Alderpeople Chris Talieferro (29th) and Emma Mitts (37th) are holding a virtual community meeting on Jan. 25, at 6 p.m., to give Austin residents a chance to weigh in on a new mural at the spot where the “L” and Metra tracks pass over Central Avenue.
The mural was painted in 2007 on both walls of the underpass by students from the After School Matters program, with artist Rahmaan Barnes, also known as Statik, coming up with the theme and helping students develop the finished product. Since then, the mural has been subject to wear and graffiti, especially on the east wall. But the current ward boundaries pose a stumbling block. The mural’s west wall is in the 29th ward and its east wall is in the 37th.
Taliaferro agreed to use his “aldermanic menu” funds to pay Barnes to repaint the mural on his side. But during the Sept. 10, 2021 virtual community meeting, a significant portion of attendees, including Barnes, called for both sides to be repainted. While Mitts expressed interest in getting involved, the Jan. 25 meeting will mark the first time the two aldermen are taking concrete steps in that direction.
The existing mural, entitled “Toward the Bright Future,” is located next to the Green ‘L’ Line Central/Lake station entrance. The mural features trains and buses, Chicago cityscapes and Black leaders such as Fred Hampton, Nelson Mandela and Martin Luther King Jr.
During the Sept. 10 meeting, Barnes said that he wanted to elaborate on the original mural’s themes while also doing something that specifically reflects West Side history. He added that he wants to get residents’ input about what kind of imagery they would like to see on the new mural.
Every year, each alderman gets $1.32 million in menu money to fund infrastructure projects, including the more decorative improvements such as murals. While Taliaferro uses the participatory budgeting process, letting residents vote on how they should spend it, Mitts makes the decision unilaterally. Aldermen can’t spend their menu money outside their own wards.
Redoing the viaduct murals was one of the winning projects in the 2017 participatory budgeting vote.
During the Sept. 10 meeting, Barnes said that he saw two murals as part of a single whole and that he would prefer to repaint both sides.
“My goal [with] public art is to make sure that the projects I’m involved with have a large visual impact on the community, making your own neighborhood Mt. Rushmore, if you will,” he said.
Taliaferro didn’t attend the Sept 10 meeting, but during his Sept. 15 monthly community meeting, he said he wants to work with Mitts to make that happen. On Sept. 16, Mitts responded to Austin Weekly’s media inquiry with a statement expressing broad support for the idea without making any specific commitments.
“I am in complete agreement with my 29th Ward colleague Alderman Taliaferro in moving this initiative forward,” she said, adding that she liked the concept Barnes described.
In addition to attending the Jan. 25 meeting, residents can fill out an outline survey designed to poll their opinions about the mural project.