As part of the #BeautifyYourCommunity mural initiative, After School Matters, in collaboration with the Related Affordable Foundation, a new mural was unveiled in Parkway Gardens on September 21 to be displayed in the community.
Ten local high school students were responsible for creating the three mural panels, gaining skills and confidence as they sketched, painted, and collaborated with one another to complete the design by local artist and After School Matters instructor, Erick “Rojo” Garcia. The mural’s design is said to represent growth and optimism, hence the title “Positive Productivity.”
“Related [Affordable Foundation] reached out to After School Matters in order to put together this lovely mural program to have teens from the community come here to the tent at Millennium Park and actually work on the creation as well as the ideation of the mural itself,” said Garcia, who worked with the students throughout the summer to complete the project.
Related Affordable Foundation served as a patron to the arts, providing a grant to After School Matters as funding for the project. The #BeautifyYourCommunity mural program is one of the multiple projects offered by the nonprofit After School Matters.
Celebrating 30 years of service this year, After School Matters provides high school-aged and young adults of Chicago with opportunities throughout the summer to explore and develop their passions and talents while gaining work and collegiate skills. Stipends are also provided to students while participating in their respective projects, providing a pathway to develop new skills and work toward gaining independence.
The reception of this particular beautification project was a stark contrast to the response toward a mural of slain rapper King Von, whose birth name was Dayvon Bennett. His mural was unveiled and displayed in Parkway Gardens—also known as O’Block by some—in August of this year. Bennett grew up in the Parkway Gardens community, even naming his debut album, ‘Welcome to O’Block,’ which was released the week before his death, after the neighborhood.
Immediately after King Von’s 40- foot mural was unveiled by artist Chris Devins, the project was the center of a heated debate regarding the fate of project. While some considered the piece to be a memorial to a young, native talent gone too soon, others (including the Chicago Police Department) see it as a glorified shrine to gang culture among growing fears that the project would incite gang-related violence within the neighborhood.
“‘To me, it’s like we’re complaining about the area. We’re saying, There are gangs, there are shootings, it’s bad, there are some bad people. But, what are we doing to help with that? What are we going to say?” said Delilah Martinez, CEO of the Mural Movement and commissioner behind the rapper’s memorial mural, when speaking to Complex about the community response to the artwork.
“Well, we’re not going to put up any art, and we’re not going to do anything, because we shouldn’t go into that area? No! What can we do to fix that? We’re sitting here complaining about this, but what is the solution? The only thing I can do is do what I normally do: organize art in Black and brown communities,” Martinez continued.
Parkway Gardens community members were extended the opportunity to vote on the fate of the mural at the direction of 20th Ward Alderman Jeanette Taylor in August of this year, though the final outcome is currently unknown.
Despite the disparity between how the two projects have been received, the message behind both boils down to one singular message: art as a means to change. In both cases, art has been used as an outlet for self-expression, representation and ultimately: community.