Community meeting

Aldermen to hold community meeting on proposed mural on Central/Lake Viaduct

Aldermen Chris Talieferro (29and) and Emma Mitts (37and) are hosting a virtual community meeting on Jan. 25 at 6 p.m., to give Austin residents a chance to weigh in on a new mural where the “L” and Metra tracks pass over Central Avenue.

The mural was painted in 2007 on both walls of the underpass by students from the After School Matters program, with artist Rahmaan Barnes, also known as Statik, coming up with the theme and helping the students develop the finished product . Since then, the mural has suffered wear and graffiti, particularly on the east wall. But the current neighborhood boundaries are a stumbling block. The west wall of the mural is at 29and ward and its east wall is in the 37and.

Taliaferro agreed to use funds from his “alderman’s menu” to pay Barnes to repaint the mural on his side. But at the September 10, 2021 virtual community meeting, a significant portion of attendees, including Barnes, requested that both sides be repainted. While Mitts has expressed interest in getting involved, the Jan. 25 meeting will mark the first time the two aldermen have taken concrete steps in that direction.

The existing mural, titled ‘Toward the Bright Future’, is located next to the entrance to the Green ‘L’ Line Central/Lake station. The mural features trains and buses, Chicago cityscapes, and black leaders such as Fred Hampton, Nelson Mandela, and Martin Luther King Jr.

At the September 10 meeting, Barnes said he wanted to expand on the themes of the original mural while doing something that specifically reflects West Side history. He added that he wanted to get residents’ input on what kind of images they would like to see on the new mural.

Every year, each alderman receives $1.32 million in menu money to fund infrastructure projects, including the most decorative upgrades such as murals. While Taliaferro uses the participatory budgeting process, letting residents vote on how they should spend it, Mitts makes the decision unilaterally. Aldermen cannot spend their menu money outside of their own quarters.

Redoing the murals of the viaduct was one of the winning projects of the 2017 participatory budget vote.

At the September 10 meeting, Barnes said he saw two murals as part of a single set and would prefer to repaint both sides.

“My goal [with] public art is to make sure the projects I’m involved in have a strong visual impact on the community, creating your own Mt. Rushmore neighborhood, if you will,” he said.

Taliaferro did not attend the September 10 meeting, but at his monthly community meeting on September 15, he said he wanted to work with Mitts to make that happen. On September 16, Mitts responded to Austin Weekly’s media inquiry with a statement expressing broad support for the idea without making specific commitments.

“I wholeheartedly agree with my colleague from the 29th arrondissement, Alderman Taliaferro, in moving this initiative forward,” she said, adding that she liked the concept described by Barnes.

In addition to attending the January 25 meeting, residents can complete a preliminary survey designed to gauge their opinions on the mural project.

To attend the meeting online, click bit.ly/CentralLake. To complete the online survey, click bit.ly/2937survey