The newest piece of public art in Oak Park will be a Black Lives Matter street mural painted along the stretch of Scoville Avenue between Lake Street and North Boulevard. A mixture of Oak Park artists and resident volunteers have signed up to help paint the 130-feet long and 12-feet wide mural, paid for by the Oak Park Area Arts Council.
“We thought this was something that Oak Park needs to have – something that children in the community can see for hopefully years to come and know this is where we stand as a community,” said Cullen Benson, who came up with the idea.
After seeing Black Lives Matter public art projects go up in other parts of the country, Benson used social media to posit the idea of doing something similar in Oak Park; the response from the community was immediate and supportive.
“It got a great response from the community and the community wanted to kind of help in any way they could donating their time, their money and supplies if they had it,” said Benson.
As the plan started to materialize, Benson enlisted Cortlyn Kelly, whom he called a “wonderful artist and community organizer,” to help manage the project’s execution and coordinate work teams.
Multimedia artist Franka Del Santo signed on as lead designer and developed the mural’s concept, which will consist of a black background with the words “Black Lives Matter” painted in gold, orange, red, yellow, purple and a touch of blue. Benson described the color scheme as “sunset tones.”
Painting begins Wednesday, June 24; the mural is expected to be finished by Saturday, June 27 and unveiled to the public the following day during the Farmers Market. That portion of Scoville Avenue was just repaved this spring in anticipation of the Farmers Market. Benson and his team declined to share a rendering of the mural’s design as they have not yet finalized it.
Benson believes Oak Park’s mural will be the first street mural in the entire state of Illinois.
“We’re going to be the first street mural done in the state of Illinois; we’re actually going to be beating Chicago to it,” he said. “We wanted to be the first to do it to show we’re the trailblazers of the state.”
A total of 18 volunteers will help execute the mural. To prevent the contraction of COVID-19, the volunteers will work in groups of three, painting different sections of the mural. Everyone is required to wear masks for the entire time they are at the location. Handwashing stations will also be on site.
The fact that Oak Park is making such a large and very public commitment to the Black Lives Matter movement is extremely meaningful to Benson, who was born and raised in the village.
“I’m half Black and half white, so I have both sides of the equation to deal with,” said Benson. “It means a lot to me.
The group of people who have banded together to paint the mural include people of different skin colors, ages and genders, which Benson called “very impactful and powerful to me.”
“There is going to be so many people of all different races and genders working on this project, coming together as one and as a community,” he said.
The permanence of public art will allow people to reflect upon this particular time in the United States for generations to come.
“This is going to be a piece of history.”