Artists, Community Leaders Aim to Transform Cook County Jail Wall

Interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar and Enlace Chicago’s economic development specialist, Dahriian Espinoza are working to transform a wall along Cook County Jail on 26th Street through temporary and permanent public art pieces.

Interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar and Enlace Chicago’s economic development specialist, Dahriian Espinoza are working to transform a wall along Cook County Jail on 26th Street through temporary and permanent public art pieces.

Project will include temporary site reflections, community feedback that will lead to larger, permanent public art piece

What kind of impact does the presence of a jail have on a community and its residents? What emotional, psychological or physical influence does it create? Can something be done to change a negative perception over a space, and if so, what would that look like?

These are some of the questions artists and community organizations in Little Village are looking to answer through a project that will aim to transform the 25-foot-tall, 800-foot-long wall of the Cook County Jail along 26th Street.

The project, which will launch its first phase this summer, is a collaboration between Enlace Chicago, the Chicago Public Art Group, and local interdisciplinary artist Maria Gaspar. All are interested in finding out how common perceptions of the wall can be transformed through the utilization of the arts.

“The space is already loaded with so much meaning, contradictions and complexities that we can’t necessarily look at the project as any other public art piece,” Gaspar said.

Located on 26th Street and California, the Cook County Jail covers 96 acres of land—a little more than eight city blocks. It’s a monumental structure that lies east of the arched gateway entrance to Little Village, carrying varied significance for the residents of the neighborhood.

“Some people in the community see [the jail] as a very different place than Little Village, they don’t see a connection,” Gaspar said. “There’s an invisibility of that space. And the visibility has a lot of range, from experience or social imagination of what that space represents.”

The jail has been part of the neighborhood since 1871, when the city moved its Bridewell jail to a larger building at 26th and California, renaming it the Chicago House of Corrections. In 1928, Cook County began construction of its own jail next door. The two merged in 1969.

Both jails were constructed to relieve crowding, a problem that is still prevalent, as the jail houses nearly 10,000 inmates, according the Cook County Sherriff’s Office.

Using this history and initial impressions from the community, the project will aim to create various temporary and permanent public art pieces along the wall and surrounding landscape. The first phase will collect audio interviews with residents, detainees inside the jail, and local officials. It will also project images along the wall, collected from the community inside and outside of the jail.

Organizers hope this research will help mold plans for a more permanent art piece along the space and guide the next phases of the project, which will continue for the next three to five years.

“I’ve been involved for more than 15 years in public art projects and the most important aspect of the work is the process—test things out, evaluate, reflect, dialogue,” Gaspar said. “This project requires that time. To make these final decisions on a jail wall in a community right away, makes no sense to us.”

Plans for the project have been well received by the business community in Little Village, according to Dahriian Espinoza, economic development specialist at Enlace Chicago. He said businesses in the area have been looking for ways to jump back from the recession and the increased storefront vacancies in the neighborhood.

“The jail being that entry point to the 26th Street corridor is kind of an eye sore,” he said. “Being able to transform that space would help and encourage that economic vitality that [businesses] are looking for and that the neighborhood has historically had.”

The project has received funding from Special Service Area #25, a tax district designated for beautification and other improvement projects in Little Village, granting $15,000 to the Chicago Public Art Group to pay for the temporary site responses. The amount is only a fraction of the $250,000 organizers hope to raise for the first phase of the project, and the $1.5 million minimally needed to complete the entire project, according to Espinoza.

While the Sherriff’s Department has expressed its support of the project, Gaspar said all planned temporary or permanent art pieces in the space must first gain approval from the county, a task 7th District Cook County Commissioner Jesus “Chuy” Garcia is helping navigate.

“I’m the head cheerleader, ” Garcia said. Over the past few months, he’s helped collect support for the project, getting other local officials on board by dedicating some of their staff to making it a reality.

“In the end, the wall could become a different type of gateway for the Chicagoland community as they enter the Little Village community,” Garcia said. “It could be a major transformation of a wall that has been a grim reminder of the penal system, introducing you instead to arts in Little Village.”

Though it is still unknown what the final art piece along the wall will look like, organizers hope the community input collected over the course of the project will allow for a deeper dialogue of neighborhood issues, such as violence and the criminal justice system, that can be cataloged and archived.

“We see it as multifaceted. We see it as multilayered,” Gaspar said.

Espinoza sees it as a way to give power to the residents of the community.

