Chicago artist Barrett Keithley stood with open arms before young elementary and middle school students from Austin-based Catalyst Circle Rock Wednesday morning. 

Behind him, glimpses of colorful patterns and musical notes caught the students’ eyes, awaiting to see Keithley’s work. To the side, a team of co-artists, arts leaders, supporters and elected officials waited to hear about his latest mural on the West Side.  

“The beauty that I see awakens the power in me,” Keithley said, asking the young crowd to repeat those words after him before unveiling the mural.  

Catalyst Circle Rock students follow Keithley’s lead at mural unveiling on Sept. 13, 2023 | Francia Garcia Hernandez

The mural “Everybody’s Welcome” depicts two smiling Black creatives with open arms – as if they were directing an orchestra and inviting people in. Keithley created the piece with the idea of representing Black people in beauty in their own neighborhood. “All bronze and Afro on a three-story-mountain inside a sky where everybody is welcome,” Chicago’s first poet laureate and Austin’s own avery r. young said in a poem describing the mural.  

Keithley hopes it will also inspire youth to become who they want to be.  

Painting the mural is also a reflection of the work ethic needed to achieve a dream, he told the young students who one day will have a turn “to shine greater than what you shine now.”  

“Follow the process because that process is going to have your dream come true,” he said.  

The mural stands on the walls of the Kehrein Center for the Arts, adjacent to the Catalyst Circle Rock school. Over the years, the West Side arts venue has welcomed some of Chicago’s top artists, bringing affordable and accessible arts and culture programming to locals.  

“Even today, as I drove here and I came down Central [Avenue] and made that left turn, I had that feeling of home, of destination,” said musician Orbert Davis from the Chicago Jazz Philharmonic Orchestra at the mural unveiling. Last year, the acclaimed jazz group held three concerts at the center with admissions selling for $1. This fall, it will return with more accessible arts programming.  

The Kehrein Center for the Arts aims to provide a place for community, human expression and educational incubation to the West Side. It has been awarded city and state funds on multiple occasions. Its stage has held a number of artists from acclaimed groups like the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, The Chicago Lyric Opera and the Old Town School of Folk Music.  

On Wednesday, young also took the stage. He performed the poem “Everybody’s Welcome”—titled after the mural—and combined it with another piece about “overcoming impossible odds,” young said.  

“We know when we see ourselves, we are given the permission to be ourselves…” young said in his poem before an audience of young students—many of whom said the mural was beautiful.  

The mural is a “visual manifestation and reminder” of the center’s commitment to serving the Greater West Side, said Reesheda N. Graham Washington, a member of the center’s board of directors. A study by the Mastercard Center for Inclusive Growth and New America found that the Kehrein Center for the Arts has increased spending in the nearby area by 20% because it attracts visitors. 

“Community is nothing without our number resource: our people, our young people,” Keithley said.