DeKALB – A ribbon cutting ceremony was held Friday to celebrate the completion of DeKalb’s colorful Unity mural.
The mural, nicknamed “Project Underpass,” is located in the pedestrian underpass below Lincoln Highway that connects Northern Illinois University and Prairie Park in DeKalb.
The underpass was painted by four local artists over four months last summer: Aaron Robertson, Shannon Gallagher, Jordan Jacob and Ivy Vargas.
HomeTown Association of Realtors collaborated with DeKalb 5th Ward Alderman Scott McAdams and Robertson to create the mural. HomeTown received a $1,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to address graffiti cleanup in the wake of recent racial injustice demonstrations after the death of George Floyd.
The NAR Community Rebuilding Grant helped pay for paint and supplies and the artists volunteered their time and work.
Robertson described the project as “a way to come together as a community.”
“The colors combine in the mural, and colors don’t discriminate,” he said. “The colors find a way to blend in together. So in a way, as much as it’s a unity mural, it’s also an anti-discrimination mural.”
The mural’s design has five sections: the words “peace,” “love” and “unity” and portraits of Civil Rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. To prepare the underpass for the artwork, the walls were pressure washed, painted white and then painted black to remove and cover graffiti underneath.
The mural’s background was spray-painted with a colorful polygon design. The words “peace” and “love” are painted with acrylic paint and the word “unity” is spray-painted in a bevel style. The word “love” is grasped by a closed fist, and the hand has different shades of skin tones.
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One of the mural artists, Aaron Robertson, reads a list of people he wants to thank prior to the ribbon cutting Friday for the Unity mural he helped paint on the underpass below Lincoln Highway near Northern Illinois University. The mural was painted by four local artists, Aaron Robertson, Ivy Vargas, Jordan Jacob, and Shannon Gallagher. (Mark Busch - email@example.com/Mark Busch - firstname.lastname@example.org)
DeKalb Mayor Cohen Barnes spoke at the ribbon cutting and spoke of “the beauty of DeKalb and NIU.”
“This community has a theme, and that theme is unity and belonging,” Barnes said. “This mural expresses who we are as a community. It’s a reflection of who we are.”
Barnes also said that the mural was the artists “putting their fingerprint on the community.”
“You now have an emotional connection with the community and others through your art,” he said. “I look forward to more art in the community.”
“Our hope is that the mural inspires other artists to come to DeKalb, all are welcome,” DeKalb City Manager Bill Nicklas said. “We have several public spaces they could use as a canvas.”
The city’s Public Works department is having a community mural painting event from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Tuesday, June 22, in the Hopkins Park pedestrian underpass below Sycamore Road in DeKalb. Children younger than 18 must be accompanied by an adult. Paint and supplies will be provided. The mural’s colorful polygon design was suggested by Robertson.
Artists interested in creating a mural in DeKalb can participate in the city’s Public Mural Program. The city’s Citizens’ Community Enhancement Commission has created guidelines to help artists get started. For more information about murals in DeKalb, visit www.cityofdekalb.com/murals.