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Local artists decorate city in pursuit of ‘balance’

John Keeney of West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission stands by a banner he made to promote the Community Art Banner Project on Main Street on Monday, June 17.
John Keeney of West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission stands by a banner he made to promote the Community Art Banner Project on Main Street on Monday, June 17.

WEST CHICAGO – A bridge. A jester on a cycle. A stack of stones.

While these images may not seem related at first glance, all three address a common theme: balance.

West Chicago residents may be used to seeing these images hanging along Main Street. They are three artists’ answers to “A Question of Balance,” the focus of this year’s Community Art Banner Project, which will decorate West Chicago through September.

“We’re a very art-centric community,” said Rosemary Mackey, the city’s marketing and communications coordinator. “We have a lot of local talent in this community, and for years, we’ve been fostering that through city events.”

This summer marks the sixth annual banner project, which is held by the West Chicago Cultural Arts Commission. Members John Keeney and Anni Holm lead the project every year.

When Keeney and Holm joined the commission, they learned about the commissioners’ idea to hang banners in the city, displaying the work of local Gallery 200 artists. The two new commissioners encouraged the group to open the project to artists outside of the West Chicago gallery and turn it into an annual display.

Since that first year, the project further expanded to include artists from outside West Chicago, although at least half of the banners still come from artists with ties to the city.

This year, 31 applications were submitted for the project. Husband-and-wife artist team Mario Contreras and Diana Gabriel of The Contreras Gabriel Project judged the submissions and chose 11 pieces for the banners, which hang along Main Street from Washington to Chicago streets.

The team looked for artwork that was aesthetically pleasing and fit within the balance theme, said Diana Gabriel, who is trained in painting and drawing and specializes in three-dimensional art.

Together with Contreras, a documentary filmmaker, she runs The Contreras Gabriel Project, which serves as a platform for the arts in the Chicago suburbs.

Judging the artwork for the banner project gave the couple the opportunity to see how local artists responded to the same theme in different ways.

“Especially when it’s a theme, I really like seeing how people interpret that,” Gabriel said. “There are many ways to answer the call.”

In addition to the 11 artists featured on the banners, Keeney also produced gateway banners that bookend the display on both sides.

His mixed-media image combines drawing and photography digitally, rendering his son balancing on his finger.

Keeney creates the gateway banners every year. His goal is to present images that clearly illustrate the year’s theme in a playful way.

Organizing the banner project involves a lot of administrative work, so designing a banner himself is part of the fun.

“It’s where I get to be an artist in the project,” said Keeney, whose background includes visual art, music, theater and teaching.

The goal of the Community Art Banner Project is to give West Chicago residents the opportunity to be involved in the way the city looks as it continues to develop, he said, calling West Chicago “a really interesting, really fertile place.”

“People who live here have a participatory role in making the town what it can be, making it beautiful,” Keeney said.

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