“It’s very empowering for the community to be able to redefine what this space means to them,” he said. “This is not just, what could easily be, some folks drawing something up and putting it up on the wall. This is really taking into consideration what the community feels about this space and what they’d like to see.”

Artistas, Líderes Comunitarios Buscan Transformar Muro de la Cárcel del Condado de Cook

gaspar-espinoza

El proyecto incluirá reflexiones temporales en el lugar, aportación comunitaria que llevarán a una pieza de arte público permanente más grande

¿Qué clase de impacto tiene la presencia de una cárcel sobre una comunidad y sus residentes? ¿Qué influencia emocional, psicológica o física crea? ¿Puede hacerse algo para cambiar una percepción negativa del espacio, y si es así, cómo se vería?

Estas son algunas de las preguntas que artistas y organizaciones comunitarias de La Villita buscan responder a través de un proyecto que se enfocará en transformar el muro de 25 pies de altura y 800 pies de longitud de la Cárcel del Condado de Cook a lo largo de la Calle 26.

El proyecto, que lanzará su primera fase este verano, es una colaboración entre Enlace Chicago, el Grupo de Arte Público de Chicago, y la artista interdisciplinaria local María Gaspar. Todos están interesados en averiguar cómo las percepciones comunes del muro pueden ser transformadas a través de la utilización de las artes.

“El espacio ya está lleno de tanto significado, contradicciones, y complejidades que necesariamente no podemos ver el proyecto como cualquier otra pieza de arte público”, dijo Gaspar.

Ubicada en la Calle 26 y California, la Cárcel del Condado de Cook cubre 96 acres de tierra—un poco más de ocho cuadras de la ciudad. Es una estructura monumental que yace al este del arco de entrada de La Villita, llevando variada importancia para los residentes del vecindario.

“Algunas personas en la comunidad ven [la cárcel] como un lugar muy distinto a La Villita, no ven una conexión”, dijo Gaspar. “Hay una invisibilidad de ese espacio. Y la visibilidad tiene mucha variedad, de la experiencia o imaginación social que ese espacio representa”.

La cárcel ha sido parte del vecindario desde 1871, cuando la ciudad trasladó su cárcel de Bridewell a un edificio más grande en la 26 y California, nombrándola la Casa Correccional de Chicago. En 1928, el Condado de Cook comenzó la construcción de su propio edificio al lado. Los dos se fusionaron en 1969.

Ambas cárceles fueron construidas para aliviar el hacinamiento, un problema que aún es prevalente, ya que la cárcel alberga a casi 10,000 presos, según la Oficina del Alguacil del Condado de Cook.

Usando esta historia y las impresiones iniciales de la comunidad, el proyecto buscará crear varias piezas temporales y permanentes de arte público a lo largo del muro y del terreno adyacente. La primera fase recopilará entrevistas en audio con residentes, detenidos en la cárcel y funcionarios locales. También proyectará imágenes a lo largo del muro, recopiladas de la comunidad dentro y fuera de la cárcel.

Los organizadores esperan que esta investigación les ayude a formar los planos para una pieza de arte más permanente a lo largo del espacio y que guíe las siguientes fases del proyecto, que continuarán durante por los próximos tres a cinco años.

“He estado involucrada por más de 15 años en proyectos de arte público y el aspecto más importante del trabajo es el progreso—poner a prueba las cosas, reflexionar, dialogar”, dijo Gaspar. “Este proyecto requiere ese tiempo. Tomar estas decisiones finales sobre un muro de una cárcel en una comunidad en este momento, no tiene ningún sentido para nosotros”.

Los planes para el proyecto han sido bien recibidos por la comunidad empresarial en La Villita, según Dahriian Espinoza, especialista de desarrollo económico en Enlace Chicago. Dijo que los comercios del área han estado buscando maneras de salir de la recesión y del creciente número de locales vacios en el vecindario.

“La cárcel al estar en el punto de entrada del corredor de la Calle 26 es desagradable”, dijo. “Poder transformar ese espacio ayudaría y animaría la vitalidad económica que [los comercios] buscan y que el vecindario históricamente ha tenido”.

El proyecto ha recibido financiamiento del Área de Servicios Especiales #25, un distrito fiscal designado para el embellecimiento y otros proyectos en La Villita, otorgando $15,000 al Grupo de Arte Público de Chicago para pagar por las respuestas provisionales de la obra. La cantidad es sólo una fracción de los $250,000 que los organizadores esperan recaudar para la primera fase del proyecto, y los $1.5 millones mínimamente necesarios para completar todo el proyecto, según Espinoza.

