50 States of Public Art: Chicago’s quest to become America’s street art capital

I have no doubt that its thriving public art scene is one of the reasons Chicago, Illinois won top honors in Condé Nast Traveler’s Best Cities in the U.S.: 2018 Readers’ Choice Awards this past week. I mean, there’s a Picasso in Richard Daley Civic Center Plaza in downtown, for heaven’s sake. But Chicago isn’t resting on its public art laurels. Recently, Chicago-based reader Sharon M. emailed to tell me that Chicago has set its sights on becoming the street art capital of America as well.

Chicago’s quest to become America’s street art capital

Hebru Brantley’s mural, painted on a brick wall behind a bike share station, features his signature Flyboy character.
Street mural by Hebru Brantley. An earlier version of this mural was one of several street art murals painted over by city workers who mistook them for graffiti. A proposed city ordinance would create a registry to help city workers distinguish between commissioned and/or sanctioned street art pieces and random acts of graffiti. (Photo source: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune)

Artist: Hebru Brantley

Location: Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue

Photo Source: Chris Walker/Chicago Tribune

Associated Public Art Project:

As part of its bid to attract Amazon’s second headquarters, Chicago instructed its city workers to clear the streets of graffiti. The problem? Workers misidentified several commissioned street art murals as graffiti and blasted them away too.

One of the accidentally destroyed art works was a mural Cards Against Humanity founder Max Temkin had commissioned from French street artist Blek le Rat. The destruction of a commissioned piece on his own building led Temkin to work with Chicago Alderman Brian Hopkins and Cultural Affairs Commissioner Mark Kelly to find a way to protect street art across the city.

The result is a proposal for a registry to distinguish street art from unwanted graffiti. In addition to registering their commissioned works with the city, building owners would place a physical marker next to the art on their building.

There would be a fee associated with the program of course.

Still, supporters of the proposed city ordinance hope that having an official registry will not only protect street art, but also make Chicago an attractive destination for people who want to experience a thriving street art community for themselves.

As far as I can tell, the proposed ordinance that would create the registry is still winding its way through Chicago’s city government.

Want to see Brantley’s mural for yourself?

You can find Hebru Brantley’s mural at Wood Street and Milwaukee Avenue in Wicker Park. According to Cultural Commissioner Mark Kelly, there are some 2,000 street murals painted around Chicago, so you know, there’s no reason to stop at just one.

Happy public art hunting!

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