New ‘Big Wall’ artists to join WAC family

Ricky Lee Gordon, an artist from South Africa, completed his mural (left) at 634 S. Wabash Ave. on April 19, contributing to the WAC art project, which features local and international artwork like that of Heidi Unkefer, a 2013 design major whose work (right) on 623 S. Wabash Ave and was completed in summer of 2015. 


Seventeen artists, including students and alumni, will soon have murals featured in the Wabash Arts Corridor before the collegewide Manifest Urban Arts Festival on May 13. 

Mark Kelly, vice president of Student Success, made the announcement at an April 20  meeting of sponsors and partners on the fourth floor of the 600 S. Michigan Ave. Building.

The new phase of the WAC project, “Big Walls,” will bring large-scale public artwork to high-rise walls throughout the South Loop between May 1 and May 13 to coordinate with Manifest, Kelly said.

“It’s maybe the most important street art event in the history of Chicago,” Kelly said. 

The WAC, which is currently home to 20 murals and 10 art installations, was launched in 2013 as a Columbia initiative but has since grown to include as sponsors neighboring businesses, residents and other colleges in an effort to brighten the South Loop.

The first installation, a mural on the northern side of Warehouse Liquors at 634 S. Wabash Ave., was completed April 19 by Ricky Lee Gordon, an artist from South Africa, according to Tara Vock, director of operations & strategic initiatives for Student Success.

Vock said the next artist scheduled to contribute is Dutch artist Collin van der Sluijs, who will add a mural to the south-facing wall of 1006 S. Michigan Ave. set to begin on April 22.

Kelly also announced new partnerships with neighboring organizations that are joining the “Big Walls” initiative, such as Roosevelt University, Harold Washington College and DePaul University’s South Loop campuses. Roosevelt’s Goodman Center, 501 S. Wabash Ave., will become home to artwork by Ruben Aguirre, a 2002 fine arts Columbia alumnus.

Kelly said Aguirre’s mural will reflect his graffiti artist roots and show contemporary elements. 

“Look at how he has evolved as this gorgeous fine artist,” Kelly said. “His work looks like it is trying to escape.”

Don’t Fret, the professional name of a Columbia alumnus who has artwork inside of the 1104 S. Wabash Ave. Building, is scheduled to add another piece to the Roosevelt Hotel at 1152 S. Wabash Ave. International artists Renee Robbins, Hera, Zor Zor Zor and Ozmo are among other artists who will contribute to Big Walls in May, Kelly said. 

Jenni Button, gallery director for Matthew Rachman Gallery at 1659 W. Chicago Ave. and a WAC partner sponsoring Ozmo, Aguirre and other artists, said the artwork of Amuse, another artist involved with WAC’s “Big Walls,” is a notable addition to the artistic scenery. He will install his work on the back of 777 S. State St., one of Columbia’s residence buildings.

“He has done a lot of work around town—a lot of interior works as well,” Button said. “He is really visible in Chicago.”

Kelly also announced that a new building is scheduled to be constructed in the empty lot near Hebru Brantley’s “Chiboy” at the intersection of Wabash Avenue and Roosevelt Road, which will mean saying goodbye to the popular young hero. However, Kelly said the developer of the new building is committed to adding more street art and being part of the WAC.

Kelly said the “Big Walls” project has come a long way in its two years, highlighting a change in how high-rise business owners have reacted to the artwork.

“It’s amazing how this has all flipped,” Kelly said. “Two years ago, [when] approaching wall owners, they would just look at you like, ‘What are you talking about?’ Now it’s very common that we are being approached for the possibility of [adding] a mural.”