Desolate Pilsen Walls Turned Into a Beautification Project

Mural made by Brooklyn, NY Artist Gabriel Specter (Photo by Rachel Syms)

Mural made by Brooklyn, NY Artist Gabriel Specter (Photo by Rachel Syms)

Standing sculptures, music festivals, art fairs—this is what represents art in public places, but for the Pilsen neighborhood in Chicago, it’s grand scale murals that take up a 14-block stretch of wall.

Back in November 2011, Alderman Solis of the 25th ward sought out the help of Lauren Pacheco, co-founder of Chicago Urban Art Society, to help reenergize and amplify the creative scene in Pilsen. They call this project, “Art in Public Places.” Pacheco was the perfect candidate because of the good rapport her space in the community has with local artists.

Visible points of buildings on 16th Street, such as corners and garage doors have been incessant targets for graffiti blasters. Property owners agreed that the area is a hotbed for gang activity so the project organizers decided to fix the problem by offering commissioned space to artists, local and abroad.

“This isn’t a measure to create a solution around gang activity,” Pacheco said. “I think it’s simply an opportunity to concentrate on areas of the community that are consistently tagged with unsanctioned graffiti.”

Pilsen has a very rich tradition of street art and has been a cultural creative hub for many years. The positive feedback from Candy Chang’s interactive mural on 18th street, “Before I Die,” is what also gave life to the revamping of the 16th Street retaining walls that were considered an “eyesore” to the community.



After 10 months of  negotiations about property restrictions with the railroad company, conversations about how to appropriate TIF money for the project began and resulted in the Alderman using $17,000 from his own political funds to sponsor the project. The National Museum of Mexican Art, Yollocalli Arts Reach and local businesses have aided with providing funding to support the artists materials.

The supporters of the initiative want this to be a special project for the community and tourists alike. “We want it to be a diverse range of whimsy, graphic, bold color patterns and community specific pieces,” Pacheco said.

During a panel discussion at the Cultural Center, Nick Marzullo, Curator of Pawn Works Gallery spoke about  illustrator OverUnder who incorporates colorful, fantasy-like figures into his murals.

Done by OverUnder

Done by OverUnder

“He is a great example of an artist who is moving from an intense graffiti background,” said Marzullo. “He’s helping spark the conversation between public and private space, and what we view as acceptable advertisement.”

Due to remapping, the 25th ward has picked up other important areas in Chicago that also are in need of attention, such as Chinatown. There are plans in the works for a series of new murals to be featured across 2,000 square ft. on Cermak Road near Canal Street. The Chinese American Museum, along with Pacheco, will help select artists through an open call process to create murals that correspond with the culture of the neighborhood.

By Samantha Peña and Rachel Syms

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Photos By Rachel Syms

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