Chicago-based artist Tyrue Jones, who goes by the name Slang, takes a break from painting. (Photo courtesy of Gay Riseborough)

On the northwest corner of Green Bay Road and Central Street, a mural picturing Evanston birds is on its way to completion.

The Evanston North Shore Bird Club is partnering with the Evanston Mural Arts Program to honor regional birds whose populations may be declining due to climate change and habitat loss. The mural, titled “Birds of Concern,” features three Evanston birds: the Red-Headed Woodpecker, the American Kestrel and the Blackburnian Warbler.

Libby Hill, Interim President of the North Shore Bird Club, said the idea for the mural was hers, but the impetus came from a friend who told her about the Audubon murals in New York City. Hill then watched a virtual tour of those murals and they became the inspiration for the Evanston mural. The concept then went to the Board of the North Shore Bird Club, where it was received enthusiastically.

Hill then made contact with Lea Pinsky of the Evanston Mural Arts Project. Established in 2017 by Pinsky and her artist-husband, Dustin Harris, both of Evanston, EMAP functions under the auspices of Art Encounter, a well-established arts non-profit in Evanston. Pinsky is currently the executive director there, following in the footsteps of her mother, artist Joanna Pinsky, one of the founders.

“The goal of EMAP is to uplift and beautify neighborhoods with mural art through creative partnerships with community organizations, schools, and business districts, pairing professional artists with community members and youth to create large-scale public works of art,” according to the EMAP website.

One of the first tasks in producing a mural is to establish its location and a budget. EMAP reached out to three business districts looking for a wall, Pinsky said. Paul Barry, of Evanston Neighborhood Properties, came forward with his building at 1901 Central St. and its highly visible eastern wall. Barry generously contributed the cost of repairs and wall preparation needed.

“Our commitment is to make this community a more beautiful place. Color, art, all bring a community pride and a sense of commitment to each other,” said John Quinn, the facilities and capital project manager for Evanston Neighborhood Properties. “It was important for us to ensure the artist had a canvas on our building that will stand the test of time. It was a significant expense, but one we are certain is worth it.”

Other donors to the mural budget beside the North Shore Bird Club are the Central Street Evanston Art Encounter and the Evanston Arts Council.

The “Birds of Concern” project was in the works when Angela Shaffer, executive director of Central Street Evanston, came to her position in September.

“It adds to the vibrancy of the district and I am looking forward to more arts projects in the future,” Shaffer said.

The finished design. (Photo courtesy of EMAP and the artist)

“New walls for murals are chosen carefully, for their visibility and permanence,” Pinsky said. Evanston has many underpass walls that would benefit from murals. But building walls are usually safer than underpass walls as the latter are retaining walls where moisture can pass through causing white streaks called efflorescence.

However, Pinsky said they have had no such issues since 2018. They have “learned to avoid walls susceptible to degradation and are exploring alternative methods” of installing murals. Costs can vary widely. Underpass murals are often quite large and involved, therefore usually more costly than building wall murals.

“There is a five-year maintenance clause in the contract with EMAP,” Hill said. This is important because the climate in the Chicago area is hard on outdoor painted surfaces. In fact, the Evanston Arts Council has the authority, by ordinance, to remove a mural if necessary, usually because of severe deterioration.

Accomplished Chicago-based artist Tyrue Jones, who goes by the name Slang, painted the “Birds of Concern” mural.

“A bus on Green Bay Road recently was stopped at the corner light and everyone in the bus leaned out with their cameras to photograph me and the mural,” said Slang.

“That made me feel really good,” he added.

“I drew obsessively from the age of 3 or 4 and was always encouraged by my mother,” he said.

Slang at work. (Photo by Lea Pinsky)

He has since worked as a fine artist, graphic designer and television animator. His clients have included Warner Brothers, Animastion Studios, Startoons Animation Studios, Walt Disney Interactive, General Mills, Universal Music, Def Jam, Interscope, Allstate, Leo Burnett and Viacom.

In 2016, Slang did three murals of birds in Rogers Park, joining several other artists in their depictions of endangered birds. Pinsky and Harris were, at the time, managing the “Mile of Murals,” along the Ravenswood elevated train tracks, before they brought EMAP into existence. These birds were part of the Audubon project as well.

There will be a permanent descriptive plaque on the wall by the mural. The educational arm of the Bird Club is producing bookmarks featuring the mural and giving more information about the birds pictured, conservation of birds and our environment.

Gay Riseborough is an artist, has served the City of Evanston for 11 years on arts committees, and is now an arts writer at the Evanston RoundTable.