I pass Dia De Los Tamales every day on my commute to and from work. The brightly colored building on 18th street in Chicago serves as a ‘welcome’ mat to the neighborhood. An area in the city known for its rich history of arts, food, and Mexican culture. The ornate details found on the exterior of this neighborhood restaurant was something that I had noticed in passing throughout many neighborhoods in Chicago. As an advocate of the arts, I was determined to find the artist(s) behind these beautiful works of public art. After a little research, I found out that the work I find so inspiring was created by an organization called Green Star Movement.
Green Star Movement was founded by Kamelia Hristeva over a decade ago. Michal Taylor, who is the Program Coordinator for Green Star met Kamelia and joined the organization in its very early years. “It just happened that Kamelia, the founder of Green Star and I met on a beach in Panama. She told me about Green Star and invited me to Chicago to see what it was all about. I was on a mission—searching for that next thing that was going to fulfill me—and I kind of just ended up falling into this.” Michel has been a part of the organization which has helped to beautify over 100 murals in public spaces which includes but are certainly not limited to schools, parks, underpasses, community center.
Like Michal, Jamie Porto, who is a Project Manager for Green Star Movement, got involved with the organization during her career transition as well. “I started out as a volunteer. I was working at an art gallery in the West Loop. I loved it. But was tired of all the white walls.” Their dedication, along with a staff of teaching artists, has helped to provide more than 7,000 students with arts programming. Programming that impacts students from Farragut High School in West Lawndale to students at Mann Elementary in South Chicago.
The Green Star Movement program takes students through a structured concept-to- completion process to create the murals. A similar process that I experienced during my time as an undergraduate at an art and design school. Over the course of 7 to 10 weeks, students maneuver through several phases including design, preparation, and installation, gaining valuable skills along the way.
The initial design process includes activities like brainstorming to help generate ideas for the final project. Students present their final plans to the larger group, which are then agreed upon, modified, and drafted for the next phase of the project. This process allows students to gain invaluable skills—communication, presentation, constructive criticism, collaboration, and thinking outside of the box. Skills that will benefit them personally and professionally throughout their entire lives.
Next, the students learn artistic techniques that include mediums such as photography. After developing the final idea, students immediately get to work on their often large-scale projects. Green Star Movement uses a process known as Bricolage, a term meaning “construction” or ” whatever comes at hand.” For Green Star Movement, bricolage is the usage of multi-mediums including tile, mosaic, sculpture painting, and photography. A combination that makes it entirely different from other ornate art pieces.
Finally, the students apply what they learn to construct their project. The task is no easy job notes Michel. “This is not for the faint of heart. They put their blood, sweat, and tears into this work.” But the outcome is entirely worth it. Following the completion of the project, Green Star celebrates the student’s success with a mural unveiling, inviting the whole community to honor and admire their hard work.
“Not only is it important for the community to be involved—but for them to have a voice. When somebody walks by our murals, it is clear what we are trying to say.”
Up until recently, the opportunity to view some of the world’s well-known works of art was unaffordable for many of Chicago’s young population. Green Star, along with graffiti and street artists, is continuing to lead the conversation in the importance of accessible forms of art. Whether it be the back alleys and side streets, artists including those in the Green Star program, are proving that art can live outside the boundaries of an institution.
When it comes to public art in Chicago, we traditionally reference well-known works like the Picasso at Daley Plaza or Cloud Gate (“The Bean”) in Millenium Park. But now, through the launch of Public Art, works produced from Green Star Movement’s programming and countless others are now being appreciated. So, the next time you pass by Brooklyn Boulders in the West Loop or the Whole Foods in Uptown, considerable thought and process that went behind that piece of public art. The tiles broken by hand and reshaped, the pieces placed one by one, to ultimately create a piece that reflected you. An image of your community, your neighborhood, your city. A mural that impacts and inspires.
From trolley tours to volunteering, there are many ways support Green Star Movement. Learn how you can get involved by heading over to Green Star Movement.org.
Good Seeker Podcast
Be sure to listen to the full interview between Jamie, Michel, and me. There are some gems in the interview that you would definitely hate to miss! Click the audio below or tune in on iTunes, Sticher, or Soundcloud.