UPTOWN — Mutual aid events are bringing free food and art projects to Uptown’s Argyle Street this month. In a few weeks, there will be a street festival, too.
The Boost the Block events run 1-3 p.m. Tuesdays in August. Organizers take over the sidewalk at 1101 W. Argyle St., providing free food and community making through arts and conversation, said Sue Um, a volunteer with Axis Lab, the Argyle Street-based nonprofit organizing the events.
Axis Lab and the Vietnamese Association of Illinois hand out food, hygiene products, hand sanitizer and COVID-19 care kits that include personal protective equipment.
Each event this month has a public art component. This week, artist William Estrada will be on hand to take neighbors’ pictures for the Neighborhood Family Portrait Project. An Argyle Street story booth will record neighbors’ stories Aug. 24.
On Aug. 31, the events will conclude with a street corner festival that will include performances and gathering space, Um said.
Boost the Block began in July as an extension of the mutual aid work Axis Lab did last year during the early stages of the pandemic. Those early events were a success, and Axis Lab noticed older residents needed help with basic necessities like food and hygiene products, Um said.
“Overwhelmingly, the people who showed up were the elderly in Uptown,” Um said. “That’s an issue that hasn’t been addressed, how vulnerable the elderly populations are.”
The group brought back the event this year with new components, including the public art projects.
The art can act as an icebreaker to discuss the issues impacting Argyle Street, including gentrification and disinvestment, Um said.
“Including art is great because having the food distribution is what brings people here,” Um said. “Having the art keeps people here and helps foster the conversations we’re trying to have.”
At the events, Axis Lab talks with neighbors about the issues impacting Argyle Street and Uptown. Things like housing and policing get mentioned, but neighbors said a positive in the area is the “building of community” taking place, Um said. With Boost the Block, Axis Lab is seeking to not only provide necessities like food but also add to the sense of community.
The distribution and art events will continue through August, but Axis Lab is looking to make Boost the Block a more constant presence on Argyle, Um said.
“We’re in talks about how we can make this more permanent,” Um said. “The needs don’t go away in the winter.”
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