The North Avenue District and the Oak Park Area Arts Council are working to put up murals on both the Oak Park and Galewood sides of North Avenue.
However, the Oak Park plans are much further along than the Galewood ones.
Adding street art has been a long-term goal for Judith Alexander, the chair of The North Avenue District, an organization that works to revitalize both the Oak Park and Galewood sides of the section of North Avenue between Harlem Avenue and Austin Boulevard. It is part of her broader vision to attract more customers to North Avenue businesses and to encourage more people in general to patronize both sides. The North Art Bridge project also sponsored the painting of a window mural at the Code Ninjas Oak Park location at the west end of the corridor in 2021.
The next phase of the effort promises to be more ambitious. T-NAD and OPAAC got $103,000 in American Rescue Plan Act federal stimulus funding to paint some murals on the Oak Park side. On Nov. 2, the two organizations held a virtual meeting to get some ideas for what the murals would look like. OPAAC executive director Camille Wilson White said that they plan to choose the artists by mid-to-late winter, in time for the murals to go up in the summer of 2024, with the goal of finishing work by September.
The Galewood side will be trickier. Alexander said that she hopes that Ald. Chris Taliaferro (29th), whose ward includes Galewood, would use some money from his “aldermanic menu” funds. But Taliaferro uses the participatory budgeting process to give his constituents a say in how that money is used – and, even if the residents vote for the project, it may take years for the mural to come to fruition.
Under the aldermanic menu program, each Chicago ward gets $1.5 million a year for infrastructure projects. The aldermen have a broad discretion over how this money can be used. Taliaferro is one of several aldermen – and the only West Side one – to use the participatory budgeting process to help decide how the money is spent. All 29th Ward residents ages 16 and older can propose projects and vote on which projects would get funding.
Taliaferro told the Journal that he was open to using the money, but only if the voters approve it. The first meeting on the 2024 participatory budgeting process will take place on Nov. 14 at 5 p.m. at the 29th Ward office, 6272 W. North Ave. Taliaferro said that he expects the voting to take place sometime in February.
In recent years, both sides of North Avenue struggled to attract and retain businesses. The two sides split between the two different jurisdictions, and North Avenue itself is a state highway and under the Illinois Department of Transportation jurisdiction, all of which complicates efforts to improve the corridor.
In a 2021 interview, Alexander said that busy traffic and a shortage of good pedestrian crossings hinders the ability of Galewood and Oak Park residents to patronize each other’s businesses. T-NAD has been pushing for better crosswalks, sidewalk improvements, more landscaping and traffic calming measures. But she believes public art plays an important part in “turn[ing] North Avenue from a barrier to a bridge,” citing Wicker Park and Pilsen as examples of communities where street art has played roles in community revitalization.
During the November meeting, she and Wilson White of OPAAC outlined some of the parameters. The murals need to be clearly visible from the passing cars and should reflect the diversity on both sides of North Avenue.
“We want murals that unite rather than [create] divisiveness, so we want to avoid controversy, graphic nudity, that sort of thing,” Alexander added.
During a recent meeting, artist Ken Reif suggested refurbishing some of the “ghost signs” – fading decades-old advertisements painted on many walls throughout the corridor – or at least doing murals that incorporate some ghost sign designs. Wilson White said that she would be open to it, especially because the businesses they advertised have long since closed, so trademark violations aren’t an issue.
“I would love to see one or two of these [ghost signs] restored,” she said. “And I have checked – none of the businesses are still around. They have been gone for years.”
Vanessa Druckman is a marketing and communications manager for Wonder Works Children’s Museum, located on the Oak Park side of North Avenue. In 2018, T-NAD helped to get a mural put up on of its walls. Druckman said she was looking forward to seeing more murals at the corridor.
“My heart is filled with joy that all this beautiful art is coming to North Avenue this summer,” she said.
Oak Park and Galewood residents can email their mural ideas to email@example.com