Imagery of Chance the Rapper and Common boosts Chatham

Paintings of Chance the Rapper and Common are plastered on buildings on 79th and Evans streets in the Chatham neighborhood to boost positive imaging.

By Arts & Culture Reporter

Chance the Rapper and Common are returning to their native neighborhood but in a different way: through art.

The new murals at the northeast corner of 79th and Evans streets in Chatham display the two iconic Chicago rappers as part of a new community art project to dress up the South Side neighborhood.

Chris Devins, a Chicago artist and urban planner, painted the two South Side natives as part of “Chatham 2.0,” a new public arts project in the area.

Commissioned to help reaffirm community identity, the project also features the “You Are Beautiful” campaign by Chicago designer Matthew Hoffman and a series of vibrant paintings of black women as superheroes by local artist Yorli Huff. 

Devins started his mural in April 2015 after First InSite Realty commissioned him to create art that would support a more positive outlook for the community.

“I’m looking to counter the constant negative imagery put out by the corporate media,” Devins said.

Eiran Feldman, principal of First InSite Realty, said the project started after Chatham’s Micro Market Recovery Program identified areas of the city that experienced high foreclosure rates as well as numerous empty buildings with high criminal activity.

Feldman said the area needed a more uplifting image to support job creation and young adult outreach. After seeing Devins’ murals in Bronzeville, which he said attempt to “rebrand” that neighborhood by depicting iconic African Americans, Feldman said he believed he could do something similar for Chatham.

“The perception outside of the community—and even within the community—is that nothing good is going on,” Feldman said. “What we wanted to do was put these images out there of role models from the community who have gone outside the community to do good things.”

Feldman also said the role models would not be limited to people who have just “made it” outside of Chatham but  also would include community members who have worked toward communicating a positive message that is contrary to the materialistic messages found in some rap music lyrics.

Devins said he wanted to focus on three ideas of community development: identity, sustainability and mobility.

“I’m interested in art that is immediately accessible and available to everybody,” Devins said. “I’m not interested in impressing people with my awesome technique as I am in producing things that affirm the community’s identity.”

Devins said this project has been something he has worked on almost daily, but he has eased himself into it by working on it for approximately two to three hours a day so the art does not have a “quick and dirty result.”

The images of Common and Chance the Rapper are currently on display, but Devins said the project is not yet over. He is currently working on another portrait of Englewood native Jennifer Hudson, which will be ready for an April 30 pop-up art event in Chatham.

Jonathan Whitaker, a content provider and a community activist in Chatham, went to Luther High School South with Common in 1988 and 1989 and read about the paintings in the news. As soon as he saw the story, he said he walked about six blocks to the location from his apartment on South Dobson to see the murals and take photos of them.

Whitaker was born and raised on the South Side, and said he sees the importance of two relevant figures in the media represented in a neighborhood where violence occurs frequently.

Whitaker said that many murals in the South Side show people many residents do not know, so they are forced to search them on the internet. But he said because Common and Chance are so well-known, they do not have to.

“[Those] images represent that out of the madness that’s going on, something positive has clearly broken through and made it,” Whitaker said.