The Top 5 Reasons Chicago Needs a Public Mural Corridor - The Top 5 Reasons Chicago Needs a Public Mural Corridor -
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The Top 5 Reasons Chicago Needs a Public Mural Corridor

The Top 5 Reasons Chicago Needs a Public Mural Corridor

Written by:
Kat Roberts
May 24, 2021

Chicago has a reputation as a down-to-earth, accessible city of neighborhoods. From the Chicano workers of Pilsen to the Polish enclaves of Avondale and Back of the Yards, our city has always been home to laborers from all over the world, and each neighborhood has the feeling of a distinct village, with its own culture and traditions. 

This wealth of community is betrayed, however, by the fact that the city’s only officially designated arts corridor is located on Wabash, a street at the center of a concrete-and-glass South Loop district that, while home to some remarkable architecture and famous landmarks, lacks the personality and spark of Chicago’s residential neighborhoods. 

Chicago deserves public art that captures the essence of the city, while benefiting its residents as well. Below are a few reasons that you should support the creation of a public mural corridor in Chicago.

1) Street Art Makes Neighborhoods Safer

We live in a city whose government often seems to have left its citizens behind. Redlining and budget deficits have left many parts of Chicago in disrepair and without intentional spaces for public engagement. In cities both large and small, studies have found that increases in public art lead to a decrease in crime in that area. In reference to an explosion in street art during the revolutions of the summer of 2020, SoHo artist Signe Ferguson stated, “We’re turning our streets into museums.”

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Protest art on a black-owned business; photo by Zachary Slaughter

Our neighborhoods become safer when they provide beautiful and engaging spaces to enjoy, but more than that, it is the involvement of the community in the creation of its own aesthetic that creates buy-in. Ferguson’s assertion that ‘we’ are transforming the streets is perhaps the most crucial part of her statement: when residents of a community are able to see their own aesthetic and voice reflected in their living spaces, they are more likely to become engaged and invested in the well-being of those spaces and the neighbors who occupy them. 

2) Outdoor Art Increases Revenue For Local Businesses

Investment in outdoor art benefits the residents of communities, and it also pays dividends for local business owners. According to Americans for the Arts, each dollar invested into nonprofit arts generates $6 in tax revenue (Caldwell, AZ Business News). Outdoor art attracts visitors from other neighborhoods, as well as tourists from further afield. These tourists spend money on parking, food, and shopping once in the area and increase the overall economic health of the community and its businesses. 


3) Public Art Brings Disparate Groups Together

In a previous article on our Top 7 Chicago Murals, we shared works from the far North Side to Calumet Heights, with creators and subjects as wide-ranging as their geography. Chicago is home to prolific and distinctive muralists and graffiti artists from different cultures and neighborhoods, as it has been for decades. 

In 1969, Mexican artist Mario Castillo painted The Wall of Brotherhood in his neighborhood of Pilsen in response to Wall of Respect, a mural created by a collective of black artists in Bronzeville. This artistic back-and-forth brought the neighborhoods together, and pushed the artists involved to regional prominence. We can reignite this spirit of collaboration and conversation between Chicago communities, some of whom are divided on racial and political lines, by bringing artists from around the city together in a central corridor. 

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Wall of Brotherhood; photo by Mark Rogovin

4) Street Art Gives A Visual Map To The History And Culture Of The City

Murals have historically been vessels for political statements and activist causes. Marcos Raya’s Fallen Dictator depicts real historical events and sends an explicit anti-imperialist message. Sam Kirk and Sandra Antongiorgi’s Weaving Cultures, on the other hand, uses the mural format to place the faces of cis and trans women of all races in a larger-than-life scale over their South Side sidewalk, pushing forward representation of all identities without directly commenting on its intention. 


Weaving Cultures, photo from Sandra Antongiorgi’s website.

In 2020, we saw a spontaneous eruption of both sanctioned and guerilla street art, as businesses throughout the city affixed plywood to their storefronts, giving graffiti artists a vast new canvas. The art that sprang up in every neighborhood shows that contemporary artists have a lot to say about the world around us, and not enough places to speak their truths. By creating publicly sanctioned and supported spaces for street art, Chicago can facilitate the telling of our people’s stories. 

5) Street Art Is Under Constant Threat From Urban Development/Gentrification

While it has always been important to incorporate the arts into city planning, it may be more crucial now than ever to secure public buy-in and support for mural installations. As rents rise, non-white residents flee to the suburbs, and developers transform neighborhoods, it is crucial to stake out places for art before every wall is fenced off or corporatized. Even now, some of the city’s hottest spots for graffiti are under threat: the historically Mexican neighborhood or Pilsen is swiftly gentrifying, pushing out the residents who have been responsible for creating iconic murals there since the 1960’s. 

Even more pointedly, a developer in Logan Square is working to push through a plan for high-rise, luxury condominiums in place of the buildings that house Project Logan, a beloved graffiti wall located on California Ave. in the Northwest Side neighborhood. While local residents have protested the change, there is no designated protection for the artistic content of the warehouse walls that have hosted hundreds of graffiti artists over the last ten years, and the artists and organizers who run the space fear that it will soon disappear.

Murals are a vital part of the cultural ecosystem of any city, and we hope that you will share their importance with your own communities!

If you’re interested in working with local artists to create a mural for your business, you can find out more about how to commission a workplace mural through IPMM. The process is easy to navigate, and we’ll match you up with a local artist that aligns with your style, vision, and values. 

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Written by:
Kat Roberts
May 24, 2021