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In an effort to restore and brighten the neglected streetwalls across Evanston, the Evanston Mural Arts Program is creating public art for everyone to enjoy.
A new initiative within Art Encounter, the Evanston Mural Arts Program (EMAP) is spearheaded by Lea Pinsky and her husband Dustin Harris, who have been muralists since 2005. EMAP works with the community to strategically choose walls, find artists and oversee the process of implementing new murals across the city, Ms. Pinsky said. To kick off their first year, EMAP managed four new murals across Evanston located on Elmwood Avenue, Central Street, Dempster Street, and Foster Street.
With so much blank space resulting from the CTA and Metra viaducts, there’s plenty of opportunities to implement public art, Ms. Pinsky said. This work not only beautifies the City, but sends an important message to community members that their home is cared for.
“Art especially is unique. These aren’t posters, they are one-of-a-kind works of art,” Ms. Pinsky said. “I think just the fact of gracing a public space with an original work of art is making a statement about how much you care about that space.”
However, making this statement to the public is no easy feat, and it takes the coordination of EMAP and backing of multiple community organizations. The four murals that were installed this year cost a total of $63,000 – 48% of which was funded by the Evanston Arts Council’s Neighborhood Public Art Fund. The remaining 52% was funded by donations from the Main-Dempster Mile, Evanston Art Center, Central Street Business Association, Centrum Evanston, and Art Encounter.
With this community effort, these four murals are now breathing life back into the area, each with their own unique aesthetic and theme that represents their location.
Elmwood Avenue Mural
The first mural on Elmwood Avenue was the artistic work of Shawn Bullen. The project was done in a partnership between EMAP, Condor Partners, and Hubbard Street Group, with additional discussions with the Downtown Evanston SSA.
According to Art Encounter’s press release, Mr. Bullen’s “design combines still organic images of botany and birds against the movement and activity of city-based living and commuting.”
The mural, which was painted across the Union Pacific Metra viaduct, features the image of a bee on one side and a bird on the other, with a train running between them. With a city skyline in the background and flowers throughout, Mr. Bullen incorporates the commuting culture that downtown Evanston embodies.
Installing a mural takes a lot of planning and expertise, and after coordinating one on their own, the Main-Dempster Mile – an organization that oversees south Evanston’s Special Service Area – sought the help of EMAP to implement an additional mural on Dempster Street.
The Main-Dempster Mile Executive Director Katherine Gotsick said after implementing a mural on Washington Street, the organization sought to create another one on Dempster Street, yet quickly realized EMAP was best equipped to aid in the task.
“[Art Encounter] and the EMAP program just do it better than we do,” Ms. Gotsick explained. “They know more [about murals] than we do and we happened upon the opportunity to engage them in this mural and they picked up the ball and ran with it from there.”
To aid in the Main-Dempster Mile’s vision, EMAP proposed artists, and together the groups engaged the community to choose which they wanted. This resulted in the selection of artist Ruben Aguirre, who created a colorful mural to mirror Main-Dempster Mile’s vision.
The mural was implemented on a viaduct that Ms. Gotsick said previously had “apocalyptic” characteristics, but since has been transformed to resemble that vibrancy of the neighborhood. Ms. Gotsick explained it’s more than just an aesthetic improvement; it’s exemplifying Evanston’s personality.
“Our vision statement for the district is a creative urban atmosphere with an iconic small-town personality,” Ms. Gotsick said. “We are trying to build the personality of the district with bright, vibrant colors and artistic interesting nuggets for people to happen upon.”
For the mural on Central Street at Green Bay Road, EMAP partnered with both the Evanston Art Center and Central Street Business Association to create a piece all about connections.
Cara Feeney, Manager of Exhibitions at Evanston Art Center, explained the groups decided on the theme of connections to represent the cohesion between community members, local businesses, and nature – all elements that are found on Central Street. Paula Danoff, President and CEO of Evanston Art Center, said it was important that the mural act as a conceptual piece, with layers of meaning that anyone passing by can enjoy.
“We wanted something for the people that are getting on the train every day, but also something for that person that is driving to Northwestern,” Ms. Danoff said. “We want it to be something people can enjoy on a daily basis or in passing catches your eye for a beautiful moment.”
After spreading the word and receiving multiple applications from artists interested in the project, they decided on Nick Goettling, a Chicago muralist who has been creating these works of art for five years.
With the theme of connection in mind, Mr. Goettling created a mural that showed a woman looking out at the sky, disconnecting from the world in the more modern sense.
“Unfortunately, the connotation of connection right now is social media – how many likes do you have or how many phone calls are you making,” Mr. Goettling said. “I wanted to reinterpret it in a broader sense.”
In disconnecting from the internet age, the woman in the mural connects to the “bigger picture,” yet what that means is up to each individual’s interpretation, Mr. Goettling said.
It started with an abandoned viaduct and a phrase – “You Are Brilliant.”
Fifth Ward Alderman Robin Rue Simmons said she came up with the statement that is featured across the Foster Street mural – just east of Ashland Avenue – in hopes of inspiring the youth in the area. Together with EMAP, Ald. Rue Simmons’ vision became a reality through the mural by Alfonso Piloto Nieves Ruiz – an artist and resident of the Fifth Ward.
The bright pink wall features the phrase “You Are Brilliant” beside the image of a woman surrounded by colorful tiles. Ald. Rue Simmons said she requested the tile work and reflective elements to mirror the community.
“Being that the mirrors are reflective, you’re able to envision yourself in it in some way,” Ald. Rue Simmons said.
As the finishing touches go up on the mural, Ald. Rue Simmons said she hopes this improvement instills more of a sense of pride in the residents and shows that there is an investment in the neighborhood.
More to Come
As mural season comes to a close, Ms. Pinsky is already looking forward to continuing to beautify Evanston’s blank and abandoned spaces.
Ms. Pinsky said public art is a growing cultural phenomenon, and continuing to implement murals shows that Evanston is an arts-focused community. As EMAP plans murals for the future, Ms. Pinsky said she is looking forward to bringing art to the public, allowing the community to interact with it in a way they hadn’t before.
“There’s sometimes obstacles that keep people from experiencing art – it’s kept in galleries, it’s kept in museums,” Ms. Pinsky said. “This is really art for all.”