Soaring hummingbirds and bright flowers: Art Encounter helps plan for a mural in the Custer Oasis


Illustration by Olivia Abeyta

The Custer Oasis will welcome a new mural this summer as part of an Art Encounter initiative.

Skye Garcia, Reporter

Under the train tracks on Main Street and along Custer Avenue, the walls are cracked, dry and covered in weeds. Local business owners Diana Hamann and Eric Young said they’ve been trying to cover the eyesore in the Custer Oasis, the area around Main Street and Custer Avenue, for years. 

“We can only do so much with colorful tables and tents,” Hamann, who owns The Wine Goddess, said. “We thought the people of the area deserve something beautiful on that Metra wall.” 

Hamann and Young discussed installing a painting to the wall below the Metra with the Evanston Mural Arts Program in 2019. The program is an Art Encounter initiative dedicated to beautifying neighborhoods with mural art through partnerships with community organizations, schools and business districts. Delayed because of the pandemic, the mural will finally be finished by this summer, Young said. 

Artist Brett Whitacre and representatives from EMAP met recently to discuss their plans for the mural. While Whitacre hasn’t yet sketched it out, he described it in vivid detail.

Large-leafed, brilliant green plants and soaring hummingbirds will travel down the Custer Avenue ramp and around the corner, tucked under the Metra. Pink and aqua flowers will grow from the concrete and twist around broken signs and between cracks. 

Whitacre said he plans to create a tropical oasis. He wants to play with depth and shadow so locals can step into an environment rather than just admiring a painting. 

“There’s going to be a lot of natural things going on,” he said. “Some birds, more large leaf tropical plants flowing and more of a muted, calming background color.”

The Main-Dempster Mile, where the mural will be located, will provide funding for the art. The district is a Special Service Area — a tax district that funds a wide range of special or additional services and physical improvements in a defined area within a jurisdiction. 

Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile, said the mural could not be painted without EMAP.

“EMAP is doing everything on the backend,” she said. “Everything that actually gets the mural onto the wall — from choosing the artist to working on the design to preparing the wall — we could not do it without them.”

Art Encounter’s Executive Director Lea Pinsky said EMAP, which was launched in 2017, organizes the necessary permits for its murals. EMAP also hires people to pressure-wash, scrape and prime the walls and secure any necessary scaffolding or lifts to prepare for the mural. 

Artists should focus on art, not consider wall preparation and permits, Pinsky said — that’s what Art Encounter’s preliminary work takes care of.

“We want to make it so the artist can do the artist’s work,” Pinsky said. “We really understand the process the artist is going through, and we can help.”

Gotsick said she hopes the Custer Oasis becomes a welcoming destination for the residents of Evanston, and she wants to use the mural as a way to promote the district.  

“I want an image that I can put into a brochure,” she said. “I want to put this mural out there, and have everyone’s breaths taken away.”

Email: [email protected] 

Twitter: @SkyeAGarcia

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