25th Ward gets face-lift

By Mark Minton

One month after Alderman Danny Solis (25th Ward) announced his Art in Public Places initiative, new murals have begun to blossom across his district.

The initiative aims to reduce graffiti problems in the ward by hiring street artists from around the city and across the nation to lend their creativity to the Pilsen, old Chinatown and new Chinatown communities. Solis paid for the initiative out of his own pocket, donating $10,000 to the program.

Lauren Pacheco, co-founder and executive director of the Chicago Urban Art Society and special assistant to Solis, said muralists will also be working with homeowners whose houses have been hit by vandalism and gang graffiti. Artists will be painting a series of small-scale murals throughout the neighborhoods during the next two months.

According to Solis, 13 murals have already been completed, and a wall on 16th Street will be the main canvas for new artwork.

“[We want to] look at public art to combat vandalism and unsanctioned graffiti and refocus the time and dollars spent by the city and other parts of the community,” Pacheco said.

She said the effort hopes to restore historic murals, create new ones and promote community artists. Artists from different cities will also be represented, including ones from Atlanta, Baltimore and New York.

Nick Marzullo, co-owner of Pawn Works Gallery, 1050 N. Damen Ave., which has been involved in an ongoing citywide mural campaign, helped the alderman coordinate with artists from places like Nevada and New York to draw attention to the development.

“Most of the artists just enjoy the wall and being able to paint somewhere from within their city,” Marzullo said. “Out-of-town artists work directly with Pawn Works in their participation in the program. Artists want to take advantage of this opportunity to bring their contemporary artwork to an

accessible medium.”

The $10,000 fund has provided artists with supplies to paint the murals but it does not pay them, according to Solis.

“It’s kind of a free market out there when it comes to walls and murals,” said Gaia, a New York street artist who did not want to disclose his real name. “There are a lot of hungry artists, and there are only so many available legal walls. So it’s kind of like a wall provider’s market.”

He added that he wants places like Pilsen to become a mecca for people who want to experience mural art.

“Because of the history of the art community of Pilsen and the history of the art community on the east end [of the ward], I think the murals could become one of the city’s best attractions, as far as art is concerned,” Solis said.

He also said the mural project is a way around a 25 percent cut to the Department of Streets and Sanitation’s Graffiti Blasters project caused by Mayor Rahm Emanuel’s budget adjustments for this year.

According to Debbie DeLopez-Sclafani, Graffiti Blasters’ program manager, graffiti levels in Chicago remain the same despite the funding cuts to the project.

However, she said graffiti removal is now 16 percent more efficient because entire areas are being addressed, rather than

specific instances.

DeLopez-Sclafani said the initiative is a positive way to handle graffiti, especially when it is illegal

and unwanted.

“[The mural program] is a step in the right direction,” she said. “It’s never going to eliminate graffiti, but this is a positive way to keep kids from doing something illegal on someone else’s property.”