Word on the street: Black Lives Matter mural is what’s going down in Oak Park

The artwork on Scoville Avenue, just south of Lake Street, will be unveiled Friday at 5 p.m.

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Work on a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Oak Park started Wednesday, June 24, 2020. It’s being painted on North Scoville Avenue near Lake Street in the near west suburb.

Work on a “Black Lives Matter” mural in Oak Park started Wednesday. It’s being painted on North Scoville Avenue near Lake Street in the near west suburb.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

A group of college students and recent graduates are set to unveil a sprawling 100-foot-long “Black Lives Matter” art installation on a street in Oak Park.

The idea originated with 22-year-old Cullen Benson’s post on an Oak Park residents’ Facebook page, asking how people would feel about such a work of art coming to their community.

The response, Benson said, has been “overwhelmingly positive,” and a group of young artists and volunteers started work on the mural Wednesday on Scoville Avenue, just south of Lake Street in the near-west suburb, and on track to be unveiled Friday at 5 p.m.

“We thought this was the best spot for it, we wanted it to be colorful because Oak Park is a colorful community,” Benson said. “We wanted to portray that and let it be known this is where we stand as a community — this is a welcoming community.”

Benson worked with the Oak Park Area Arts Council to find the location and had approval in just a week. Oak Park police blocked off the street; the Oak Park Arts Foundation paid for paint and other materials.

Oak Park is part of a growing number of towns and cities putting up large Black Lives Matter art installations to condemn recent incidents of police killing Black people, including Breonna Taylor in Kentucky and George Floyd in Minneapolis.

In Washington D.C. a yellow Black Lives Matter was painted on two blocks near the White House and was so large it could be seen on satellite images. New York City is also set to install Black Lives Matter paintings in all five boroughs — the latest one is planned for the street in front of Trump Tower in midtown Manhattan. Paintings also sprouted up in Seattle, Austin and San Francisco.

 Volunteers paint “Black Lives Matter” on North Scoville Avenue in Oak Park on Thursday, June 25, 2020.

Volunteers paint “Black Lives Matter” on North Scoville Avenue in Oak Park on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

“We saw what was going on in other cities like Flint and D.C. and how they were doing these huge street installations and we were inspired to do something like that,” Benson said.

Cortlyn Kelly, 21, helped organize the project with Benson and said the mural is intended to help Oak Park stand in solidarity with the Black Lives Matter movement and its LGBTQ members.

“Oak Park prides itself on being a diverse, colorful, inclusive melting pot,” Kelly said. “For overall racial equality and equity within Oak Park, I think this is a step in the right direction. Is it enough? No. Can we stop after this? No.”

Kelly said their design differs from some other cities; they are, for example, using multicolored letters, instead of solid yellow or black. Bursts of yellow, pink, blue, green and purple weaver across the words in art student Franka Huanchicay’s design.

“I really like the central focal point bursting out from the center and I think it conveys energy,” said Huanchicay, 24. “It was perfect to have that central focal point also because the center is at [the word] ‘Lives’ and that is very important to highlight because I have no idea why we have to even say this in 2020.”

Project leaders (from left) Franka Huanchicay, 24, Cullen Benson, 22, and Cortlyn Kelly, 21, at the site of a new Black Lives Matter mural on North Scoville Avenue in Oak Park on June 25, 2020.

Project leaders (from left) Franka Huanchicay, 24, Cullen Benson, 22, and Cortlyn Kelly, 21, at the site of a new Black Lives Matter mural on North Scoville Avenue in Oak Park on Thursday.

Pat Nabong/Sun-Times

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