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Austin, Garfield Park, North Lawndale

West Side Window Displays On Mag Mile Showcase ‘Richness Of Our Culture’

The window decorations draw attention to community-driven projects Austin residents are doing to improve their neighborhood.

A display for Austin Coming Together along the Magnificent Mile on Monday, Dec. 21 in downtown Chicago.
Colin Boyle/Block Club Chicago
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MAGNIFICENT MILE — Shoppers can get a glimpse of the West Side with holiday window displays set up along the Magnificent Mile.

Various groups put up 15 decorative window displays in the famed Downtown corridor, and several of them highlight work being done in Austin by and for residents.

A window display at 401 N. Michigan Ave. use decorations to show the kinship, strength and diversity of Austin residents, a side of the neighborhood that is often overlooked by people who don’t live or work there, organizers said.

“We’re inviting people to come and see how we care for each other, how we care for our city,” said Jai Jones, who helped organize a display for the Austin Coming Together organization.

The window display draws attention to projects neighborhood groups are leading in Austin to improve the quality of life and create opportunities for residents to thrive.

A main element of the Austin Coming Together display is a community map “which shows people exactly where we are, all the beauty, the streets and the landmarks that go into the Austin community and what makes it beautiful and rich,” Jones said.

The window is lit up by two Christmas trees, including one with decorations directly inspired by a related exhibition on the West Side, Christmas Around the World.

Christmas Around the World is a display on the 600 block of North Lorel Avenue built in two community gardens as a collaboration between Austin Coming Together and the street’s block club. Each garden features six trees with decorations that celebrate the cultures that make up Austin.

“Austin is a mostly African American community, but there are some different cultures or fabrics that make up the beauty of the nuances of the community,” Jones said.

The decorations give exposure to the mutual aid work Austin residents are doing to support one another through the Austin Cares campaign, and also invite people who see the display Downtown to participate in efforts to revitalize the area by donating, volunteering and partnering, Jones said.

Jones hopes people walking the Magnificent Mile will “see the good that is happening in Austin through all block clubs and small organizations, but also get involved if they wanted to actually donate to families that’ve been hardest-hit in Austin throughout this pandemic,” she said.

The windows were brought to the Downtown shopping district by the 29th annual BMO Harris Bank Magnificent Mile Lights Festival.

“This seemed like the perfect time to find new ways to connect Downtown with Chicago’s communities of color and together offer an abundance of holiday cheer,” said Kimberly Bares, head of the Magnificent Mile Association.

Credit: Provided
The AAABNA Window on the Mag Mile features West African drums and adinkra symbols.

The Austin African American Business Network Association also has a window. The display features a tree adorned in Ghanaian adinkra symbols and surrounded by West African drums and the red, green and black colors of the Pan-African flag.

The organization is aimed at rebranding the section of Chicago Avenue that passes through Austin as Soul City Corridor, an economic hub for Black commerce.

“If we can showcase places like Greektown and Chinatown … why can’t we showcase the best of the African American community?” said Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the business network association.

By giving folks Downtown a taste of the Soul City Corridor that West Siders hope to build, Crawford hopes to break away from negative stereotypes and reframe the narrative about Austin.

“As people can experience the richness of our culture, it helps down those barriers, and the other things people think about our community,” Crawford said.

Pascal Sabino is a Report for America corps member covering Austin, North Lawndale and Garfield Park for Block Club Chicago.

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