Artists, community seek alternative to public art funding

Justus Roe Mural: 5625 N. Clark St. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
Justus Roe Mural: 5625 N. Clark St. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

By Demetria Mosley, Dylan Fahoome and Sadé Carpenter

In the city home to the Art Institute, Museum of Contemporary Art (MCA) and numerous galleries, finding art in some Chicago neighborhoods can be as easy as walking a few blocks.

But in others, this isn’t always the case.

General admission to the MCA ranges from $7 to $10, and tickets to the Art Institute are even pricier, at $17 to $23. For an individual making a trip to the Art Institute alone, tickets may be very affordable. Yet, a family of four could spend $80 for the same trip.

“Art in galleries is really great and it’s a great place to find art when you know to go there to look, but I think the idea of putting it out in the public brings it to everyone and makes it really accessible,” said Matthew Hoffman, a Chicago-based artist and designer.

While the Art Institute and MCA provide free general admission to residents on certain days, public art installations provide a budget-friendly alternative to museums and galleries. Depending on the neighborhood, some Chicagoans have more access to public art than others.

Data from the City of Chicago Data Portal shows an abundance of public art located in Chicago parks in the Loop or surrounding area. Further north in Andersonville, city-funded public art is scarcer.


Locations of public art in Chicago parks. Source: City of Chicago Data Portal. (map/Demetria Mosley)
Locations of public art in Chicago parks. Source: City of Chicago Data Portal. (map/Demetria Mosley)

When public grants and private donations fall through, some artists – also grappling with a 2015 budget of just $146 million for the National Endowment for the Arts – have turned to crowdsourcing as a means to fund public art projects.

Matthew Hoffman is one of them. Thanks to a successful Kickstarter campaign, Hoffman’s “You Are Beautiful” project is making its way to Andersonville.

"You Are Beautiful" sticker in Andersonville. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
“You Are Beautiful” sticker in Andersonville. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

“The notion of crowdfunding is really great because outside of writing grants or private donations, this is a way that sort of everyone can have a hand in it and have a role in it,” Hoffman said.

Hoffman, 35, lives on the North Side of Chicago. He will soon begin construction on the project, which overreached its goal of $5,500 by almost $2,000.

Hoffman teamed up with eco-Andersonville, an initiative of the Andersonville Development Corporation (ADC), which is a non-profit responsible for long-term economic development and planning in the neighborhood. Eco-Andersonville addresses social, economic and environmental sustainability issues.

Eco-Andersonville previously commissioned artist Justus Roe, who created an outdoor mural located on Clark Street.

“Sometimes you do these types of initiatives and you’re not sure if you’ll get any support because a lot of this stuff is challenging and you don’t know if it’s going to connect with people,” said Brian Bonanno, sustainability programs manager at ADC. “It feels good to know people think it’s a good idea.”

The “You Are Beautiful” project began in 2002 as a way for Hoffman to mail out his stickers with the aforementioned phrase on it to people who requested them. The project grew to reach 81 countries and every single continent, including Antarctica. It can now be curated on social media with the hashtag #YouAreBeautiful.

Hoffman said the goal of the project was simply to make people feel better.

“Some people aren’t going to get it; some people are going to overlook it; some people aren’t going to even notice the stickers,” said Hoffman. “[It] won’t change the world, but it does have the power to change someone’s world.”

This map highlights public art and peacemaking locations in Andersonville.  (Map/Sadé Carpenter)
This map highlights public art and placemaking locations in Andersonville.
(Map/Sadé Carpenter)

Bonanno said eco-Andersonville partnered with Hoffman to spread a message of positivity. He also wants to show other communities the importance of public art.

“It has a value in any neighborhood,” said Bonanno. “There are some neighborhoods in Chicago that could really use the improvement, but might not have the tools or the resources or the people to get something like this funded or off the ground.”

“A lot of people don’t know…they look for grants or things like that to do this and you have the resources within your community if you get people and can put together a Kickstarter,” he said. “We wanted to show it doesn’t take the city or it doesn’t take grants necessarily to fund or make positive changes.”

Andersonville Dala Horse replica. (photo/Demetria Mosley)
Andersonville Dala Horse replica. (photo/Demetria Mosley)

Bonanno said eco-Andersonville is partnering with the Lawndale neighborhood and potentially Englewood. He plans to share art installations and fundraising strategies.

Brother Mark Elder, the muralist behind the “We Are DePaul2” mural on DePaul University’s Lincoln Park campus, said public art could tell you a lot about a community in which it resides.

“The power of public art is where the artist is serving a community,” Elder said. “The artist basically works with the community to bring out what is important, visually…so that anybody can see it and get an idea as to what the community is about.”