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On State Street — and other downtown streets — tour points the way to the Loop’s coolest murals

With the city reopening, the Chicago Loop Alliance hopes to bring folks back to the center of the city with a new self-guided walking tour.

“Power to the People” by Sam Kirk and “Make it Good” by Shawnimals are murals hidden in the alley at Couch Place between Dearborn and State Street behind the James M. Nederlander Theatre. | Kate Scott/for the Sun-Times
“Power to the People” by Sam Kirk and “Make it Good” by Shawnimals are murals hidden in the alley at Couch Place between Dearborn and State Street behind the James M. Nederlander Theatre.

The murals await.

Chicago’s colorful, insightful works of art adorning structures across the city are calling out to everyone to come visit and rediscover the city now that pandemic restrictions are lifted.

And checking them out has never been easier, thanks to a new self-guided, walking mural tour from the Chicago Loop Alliance.

Freelance photographer Kate Scott recently took the tour, which showcases local and international artists. Here are her photos and perceptions.

The 2.1-mile walk takes pedestrians past 21 murals and is divided into three routes along State Street and Michigan Avenue. The first route (Northeast Loop) starts in an alley on the lower level streets 334 N. MacChesney Court. (Because of construction he first four murals of this route can only be accessed from Lower Michigan Avenue, the tour website notes.) The second tour route (State Street) starts in one of the city’s most “fabled alleys” on West Couch Place. The third tour, Southern Loop, starts directly across the street from the Palmer House entrance on Monroe Street.

While some of these murals are difficult to find, the online tour guide at Loopchicago.com, which you need to access via your phone or tablet, provides clear, easy-to-follow instructions on the best ways to see each mural. (Several of the murals throughout the tour have a QR code painted on the bottom of them that provide additional information about the artist and the artwork when scanned.) Veteran Loop-goers will recognize the more famous murals such as “Tribute to Muddy Waters” but may have simply walked by the artwork at Sullivan Center or on MacChesney Court. Now’s your chance to discover those and more.

“Our goal is to get Chicagoans back into the Loop,” said Jessica Cabe, the public relations and communications manager for the Chicago Loop Alliance. “These murals became fixtures in the city after our Activate [pop-up festival] events, and the routes to see them range from casual to more suited for the urban explorer.”

Murals, such as this one titled “King’s Ransom” by artist Reco the Great and Barrett Keithley, featured on the Northeast Loop route of the Chicago Loop Alliance self-guided murals tour are tough to find but worth the search. | Kate Scott/for the Sun-Times
Murals, such as this one titled “King’s Ransom” by artist Reco the Great and Barrett Keithley featured on the Northeast Loop route of the Chicago Loop Alliance self-guided murals tour, are tough to find but worth the search.
Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times

The most challenging route (Northeast Loop) extends from lower Wacker, down Michigan, to Randolph. This route was particularly difficult to travel, despite directions on the website, due to downtown construction and sidewalk closures. With the number of stairs involved and lack of sidewalks, this route is the least accessible. The murals on this route are some of the most vibrant on the tour but are located in an alleyway that isn’t hugely pedestrian-friendly.

The easier routes take walkers down State Street, with murals dotting the alley along Couch Place, in between State Street and Dearborn (behind the Nederlander Theatre), and off of Monroe at the Sullivan Center. The murals in the loading docks of the Sullivan Center are well-hidden, so the area feels more like private property; here’s no information regarding the mural walk.

Most of the murals are surprisingly well-preserved; the Chicago Loop Alliance allocates part of its budget to ensure the murals are free of graffiti and extreme weather damage.

Because the tour is self-guided, it can feel less like a tour and more like a casual walk down State Street. Future group tours and additional publicity would, however, greatly benefit the mural walk, as these pieces of art deserve Chicagoans’ attention and time. As the Loop and the rest of Chicago open back up, walking through hidden alleyways and loading docks feels like a great way to get reacquainted with the city.

The murals are currently permanent fixtures in the Loop, but the self-guided mural walk runs through Sept. 6.

Starting July 11, the Chicago Loop Alliance will be hosting “Sundays on State,” in which State Street will be closed from Madison to Lake on select Sundays to host artists and local vendors for a “free, interactive block party.”

For information about the self-guided murals tour, visit loopchicago.com.

The Couch Place alley between Dearborn and State hosts several murals featured on the self-guided Chicago Loop Alliance mural tour. | Kate Scott/for the Sun-Times
The Couch Place alley between Dearborn and State hosts several murals featured on the self-guided Chicago Loop Alliance mural tour.
Kate Scott/For the Sun-Times