Growing 2008 is highly accessible not just artistically, but physically. Completed this month, the bricolage—a tile mosaic that incorporates other materials, such as paint, mirrors and small sculptural elements—boasts a sophisticated composition, strong narrative and lively coloration, all enhanced by the quality of its execution. Yet you won’t find it at the Art Institute or the Museum of Contemporary Art: The mural covers the 185-foot expanse of Lake Shore Drive’s Bryn Mawr underpass.
While its companion mosaic, Living 2007—installed on the underpass’s north wall last summer—reflects the history of Chicago’s Edgewater community, Growing 2008 emphasizes Edgewater’s hope for the future. The project is sponsored by the Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG), which traces its history back to the city’s Wall of Respect. That mural, which depicted dozens of black heroes, including Muhammad Ali and Sarah Vaughan, was painted on a building at the corner of Langley Avenue and 43rd Street in 1967. Though demolished in 1973, the Wall of Respect inspired so-called activist or people’s art across the country. The movement’s community-generated, collaboratively executed murals enlivened the streetscapes of depressed urban neighborhoods.
In 1971, William Walker, one of the Wall of Respect’s lead artists, formed the Chicago Mural Group (CMG) with painter John Pitman Weber. They oversaw dozens of mural projects, primarily on the city’s South and Southwest Sides. Later, the CMG morphed into the CPAG. Executive director Jon Pounds says the CPAG creates “aesthetic mash-ups across lines of age, race and artistic inclination,” and the evolution of Growing 2008 proves it.
The mural’s Edgewater neighbors attended community workshops to shape its content and helped make 250 ceramic elements, primarily butterflies and flowers that symbolize growth and regeneration. During the yearlong planning process, 48th Ward Ald. Mary Ann Smith helped the CPAG secure the permits it needed. Cynthia Weiss, an early member of the CMG, devised the mural’s overall narrative, which progresses from day to night (with a clever shout-out to Vincent van Gogh’s The Starry Night) and back to day again. Tracy Van Duinen, an art teacher at Chicago Public Schools’ Academy for Social Justice, oversaw the mural’s fabrication, which took eight weeks, with assistance from CPS teacher Todd Osborne.
Michigan native Van Duinen came to Chicago to study art education at UIC—but he says he really got his training as an artist with the CPAG. When he worked as a student teacher for Weber, the older artist introduced him to mosaics. Van Duinen organized his first bricolage project with the appropriately named Mosaic Living Center (7464 N Sheridan Rd) and did his next installation on the exterior of Alternatives Inc. (4730 N Sheridan Rd), a counseling center. Teens involved in Alternatives’ programs formed Van Duinen’s crew for both Bryn Mawr bricolages. The city’s After School Matters program paid them minimum wage for six hours of work each day; private donors helped secure other necessary funds.
According to Van Duinen, the CPAG hopes to install bricolages on the underpasses along the entire length of Lake Shore Drive; next summer the organization will tackle Foster Avenue. He envisions the murals joining the ranks of the city’s best-loved public artworks: “It’ll be the Picasso, the ‘Bean’ and the underpasses of Lake Shore Drive.”
For more information, call the Chicago Public Art Group at 312-427-2724 or visit cpag.net.