Chicago Public Art Group celebrates its 40th birthday with celeb chefs
Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) executive director Jon Pounds tells me he’s been pulling out old pre-digital slides of the organization’s community art projects from the 1980s and 1990s. “This is great stuff from the past,” he tells me, “[pieces] that pre-imagined graffiti in ways. Stuff that looks very contemporary today, except it was done 20 years ago.”
Pounds will show these images Friday 9 at Imagine…Action!, CPAG’s 40th-anniversary fund-raiser, when the artist collaborative looks back at the 800 projects it has created since its formation in 1972. Held at 600 West Cermak Road in Chicago’s Creative Industries District, the event will be catered by local chefs Mike and Pat Sheerin (Trenchermen), Ryan Poli (Tavernita), Chris Pandel (The Bristol and Balena) and Jason Vincent (Nightwood). Read more after the jump.
CPAG designs and creates murals, mosaics, sculptures and playgrounds all over Chicago with the help of community volunteers at every stage of the creative process. “It wasn’t long ago that nobody talked about how public art was to be created, and today they do,” Pounds says. “We have been a part of that opening of the conversation about how public art is imagined and made.”
CPAG was founded as the Chicago Mural Group by artists John Pitman Weber and the late William Walker. At the time, artists were taking action against racial injustice and the Vietnam War. Largely due to the work of artists like Walker, Chicago became the birthplace of a nationwide community muralist movement. “[CPAG] really was founded out of this desire…[to have] artists of different races—and, very quickly, different genders—working together in public because this was a deeply segregated city,” Pounds says.
According to Pounds, CPAG created the country’s first community-based mosaic in 1980, when it constructed Miriam Socoloff and Cynthia Weiss’s Fabric of Our Lives with 50 local volunteers at the Bernard Horwich Jewish Community Center in Skokie. Water Marks (1998)—an installation of mosaic benches and walkways at Navy Pier that Pounds, Weiss, Olivia Gude, Kiela Smith and Mirtes Zwierzynski created with hundreds of volunteers—is the organization’s most expensive project to date: It cost $250,000 and took three years to complete. At 6,500 square feet, Johanna Poethig’s Loop Tattoo (2005)—a mural painted outside 63 East Lake Street that depicts the Loop's artistic culture—is CPAG’s most sizable endeavor.
Pounds says CPAG incorporated ideas that aren’t quite as “picturesque” into pieces like the 1975 mural Wall of Daydreaming/Man’s Inhumanity to Man (47th St and Calumet Ave), which challenged Bronzeville’s predominantly African-American residents to consider the effects on their community of drugs, arson and greedy power brokers as well as the KKK, racism and police brutality. But CPAG's messages aren’t negative: The organization hopes its work causes passersby to reflect on “more complex values,” Pounds says. For example, Gude’s 1992 mural Where We Come From… Where We're Going (56th St and Lake Park Ave) presents community members’ insights into their spiritual and metaphysical paths.
“I think that some of the most successful [CPAG artists]…make a really accurate representation of the value of a multiclass, multirace, multiperspective community,” Pounds says. “Our aesthetic [is] based on collage and juxtaposition and mashing together different styles, and you see that in work all over the city. It’s not a search for a single improvement which makes everyone equally happy. It rather tries to be an improvement which is as complex as the society that we actually want to live in.”
Tickets to Imagine…Action! are available at cpag.net. Enter to win a pair from TOC here.