Chicago artist Tony Passero stands in front of his mural in progress under the railroad viaduct next to the 35th/Archer stop on the Orange Line El.

Murals Coming At Last to McKinley Park Viaducts

Published October 15, 2021

New murals are on their way to the viaduct next to the 35th/Archer stop on the Orange Line El station.

 
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Coordinating with Chicago’s Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) and the railroad companies that own the viaducts, muralist Tony Passero is painting a series of colorful masks inspired by the cultural heritage of the McKinley Park neighborhood.

 
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“I want the murals to be a touchstone for the community,” Passero said. “They will be vibrant, but respectful to all cultures.”

Artist Tony Passero displays some of the studies he's using as guides for his McKinley Park viaduct murals.Artist Tony Passero displays some of the studies he's using as guides for his McKinley Park viaduct murals.Passero has already completed cleaning and prepping the walls of the viaduct passing over the 3500 block of South Leavitt Street. He’s caulked and fixed a number of cracks and added a drip ridge above the painted area to prevent discoloration from rain.

Two Railroads

Most of the mask shapes are roughed in on the walls, and Passero has started blocking in colors. One of the last steps will be filling in the background. The entire process should take about three weeks, weather permitting, Passero said.

 
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These murals have been in planning for a long time, Passero said, first originating from funding for the Year of Public Art under the administration of former Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel. Compounded on other delays was the need to work with two railroad companies, since one viaduct is owned by BNSF Railway and another by Canadian National Railway.

“It was a big hurdle,” Passero said, with the process taking about three years to get approval.

New Lighting

The murals on both sides of Leavitt Street are both Passero’s first work with railroad companies and his first work on the South Side, although he has painted dozens of other murals throughout Chicago.

Tony Passero's CryWolf mural adorns a viaduct next to the 606 Trail in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood.Tony Passero's CryWolf mural adorns a viaduct next to the 606 Trail in Chicago's Bucktown neighborhood.Passero originally worked as an advertising professional, he said, but around eight years ago he switched to working full-time as a self-taught artist. Although he currently resides in Orlando, Florida, he was born and raised in Chicago and still works from a studio here.

12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas noted how the 12th Ward office helped place new lighting for the viaduct last year, significantly improving illumination.

 
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“This has been a great help as the artist is working around the clock to prep the site,” Cardenas said.

More Artists Needed

Cardenas encouraged neighborhood artists to register for the Chicago Public Art Program through DCASE in order to connect to similar opportunities.

 
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“We have a lot of walls; our community has a lot of stories to tell,” he said. “We need more local artists to get prequalified.”

In a reply posted to a neighborhood Facebook group, Cardenas teased that the railroad viaducts over the 3200 block of South Damen Avenue are also the focus for new, sanctioned murals.

CryWolf mural photo provided courtesy of Tony Passero.

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