BERWYN – A group of Berwyn students is helping to bring the North Berwyn Park District’s new cultural arts center to life by painting a mural on the side of the building to showcase their community pride. The mural, which is on the south side of the building at 16th Street and Clarence Avenue that will soon house the new facility, was painted by 12 “Best of Berwyn” students in August.
The then-eighth graders worked with professional muralist Traz Juarez to create the mural, which the students designed to celebrate the city’s diversity and many artistic opportunities. The students met two to three times a week for about three weeks to paint the mural.
The Park District's Best of Berwyn program recognizes the city's top eighth-grade students who are nominated by educators, community leaders and elected officials.
Tara Tischer, the district's art programs coordinator who worked with the students on the project throughout the summer, said the now-freshman students came up with the phrase “We Are Berwyn,” which is included in the mural.
“The kids wanted it to depict breaking barriers, and it shows things that represent the different art classes we hope to have at the new center,” she explained. “It’s always great to give kids an artistic voice. They’ll be representing Berwyn as they go off into the world, and they’ll be able to look back on [the mural].”
Devin Rogers, a freshman at Morton West High School in Berwyn, enjoyed being a part of the group. The 14-year-old said he felt a responsibility to create something that not only looks nice, but also has meaning.
“It’s my mark on Berwyn. I know my ideas are in it, and I can go back 15 years from now and still see it,” he said. “I’m very proud of it. I know it will be on display for a very long time, and everyone can see it when they drive by. I also hope it will draw more people to the new arts center.”
Joe Vallez, executive director of the North Berwyn Park District, hopes to make Berwyn a destination for artists and people who love the arts and said the mural is one way to show the city’s dedication to a variety of cultural opportunities. He wants the public to get used to seeing public art in the city and hopes to do more projects like that in the future.
“The mural is a great way to have a group of young people come together as a team to create something that will be seen by thousands of people,” he said. “It’s a great chance for them to display their creativity and show pride in their community without using words. The city is transitioning to progressive young adults, and this type of thing sends a message that there are new opportunities here.”
Local senior citizens will soon be able to get in on the fun and create a public mural, similar to the one the students did. Vallez said he wants to get them involved in more community art projects.
“We’d like to get some seniors who like art to do a mural,” he said. “Our seniors can do a lot of things that people think they can’t do. This is a way for seniors to find a unique outlet at the North Berwyn Park District.”
And with the opening of the new building within the next year, all Berwyn residents will be able to take advantage of the new cultural and artistic opportunities. The Park District was awarded a Park and Recreational Facility Construction grant in 2014 to renovate the building, and the state of Illinois recently released the funds for work to begin. The new center will host not only visual art programs, but also culinary arts, theater and music programs.
“I believe art rounds out a city. I want Berwyn to take appeal to artists and create an economic engine to bring artists and people from Chicago to Berwyn,” Vallez said. “We believe that this art center will be a regional draw because not a lot of communities have art centers.”