A local street artist works on a mural under a viaduct in the McKinley Park neighborhood of Chicago over Memorial Day weekend 2020 as part of the Art Heals Chicago project. Photo by Julie Jaidinger.

Graffiti Artists Bomb Neighborhood Viaducts with Colorful Designs; City Paints Them Over

Published June 4, 2020

A large contingent of local street artists painted dozens of original designs throughout the McKinley Park neighborhood's viaducts over Memorial Day weekend, including at South Western Boulevard, South Damen Avenue and West 33rd Street. After several days, standard City of Chicago operations and policies resulted in workers from the Department of Streets and Sanitation painting over all the murals, as they were not sanctioned through the City process that permanently ensconces street art on viaducts.

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In a published statement, 12th Ward Alderman George Cardenas said that his office became aware of the street art after receiving complaints from residents. His office reached out to Chicago's Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, Cardenas said, and were informed that permits had not been issued for the street art, and that the railroad companies, which own the viaducts, were in opposition to the murals.

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"We understand the artists responsible for this work are well-intentioned," Cardenas said. "They worked very hard, and informed [the Chicago Police Department] and others that their work was sanctioned."

Neighborhood resident and McKinley Park News coorespondent Julie Jaidinger reported that some of the participating street artists included Joos, online on Instragram @1.s00j, Seoh Arzola, aka EIG, online on Instagram @Saib93, and NEEN.

According to artists working at the scene, the overall effort to paint the viaducts was titled Art Heals Chicago.  

Chicago Streets Sanitation Western Boulevard viaduct graffiti removal 20200601A Chicago Department of Streets and Sanitation worker begins painting over "McKinley" on Wednesday, June 3, 2020, to conclude removal of a street art mural painted under the railroad viaduct on Western Boulevard in the McKinley Park neighborhood.

The street art was removed as part of the Department of Streets and Sanitation's normal operations, Cardenas said. "The Department ... has crews always combing neighborhoods to ensure all graffiti and street art not legally sanctioned is removed," he said.

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Waiting for Approval

Local residents affiliated with the 12th Ward Independent Political Organization launched a public petition on the Change.org website encouraging the retention of street art and the support for such from the 12th Ward. As of the time of publication of this article, over 500 individuals had signed the petition.

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Cardenas noted that his office had set aside $100,000 in funding over a year ago for local public art, including prospectively working with the Little Village neighborhood-based Open Center for the Arts to install a public viaduct mural in McKinley Park, as previously reported here in the McKinley Park News. "We are still in the process of getting formal approval," Cardenas said.


North Versus South

A 2016 piece from the Curious City show on WBEZ 91.5 Chicago pubic radio looked at disparities in public art investment between Chicago's North and South sides. The segment "City Beautiful? Why Some Chicago Neighborhoods Have Viaduct Art and Others Don't" highlighted the high costs of getting public murals approved, especially the very high insurance coverage mandated by the program.

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"Securing permission from the railroad company and [getting] official City permits is the only way to protect the work," Cardenas said. "Our office will continue working with [the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events] to get approval from the railroads so that many local artists can showcase their unique styles and inspire our communities."

McKinley Park photojournalist Julie Jaidinger contributed to this article. Jaidinger is also a participant in the Sponsor program of the McKinley Park News.

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