The Chopin Theatre in Wicker Park remains temporarily closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a new marquee of sorts is encouraging people to participate in what will prove to be the culmination of a remarkable show: The Nov. 3 general election.
A month ahead of that pivotal day – which features a match-up between President Donald Trump and Joe Biden, and also important local ballot issues for Illinois – a colorful, partly abstract mural went up on one of the exterior walls of the theater at 1543 W. Division St.
The sole word in the painting: “VOTE.”
Created by Humboldt Park artist Mark McKenzie, who goes professionally by “Mac Blackout,” the design is dreamy, with eye-catching blues, purples and teals for the lettering, which is shadowed by black-and-white lines. The background includes blue-and-red stripes, with flame-like shapes coming out of the corners.
McKenzie, 43, said his goal was to restore faith in the voting process.
“I really just wanted to get people out to vote,” McKenzie said. “I wanted to make it a big, positive message that didn’t say which way to vote, one way or another, but try to create something and use my abstract visual language and artistic elements to create a feeling of positive presence and excitement.”
McKenzie’s “abstract visual language” typically doesn’t include words or lettering but he said this piece needed a straightforward message.
“I don’t like a specific message usually so that’s why the ‘VOTE’ mural is kind of different,” McKenzie said. “It’s basically a universal message, it’s a duty that we all have to do.”
The muralist has done nearly 20 murals throughout the Chicago region, including “Alley of Dreams,” which decorates a wall outside Lincoln Hall, 2424 N. Lincoln Ave. It was completed in 2018.
“I really wanted to get that dreamy feeling of larger-than-life, inspirational, coloring beings walking alongside you,” McKenzie said about the mural outside the music venue. “So when you’re walking through there you almost feel like you’re a cartoon or larger than life like these huge two-story characters walking beside you.”
Chopin’s owners, Lela and Zygmunt Dyrkacz, who are married, have run the theater for 30 years. Both said it was important for them to display a non-partisan message to residents to exercise their right to vote.
Lela Dyrkacz, 50, said that as a non-profit the theater can’t endorse one political ideology, so getting people engaged and informed are what they felt they could do to best serve the community.
“We kind of bonded with Mac in that regard to get people out there early, become aware and be informed,” she said. “In that sense, we’re all empowered.”
Named for 19th century Polish composer and pianist Frederic Chopin, the theater is more than a century old, opening in 1918 as a “nickelodeon” with more than 500 seats. The group’s web site says the current-day mission “is to promote enlightened civic discourse through a diverse range of artistic offerings.”
Zygmunt Dyrkacz is a 68-year-old Polish immigrant who came to the U.S. as a biologist in 1980. He said informed voting is especially significant to him as he could only vote from a “selected point of view” during his life in Poland, which then was a communist country.
His first time seeing people vote freely in Poland in 1989 is a scene that sticks with him.
“It was emotional, you know, people in line waiting for hours,” Zygmunt Dyrkacz said.
McKenzie said he hopes his mural outside of the theater would convey the beauty within voting.
“It’s something that so many people have fought for over the years and it’s really a beautiful right that we have,” McKenzie said. “I like for people to see it for that, and not see it as something that they don’t have faith in anymore.”