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Englewood, Chatham, Auburn Gresham

The City Is Bringing More Public Art To The South And West Sides — And Neighbors Can Choose What It Will Be

The Englewood, Auburn Gresham, Bronzeville and Austin projects could be much more than murals, officials said — it could be art that makes the area safer or highlights history like the Humboldt Park Puerto Rican flags. 

A neighbors at the Public Art Reimagining Tour in Englewood.
Glenn Felix Photography
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ENGLEWOOD — Three artistic groups are banding together to pitch permanent art pieces in public spaces on the South and West sides, and they need neighbors’ input.

The city’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events is teaming with the Englewood Arts Collective, the Floating Museum and VS Creative Consulting LLC — an artist and community engagement firm — to get input from neighbors. 

The effort is part of the Public Art Reimagining Tour to reinvest in the city’s South and West sides.

Throughout the summer, members of the Englewood Arts Collective will visit Englewood, Austin, Auburn Gresham and Bronzeville to raise awareness and lead informational sessions detailing the city’s plans to bring public art to the neighborhoods. The Floating Museum will host table talks with neighbors to collect notes on what residents want to see. 

The groups hosted a discussion in Englewood on July 10 and Monday in Austin. Those interested in weighing in on community art in Bronzeville can pop by the Overton Community Day event 2-4 p.m. Saturday at 221 E. 49th St. and those interested in art in Auburn Gresham can visit the 79th & Racine mural unveiling event 1:30-3:30 p.m. July 30.

In late summer, VS Consulting workers will draft and share a creative proposal with neighbors describing the permanent art they want. That proposal will go to the city in October.

The city will then share a request for proposals for local artists to create the public art pieces neighbors suggested.

Credit: Glenn Felix Photography
Pugs Atomz discusses the Public Art Reimagining Tour with a neighbor in Englewood.

The Public Art Reimagining Tour is creating a “new way to direct city funds,” said Janell Nelson, one of the co-founders of the Englewood Arts Collective. Neighbors will spearhead the design process and, hopefully, “rethink what is possible in their communities,” she said. 

“This [initiative] is about helping us come to a similar understanding and shared language about the importance of art,” Nelson said. “Art isn’t just about making things pretty. When an environment is transformed visually, it becomes a visual marker for investment. Hopefully, this shapes the way the government works with communities of color.”

Instead of asking neighbors to choose the details that will be in the art, the group members hope to “get to the heart of themes and locations,” Nelson said. It could be a structure that mitigates communal safety or highlights the history or culture of an area like the Humboldt Park Puerto Rican flags

What matters most is putting art “anywhere that the community feels would be a good investment in the neighborhood,” Nelson said. 

“This is different from how many people perceive these types of things to happen, which is, ‘Oh, the city just decides where they want to put some stuff,’” Nelson said. “We all have roots and affinities to different neighborhoods, but all of us love all of Chicago, and we’re very passionate about honoring artists and the communities we grew up in. We’re excited.”

Credit: Glenn Felix Photography

The Englewood Arts Collective has hosted pop-ups on the South and West sides to get a sense of the work ahead, Nelson said. Its members have partnered with Port, an art consultancy group, and Borderless, a collaborative urban research and design studio, to get their work flowing. 

They’ve heard from neighbors young and old, community activists and people “doing the work” to make their communities better, Nelson said. 

There is still plenty of work ahead, but the members are already asking city officials how neighbors will be in the forefront when the request for proposal process rolls around in October, Nelson said. 

Artists and community members are “changing the landscape of what’s possible and what it looks like to work with neighborhoods,” she said. 

“At the end of this, streets and sidewalks and plazas in these communities will have longstanding artwork that could be much more than your standard mural and is invested in and adds to the overall revitalization of these neighborhoods,” Nelson said.

You can sign up for phase two of the Public Art Reimagining Tour here. Dates have yet to be determined. 

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