Muralists bring beauty to Evanston during pandemic


Photo courtesy of Lea Pinsky

Mural by Cheri Lee Charlton at Ridgeville Park District. The mural was one of two created as part of the Evanston Mural Arts Program since March 2020

Olivia Alexander, Reporter

A large mural reading “I am Evanston Strong” decorates the wall outside of the La Principal restaurant on Main Street, serving as a reminder to Evanstonians to remain positive in light of this trying year.

Even in a pandemic, muralists have come together to create art around Evanston, bringing beauty to its suburban streets.

Teresa Parod, a local artist, continued her garage door gallery, a collection of murals on the garages of people’s homes, throughout 2020. What began as an attempt to make a lackluster alley more beautiful resulted in 24 painted garage doors, 15 of which she did last summer.

“We’re all so sick of this pandemic and being locked up and not being able to do anything,” Parod said. “When I’m working, a lot of people walk by, and we talk from a distance, and it’s been very positive.”

Since the start of the pandemic, non-profit Art Encounter has completed two murals, located at 820 Davis Street and the Ridgeville Park District. The paintings brought people outdoors, Lea Pinsky, the executive director of Art Encounter said. Downtown Evanston is now planning a February event involving the murals.

“Just beautifying the outdoor space has been really important because people realize the value of being outdoors and being in an aesthetically pleasing environment,” Pinsky said. “I know that the murals we put up…since March have had a strong impact.”

Pinsky said murals are often large enough for artists to easily socially distance and wear masks while working.

Last summer, Art Encounter’s Evanston Mural Arts Program held a mural scavenger hunt for families. Using Google Maps to locate 17 murals, participants took a self-guided tour of Evanston’s public art and answered open-ended and dialogue-generating questions on a Google Form.

With the closure of art museums, artist Valerie Kahan said murals have been a way for her and her children to safely view and discuss art.

“It’s definitely been awesome to walk around with my kids and show them, and get their feedback and talk about it,” Kahan said. “It’s like going into a museum but it’s your neighborhood.”

In May, Kahan, who painted the “I am Evanston Strong” mural outside La Principal, said the restaurant’s owner, Eric Young, wanted to draw people to the business with art during pandemic closures. Together, they imagined a vibrant painting with a message about strength and resilience.

The restaurant, which has donated meals to the community throughout the pandemic, is one Kahan cares for. She said she loves what the business stands for in terms of being “a pillar for the community.”

When Shruti Vijay, an urban sketcher, saw Kahan’s mural while on a walk, she immediately captured it in her sketchbook, feeling inspired by the art and its message. Vijay, who usually sketches in restaurants and other indoor spaces, said she noticed many people coming up to the mural to take photos and enjoy it.

“The whole experience was very fulfilling,” Vijay said. “People seek simple joy and just look at the mural — that was beautiful.”

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Twitter: @oliviagalex

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