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Mile of Murals Inspire and Awaken a Chicago Neighborhood

By Pamela Sosnowski

What was once an area flanked by giant gray concrete buildings is now slowly being beautified, year by year, by a vibrant art project called the Mile of Murals. On display in the Rogers Park neighborhood of Chicago, the murals not only add engaging color to the community but are drawing attention to the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, and the work of artists from all over the world.

"The Mile of Murals started in 2008, and was inspired by a group of community, business, and arts leaders in Rogers Park who wanted to bring more visibility to the vibrancy of the Glenwood Avenue Arts District, where the murals live," explains Lea Pinsky, a Co- Project Manager alongside Dustin Harris. "They named it the Mile of Murals because there was a long pedestrian path on both the east and west sides of the Red Line el tracks that made up about one full mile, supported by huge gray concrete embankments. The goal of the project was, and continues to be, to beautify, uplift, and brand the neighborhood with inspired artworks across a wide variety of themes."

Each year the murals expand with the addition of a new theme. Past themes have included "Bike-Family" in 2013, to celebrate a new bike corral along Lunt Avenue, and 2013's "Chicago-Wind, Sun and Shine", that featured rainbows of color and pop culture references. A favorite of Pinsky's was 2016's collaboration with the Audubon Society to bring awareness to the beauty of American bird species and the dangers they face by climate change. Twelve murals have been completed so far and when the project is done it will be comprised of 19 large-scale murals that travel over ten block-long walls, seven viaduct walls, and two overpasses, creating 14,000 square feet of artwork.

The murals begin on Glenwood Avenue and of course, are free and accessible to the public 365 days a year. The project itself is sponsored by Rogers Park Business Alliance and the Clark/Morse/Glenwood SSA # 24. So far the project has commissioned 22 global artists through a rigorous judging and selection process. Artists are selected and chosen by the end of April, and then have until October to complete the work. According to Pinsky, the background and experience of each artist has been varied with the exception of having large-scale mural projects in their resume.

"We look to showcase a range of painting styles in our murals, and to feature both local artists as well as nationally and internationally recognized artists," she says. "We have had artists from Chicago, New Orleans, San Francisco, Los Angeles, Italy, Australia, and Brazil paint on the Mile of Murals. We hire solo artists, pairs, collaborative groups, and have worked with community and youth groups at times. Every lead artist we choose has experience executing large scale public murals."

The murals do more than give pedestrians, area employees, and local residents something pretty to look at; they also spark conversation and get people thinking about the community, culture, and the environment. "We hope that people learn something about what makes Rogers Park unique, and that this is a community that celebrates culture and people," says Pinsky.

"We have heard many testimonies that the murals give residents and business owners a pride for the fact that people are caring for their environment in a way that both beautifies and enriches. Murals connect people as they spark conversation. They cause people to stop, look, see new things, talk to one another."

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