Aunque el Departamento del Alguacil ha expresado su apoyo del proyecto, Gaspar dijo que todas las piezas de arte planeadas temporales o permanentes en el espacio primero deben obtener la aprobación del condado, una tarea que el Comisionado del 7º Distrito del Condado de Cook Jesús “Chuy” García está ayudando a navegar.

“Soy el principal animador”, dijo García. En los últimos meses, ha ayudado a reunir el apoyo para el proyecto, subiendo a otros funcionarios locales a bordo dedicando a algunos miembros de su personal para hacerlo una realidad.

“Al final, el muro puede convertirse en un diferente tipo de puerta de enlace para comunidad de Chicago a medida que entran a la comunidad de La Villita”, dijo García. “Puede ser una importante transformación de un muro que ha sido un triste recuerdo del sistema penal, introduciéndote en su lugar a las artes en La Villita”.

Aunque aún no se conoce cómo se mirará la pieza de arte en el muro, los organizadores esperan que el aporte de la comunidad recopilado durante el curso del proyecto permita un diálogo más profundo de los problemas del vecindario, tales como la violencia y el sistema de justicia crimina, que puedan ser catalogados y archivados.

“Lo vemos como multifacético. Lo vemos en capas”, dijo Gaspar.

Espinoza lo ve como una forma de darle poder a los residentes de la comunidad.

“Es muy enriquecedor para la comunidad el poder redefinir lo que este espacio significa para ellos”, dijo. “Esto no sólo, lo que fácilmente podría ser, unas personas dibujando algo y colocándolo sobre el muro. Esto en realidad es tomar en consideración lo que la comunidad siente de este espacio y lo que le gustaría ver”.

2 Responses to Artists, Community Leaders Aim to Transform Cook County Jail Wall

  1. “Eric has been bringing the gift of art and art therapy to the juvenile detention center for years now. The murals he paints with the kids have powerful transformative impact.”

    Mural Program at Cook County Juvenile Center… a dream come true

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150366045359069.362325.47669479068&type=3#!/photo.php?fbid=10150366046524069&set=a.10150366045359069.362325.47669479068&type=3&theater

    http://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10150367035199069.362453.47669479068&type=3#!/photo.php?fbid=10150367036054069&set=a.10150367035199069.362453.47669479068&type=3&theater

    Eric Dean Spruth is a trained artist, with an undergraduate degree in fine art from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago, with a minor in Psychology and Philosophy. He also holds a Master’s Degree in Art Therapy. Eric serves as an expressive art therapist within the Cook County Bureau of Health Mental health Services Department of Cermak Health Services / Cook County Jail. Eric has been featured and recognized by many forms of media including WGN TV Morning News, National Public Radio and the Chicago Tribune, among many others. Eric has received many awards and recognition in his field both as artist and expressive art therapist over his 27 years within this field.

    Eric’s next endeavor along with Upward Ground LLC is a Pilot Educational Hanging Garden Project at the Cook County Juvenile Temporary Detention Center (“JTDC”) Eric has previously worked with the WINGS Center at the JTDC, painting beautiful murals on the walls of the Center. According to Eric and Upward Ground LLC their mission “is to inspire and educate youth about the benefits of growing locally produced food. By nurturing plants and witnessing their development through harvest, we hope to encourage children to make healthier choices and to share that knowledge with family and peers in their communities, and to become stewards of the local environment.” Upward Ground has donated ten (10) planter pouches to the program. Select JTDC residents will decorate the planters with approved paints and then plant them. The planter pouches would thus serve two purposes: The vessel in which to grow the plants, and as a potential sculptural mural which in which the residents can take ownership and pride in their own unique choice of self-expression. Through the “Garden Program”, Eric and Upward Ground LLC, hope to encourage creativity, pride, and self-discovery as the residents explore relationships with plants as their caretakers. The program also seeks to promote the ability grow and harvest affordable healthy food in an urban landscape.

    “You must be the change you want to see in the world.” – Mahatma Gandhi Indian political and spiritual leader (1869 – 1948)

  2. john a. viramontes

    maria gaspar’s work is featured in this audio file

    https://soundcloud.com/#vocalos-barber-shop-show/bss-120