve as a welcoming banner to community members and embodies the message of life.
“Life, celebrate life, that’s our tagline,” said Alexander. “I wanted to focus youth and celebrating unity, life, positivity and the mural captured all of that plus more.”
According to Mahaffey, the mural will hopefully resemble and represent the work that is being done at the True Life Foundation and will remind community members and onlookers about the hope and coming together as a community.
“I wanted to make sure that when people see the mural they also see a bit of themselves,” said Mahaffey. “Everybody used to be a kid at one time and this can bring a feeling and memories of our childhood and the dreams and fantasies everyone had and this sense that from a young age you know you are going to do great things.”
Check out Oscar Sánchez’s photos from the event: