Matthew Kaplan Photography

Commercial Avenue Arts Festival - Chicago - July 8th, 2023

"How can public art inspire new possibilities of neighborhood life?" read a question on a poster board at the Commercial Avenue Arts Festival in South Chicago on Saturday. The afternoon of art workshops, music, and food invited folks of all ages to reimagine ways in which outdoor art can both adorn and elevate life in their community.

While graffiti style placards with the theme "Sweet Home South Chicago" were spray painted on the street, passersby placed dots and sticky notes on their favorite examples of local sculptures and murals. Under a nearby canopy, seven artists working on the southeast side held a panel discussion on the role of art in revitalizing their area.

Once known as Steel City, South Chicago and adjacent communities have shouldered heavy economic and environmental burdens since the mills closed down late in the last century.

"We need to add color to everything. This block is a good representation." explained artist Matt Shapeless, referring to Commercial Avenue and 89th street. "We have color on these sidewalks now, we have color up and down the blocks, all around us. These walls have a lot of amazing art, and it transforms things. It adds a better energy to the area, and to people's days. It’s amazing to see the change that can happen."

Derric Clemmons observed "As artists we're aiming to try and give our different styles, the different aspects of our work, to this community, so that people don't just say 'Oh yeah, the south side is only the Museum of Science and Industry and the Obama Library.'"

Clemmons continued, "Go a little further south and you'll see the art that Matt just mentioned. Artists bringing positive aspects to the neighborhood, examining how we can reflect the older and the younger, and the different cultures here."

"There's a lot to be done. We're looking forward to the future and doing more art for you!"

Commercial Avenue Arts Festival was facilitated by Bridges//Puentes - Justice Collective of the Southeast, and sponsored by a number of community organizations including Alliance of the Southeast and Special Services Area 5.

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