If you drive past the intersection of 71st and South Cottage Grove in Chicago, you may notice a bright new addition to the neighborhood: this mural celebrating Greater Grand Crossing.
Designed by local artist Joe Nelson with a team of volunteers, the mural creation was part of a series of volunteer projects Chicago Cares is creating in collaboration with the Greater Grand Crossing community. We’re calling it Greater Grand Crossing Serves, and it has also included an intergenerational oral history project in partnership with StoryCorps, and two outdoor service days at Grandma’s Garden.
Artist Nelson was born in Greater Grand Crossing, and now lives in Bronzeville. His work has been featured across the city and internationally, and in publications like the Chicago Tribune.
We talked with him about the genesis of the Greater Grand Crossing mural, which features prominent figures from the neighborhood including Gwendolyn Brooks, a railroad crossing symbol and bungalow houses representing the neighborhood’s history, and two kids “looking up to the future,” Nelson said.
“That’s aimed at the young kids who are aspiring to do more and to reach out and do things that are bigger than themselves,” he explained.
Nelson designed the mural in partnership with the community, meeting several times with a group of community members to define the goals and fine tune what would be included.
“There’s a lot going on,” Nelson said. “Some of it is really surface and some of it is a lot deeper. In general, I wanted on the surface level something that was going to be eye-catching and catch people’s attention from the street. That’s a big intersection and I wanted to bring out colors that popped and would make you look over in that area. In addition to that, I definitely wanted to bring something that was inspirational to people from the area and would help instill a sense of pride, family and unity.”
Nelson outlined the mural, and on August 23, a group of community members and Chicago Cares staff joined to help fill in during a volunteer day.
“The volunteers pretty much put down a very very solid foundation, which made my job so much easier, and I’m so thankful for that,” Nelson said. “This has been like one of the best painting experiences that I’ve had and probably one of the best projects that I’ve ever worked on. I’m very excited about it and I’m happy to be a part of it.”
As they were painting, members of the community passing by would jump in. Others would stop and ask questions.
“It’s like OK, cool! I jump in and I’m able to give a little baby history lesson right there,” Nelson said. “It’s great giving people a sense of pride, like, I live where these great people have lived. I have the potential to be great as well. To me, that’s mission accomplished.”
Want to be part of Greater Grand Crossing Serves? We have another project at Grandma’s Garden this Sunday, September 27. Sign up here.