BERWYN – A group of Berwyn residents is hoping to bring local and international artists to the city to paint murals on select buildings in the Depot District this summer.
The goal of the Berwyn Public Arts Initiative, which is a project of Berwyn Arts and Music, is to help beautify the district while bringing more people to the area.
Aaron Mitchell, founder and president of BAM, said art can help revitalize neighborhoods by creating visibility and activity in an area.
“Art is an open form of communication and expression,” he said. “People are naturally drawn to it and are curious about it. It ignites excitement. Art in general is a powerful and unifying force and does a lot for a community. We want to make Berwyn a hub for art.”
The project started just a few months ago when Mitchell, who also owns The Outta Space in the Depot District, was discussing ways to make the corridor a destination location with other business owners. He said he’s always looking for ways to support artists, so he thought public art would be a great way to do both.
The project will have a curatorial committee to vet the artists and work with the businesses to determine mural locations, Mitchell said.
“We don’t want the murals to overwhelm the character of the corridor,” he said. “We want it done in a way where the murals aren’t on every single wall or building.”
Mitchell said he hopes to have at least five murals painted in the district this summer, but because the project is still in its infancy, the main focus now is to develop awareness around the initiative and raise money. But he said he wants to attract local, regional and international artists when the group issues a call for submissions.
“This is just an initiative now, but it’s growing really fast,” he said. “We’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback from residents and businesses, and city officials are in favor [of the project]. We have a great group of people invested in the idea.”
First Ward alderman Scott Lennon is very supportive of the initiative because he said it could draw more awareness and visitors to Berwyn.
“We’re looking for ways to attract businesses, residents and visitors to the city, and I believe that the murals can help do that,” he said. “Art brings in a visual, and we want people to know that there’s a difference between art and graffiti. I’ve heard some people say they think it’s graffiti, but we want to attract artists and prove that the murals are art.”
Berwyn resident Norman Alexandroff worked on the public art project in Chicago’s South Loop neighborhood, which helped to revitalize the area. He’s working with Mitchell on the Berwyn initiative and said he knows firsthand the positive impact public art can have on a community.
“Public art is a way to increase foot traffic and create community pride, while supporting local businesses,” he said. “The Depot District has never really found a strategy to bring customers to businesses. It’s an area that could serve as a downtown, but it never really became a destination. We want to create a vibrant environment for the businesses. Public art is energizing as a dynamic, creative force that communities around the world are embracing for economic and neighborhood revitalization.”
The city of Berwyn received a $25,000 grant from BNSF Railroad to help beautify the Depot District, and Mitchell hopes to use that money, along with donations, to help pay for materials and the artists. The initiative has a GoFundMe page that is accepting donations from the community. Alexandroff said the group needs to raise at least $12,500 from the community.
For information on the Berwyn Public Art Initiative, visit berwynpublicartinitiative.org.