WEST HUMBOLDT PARK — Abby Mercado said it was hard to be creative in a crowded house. With 11 people vying for space in her Logan Square home, there’s not much room for anything, especially finding a place to practise art.
“I felt like I was losing myself in the chaos,” said Mercado, a student at Harold Washington College.
But Mercado, 20, is now among the first to be named an “artist in residence” for Graffiti Zone, a six-year-old arts program in West Humboldt Park, which means she's now able to live and work at her own pace, and create art in her own space.
Program co-founder Jody Cooley opened Graffiti Zone in various locations, first in a church and later in a storefront at Augusta and Central Park avenues. The program moved due to a drug problem outside the building. Another stint at the Kelly Hall YMCA was short-lived.
Look closely and you’ll see the group’s handiwork, typically vivid murals interrupting the blight in the neighborhoods along Chicago Avenue.
Now, Graffiti Zone classes are held at Cameron Elementary, where kids are taught to work on projects in audio and video, photography, painting and even puppets. As Cooley and the volunteers with Graffiti Zone continue searching for a space to call home permanently, she’s opened up her former West Humboldt Park home for the artist-in-residence program.
The program is open to 18-25 year olds looking to escape their living situation, whatever it is, and work in a two-flat in the 800 block of North Ridgeway Avenue.
It’s not just about giving ambitious artists a place to live. Cooley requires participants to hold jobs, to teach at least four hours of art classes per week and to work six hours in areas such as community-building, leadership and business skills “because once you can sell art you can pretty much sell anything,” she said. “We wanted to give them a well-rounded program in every area, not just art.”
Mercado, who shares the space with fellow artist-in-residence Miguel Rodriguez, said the program had already given her new skills. Prior to moving into the Ridgeway Avenue residence in August, she’d never taught.
Now, she can say she’s led mural-painting sessions at Chicago and Avers, walked kids through a basic sculpting class and recruited more kids to Graffiti Zone.
“Teaching has taught me patience and how to appreciate other people’s perspective. Especially when it comes to kids. They notice everything. Everything is brand new to them and art is a whole new world for them,” she said. “It’s beautiful to be able to open a little door into the art world.”
Graffiti Zone is searching for two more artists in residence. For more information, visit the Graffiti Zone website.