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A Kerry James Marshall mural on the Cultural Center will depict women of Chicago’s arts and culture

Written by
Kris Vire

The celebrated painter Kerry James Marshall has designed the largest-scale work of his career for a mural on the outside of the Chicago Cultural Center, honoring 20 women who have prominently influenced cultural life in Chicago.

The mural on the west side of the building, facing Garland Court, will measure 132 feet by 100 feet and depict a range of women who’ve had a hand in shaping the city’s cultural life, from Maggie Daley to Gwendolyn Brooks to Oprah. Others on the list include longtime Chicago culture czar Lois Weisberg, writer and journalist Achy Obejas and actor-director Cheryl Lynn Bruce (who also happens to be Marshall’s wife). They’ll be shown as faces carved into the trunks of a grove of trees, which the artist described in a statement as “a kind of Forest Rushmore acknowledging the contribution of 20 women who’ve worked to shape the cultural landscape of the city, past and present.”

Marshall, a MacArthur “genius” fellow, has lived and worked in Chicago since the 1980s. He was the subject last year of “Mastry,” a major retrospective at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago that later traveled to New York’s Metropolitan Museum of Art and L.A.’s MOCA, which identified him as “one of America’s greatest living artists.”

Work will begin today on the mural, to be executed by a team led by muralist Jeff Zimmermann. It’s funded by a new initiative called Murals of Acceptance and presented as part of Chicago’s Year of Public Art and the October Public Art Festival.

The complete list of women represented in the untitled mural follows:

• Suzanne Ghez, director and chief curator for nearly 40 years, The Renaissance Society

• Barbara Gaines, founder and artistic director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater

• Jacqueline Russell, founder and artistic director, Chicago Children’s Theatre

• Ruth Page, dancer, choreographer and founder, Ruth Page Center for the Arts

• Lois Weisberg, longest-serving commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs

• Maggie Daley, longest-serving first lady of the City of Chicago

• Jackie Taylor, founder and CEO, Black Ensemble Theater

• Monica Haslip, founder and executive director, Little Black Pearl

• Abena Joan Brown, founder, eta Creative Arts Foundation

• Margaret Burroughs, founder, DuSable Museum of African American History

• Harriet Monroe, founder, Poetry Magazine

• Cheryl Lynn Bruce, co-founder, Goodman Theatre/Dearborn Homes Youth Drama Workshop

• Sandra Delgado, founding ensemble member, Collaboraction

• Jane Saks, founding director of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute and Project&

• Barbara Jones-Hogu, founding member, AfriCobra

• Gwendolyn Brooks, literary icon

• Sandra Cisneros, literary icon

• Achy Obejas, Pulitzer Prize–winning journalist

• Oprah Winfrey, cultural icon

• Joan Gray, dancer and longtime president of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

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