Many Lawndalians have developed an interest in the aesthetic appeal of murals and wall art. It is fair to describe it as a movement. There have always been murals and graffiti, but in recent years there has been a proliferation of the art form. I would attribute this renewed interest to discussions held in the New Community forums lead by Lawndale Christian Development Corporation. Many residents attending some of the meetings designed to get residents to identify issues or strategies they deemed an imperative in helping to revitalize North Lawndale suggested the relatively low cost of public art as a way to soften the hard image of North Lawndale.
One of my favorite murals is located on the west wall of Lawndale Community Church's Harmbee building at 3555 West Ogden Avenue.
Relatively near by is the Fire House Art Center on Hamlin Avenue, between Ogden and Cermak Road. Pastor Phil Jackson is leading this charge.
The Westside Association for Community Action at the northwest corner of Ogden Avenue and South Central Park Avenue is adorned with a remarkable mural showing the organization's founder, Ernie Jenkins, and perhaps the "First Couple" and community heroes, known nationally for their "Slumbuster's Garden," Mr. and Mrs. Earls.
I was extremely surprised to come across this beauty on Douglas Boulevard last Saturday. I was even more surprised - and pleased - to note that the mural includes some Hebrew. How appropriate that Hebrew should be included in a mural on Douglas Boulevard, a mural that also includes Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr. The influence on the built environment and narrative of North Lawndale by the Jewish community is undeniable. Douglas Boulevard was so significant to the Jewish community as Golda Meir was moving around in the basements of the many synagogues and other Jewish institutions engaging in discussions and debates about the nature of Zionism and the need to create a Jewish homeland in the Middle East. Douglas Boulevard was the site of some of King's most prolific talks during the period in which he lived in North Lawndale.
Cermak Road, a dividing line between North Lawndale and South Lawndale (Little Village) appears on the way to becoming a creative corridor. Paderewski School's north wall, facing Cermak recently got dressed-up. The mural reflects the increasing multi-cultural nature of the area.
Bert Downing and Carter's Barbershop has gotten into the act as well. Already the best barber shop on the westside, Bert frequently hosts radio broadcast of Vocalo Radio, and brings topical conversation and debate to the neighborhood. "Breakin' Down Barriers" indeed.
Between Paderewski School and Bert's is a more commercial wall. It, nevertheless, offers a certain level of cleverness to that stretch of Cermak Road.
A new car wash just opened within the past month, just up Ogden Avenue from the Lawndale NHS office. Its elaborate mural runs the entire length of the building, requiring me to take pictures of it in sections.
The Story Book Garden mural in the garden adjacent to the Douglas Library is one of my favorites. Refurbishing the garden was one of the first volunteer projects I was involved with upon coming to North Lawndale. This is also one of the oldest murals in the neighborhood. Unfortunately, I could not get a good picture of it as the foliage has grown and developed nicely.
Living in Lawndale since 1998, I have lectured at DePaul University and the University of Illinois at Chicago on public policy and community revitalization... about North Lawndale. I am the director for the North Lawndale program of Neighborhood Housing Services of Chicago. We recently launched the Historic Chicago Greystone Initiative to celebrate Lawndale's unique architecture and built environment. Numerous partners have been involved in this effort with NHS, including: the Driehaus Foundation; Roberta Feldman and the City Design Center of the University of Illinois at Chicago; the National Trust for Historic Preservation; Landmarks Illinois; the City of Chicago; Murphy-Hill Gallery; Lawndale Business and Local Development Corporation; Lawndale Christian Development Corporation; Cook County Commissioners Steele and Steele; block clubs and so very many community residents, most importantly, the Lawndale Historical and Cultural Society. These people and organizations have taught me so very much about the value of partnerships. I must also mention a few other special friends and partners... Susanne Schnell, Professor David Brown; and Art History Professor Robert Bruegmann.