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Wall brings community together in Logan Square…again
Creating something, being able to show it off to others, working and playing together and having the feeling of belonging, those are some of the reasons a flow of people from Hermosa, Ravenswood, Humboldt Park, Avondale, Logan Square and elsewhere showed up in their painting clothes to work on the Community Wall at Medill Project Logan, near Milwaukee and California, in Logan Square. The project replaces a similar wall created 5 years ago.
Community…that is what it is all about for artist/activist Tracy Kostenbader and well known street artist Flash, as well as for those who participated in the AnySquared and ABC/Project Logan partnership.
"With the Galaxy at one end, the design flows into earth, Chicago, the train (Blue Line) and then Milwaukee Ave.," chuckles Kostenbader as she describes the design of the newly painted wall.
Over a two-week period of painting, they have brought new, fresh life back to the community wall.
The efforts began on May 12, just south of the wall in Kostenbader's home/studio. A group of about 25 gathered to begin planning then executing the project. The group included artists from the south, west and north sides including artists with more than a 30-year history of Chicago graffiti experience.
Plans included designing, cleaning, fund raising, engaging people, obtaining a sprayer, getting paint and painting the wall. The result is a charming spectacular view.
While a small crew of Kostenbader, Gretchen Hasse, Brian Herrera, Brett Swinney, Flash and his crew prepared the wall, by cleaning it and laying down the underlying base coats then doing the broad outlines, many more arrived on Sunday, July 26, to paint. They painted planned and unplanned images that are now part of the wall's new history.
Ten people provided the ideas and graphic concepts that formed the outline. Then, people of all ages and artistic backgrounds, including none, painted.
The power of the brush and the enthusiasm of the people seemed to mask out the continual sound emissions from the Blue Line trestle, high overhead, with its periodic din of single then double train car noises obliterating all hope of verbal communications.
Emily Sweeney, who has been plying her artistic talents to cake decorating in Lincoln Park, said "I wasn't involved in the planning, but I wanted to participate and help out. It is fun to see how some things are from the plan and other things grew out of it."
Sweeney was one of the people along with Eric Bartholomew who aided in the "growing." El car windows painted on the wall seemed to "call" to both of their interests in non-humans riding the Blue Line.
Sweeney added a frog snaring a fly out of mid-air while Bartholomew added a rabbit. "I've always liked rabbits…they're sort of like my spirit animal, but I thought that someone needed to be commuting on the train so why not a rabbit," he said.
Other passengers appeared over the afternoon…a moose, a cat [no hat though] with more to come, no doubt.
Further along the wall, Alex Nall, from Logan Square, was enjoying watching kids add flowers along the bottom of the wall. "I've never worked on a wall before. This one goes from macro [the Galaxy] to micro [Milwaukee Ave.].
"I put those people in windows [on the micro end]…a guy looking for a woman in the window…a little heart …so maybe there is a love story there. Eric drew a cat so I drew a dog so maybe there is a love story there," he said with a smile. "It's fun seeing people come out and especially getting kids involved."
The Barrera family of the Supermercado Barrera, 2336 N. Milwaukee, were on hand to help too. "They painted the name on their store and their neighbors [Cole's] at 2338," said Kostenbater. "Later they brought friends back to see what they painted on the wall. Then it becomes another part of the community in a whole different way. Everyone is excited…families take pictures."
"The community thought of the subject matter and it was discussed. When people have investment in art, it is less likely to be destroyed and more people will put a value on it," said Melissa Halk, who painted the moon. A resident in a Ravenswood co-op, she is working in retail as she continues her college education in art. "Public art is how people can reclaim their communities. It is such a wonderful way to bring people together who might not talk with each other otherwise. I think that art has the ability to facilitate conversations."
Agreeing with Halk, Dan Pogorzelski, Forgotten Chicago and many other groups, said, "This is a classic example of community building through art. Look at the small local accents from a local Polish sausage shop to a local Mexican grocery store."
When asked about her involvement with the mural, Logan Square's Jennifer Hyman said, "I am here to help Tracy. I do that when ever I can. She does so much for the community..the Logan Square and Avondale neighborhoods. It is not just art projects, she is involved in a lot of stuff… so this is my way of giving back to Tracy. When you look around at a lot of art and arts events like Community Days in her studio, she is a great asset to our community and neighborhood."
Kostenbader has lived in her space in the 2300 block of N. Milwaukee Ave. for the last 23 or 24 years and refers to herself as an artist and activist. "Sometimes my activism takes over my art, but this is about combining both. The project is about community and I believe in community activism. For me really having a stake in community and enjoying and loving community is part of this kind of collaboration.
"My community is changing though and I'm not sure I like it. I've made a lot of relationships and they will last when I go somewhere else."
Flash, her partner in this project, began his involvement with graffiti in the 1980s in Humboldt Park and Logan Square. But along the way life changed and he was removed from that type of community art. In 2003, he joined the graffiti community, he explains. When he met Kostenbader and saw what she was doing with the original community-based Milwaukee Avenue Art Festival a couple of years later, "I wanted to be part of her community."
They did the first Community Wall five years ago. That led to even more permission wall work in the neighborhood and now to the second Community Wall.
If you have not seen it. Take a little time one day. Get up close and personal with the wall. See all the details community members have included.