Pilsen CTA 18th Street Pink Line mural whitewashing draws online ire
The CTA said it’s in the midst of a “community-driven” restoration project of the murals. But Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez said he wasn’t privy to those plans until Friday.
The Chicago Transit Authority came under fire Friday from Pilsen residents and the neighborhood’s alderman for whitewashing historic murals inside the 18th Street Pink Line.
A Facebook post with pictures showing barren panels inside the station has been shared more than 600 times since Thursday night, with many users asking why portions of the decades-old murals were painted over.
First-year Ald. Byron Sigcho-Lopez (25th) condemned the CTA Friday morning in a statement, saying “the destruction of public art is utterly reprehensible and disrespectful to the artists, the cultures that make up Pilsen, and all of us who live here.”
Hours later, the CTA said it’s been more than a year since the agency whitewashed sections of the mural. Those parts that had been whitewashed were defaced by graffiti, CTA spokesman Brian Steele told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“Unfortunately, white paint makes for a good canvas for further graffiti,” Steele said. “Whenever we get reports of graffiti on those sections of the murals ... we cover that area, but we won’t cover any more of the existing mural.”
It’s unclear whether the crews had recently whitewashed previously untouched sections of the mural by accident. Requests for graffiti-removal work orders at the station were unsuccessful.
The CTA also said it’s in the midst of a months-long “community-driven project to expand and enhance artwork” at the 18th Street Pink Line station.
But the agency didn’t tell Sigcho-Lopez about the restoration efforts until Friday afternoon.
“Our office eventually heard back from the CTA, and they apologized for failing to inform the alderman and the surrounding community that they decided to paint over the original work,” a spokeswoman for Sigcho-Lopez said.
“The CTA assured us that they plan to restore the art, and they’ve committed to sending us a detailed timeline by early next week.”
The murals were painted in the 1990s by the late artist Francisco Mendoza and several students from Gallery 37 as part of the CTA’s “Adopt-a-Station” program.
Mendoza grew up in South Chicago and taught at Peter Cooper Elementary and Jose Clemente Orozco Academy in Pilsen for more than 25 years. He died in 2012.
“Covering the steel panels of the station wall, several murals symbolize and tell stories about the neighborhood that the 18th station serves,” according to the CTA. “Each of the colorful murals illustrates a different story of rich Mexican heritage while also depicting many important cultural icons in Mexican history.”
Vandalism and the weather have deteriorated sections of the murals over the last two decades. Steele said the murals were “never intended to be a permanent art installation,” and the restoration project will aim to “preserve the spirit” of the artwork.
But Sigcho-Lopez criticized the CTA for how it carried out the whitewashing of the artwork.
“As helpful as it is to get assurance that they’ll restore the mural, it doesn’t dismiss the fact that an original work of public art rooted in community and culture has been irreversibly altered,” he said.
Carlos Ballesteros is a corps members of Report for America,a not-for-profit journalism program that aims to bolster Sun-Times coverage of Chicago’s South Side and West Side.