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Mural Spawns Community Garden in Avondale

By Victoria Johnson | November 28, 2012 12:53pm

AVONDALE — A community came together this past summer to transform an unsightly wall into a beautiful mural, and now they are coming together again to transform a barren plot next to it into a lush, colorful garden.

The story started in the summer of 2011 when Joanie Friedman would walk past the dirty, pigeon-infested wall daily as she escorted her kids to Athletic Field Park. The wall of the train bridge next to Interstate 90 on Addison Avenue stands between Friedman's house and the park, so she couldn't avoid it.

"I found myself walking past the viaduct several times a day to take my kids to the park, and I started kind of looking at it and dreading going under it," she said. "So I started thinking, 'Wouldn't [it] be cool if we had a mural? Wouldn't that make it a lot nicer to walk under?'"

Friedman started reaching out to people she knew in the art community, and word soon got around to Jill Arena, wife of Ald. John Arena (45th). Jill Arena knew artist Rafael Lopez and also knew the muralist and children's book illustrator was looking for a new project. There wasn't a proposed mural in Arena's ward, but there was at that Avondale viaduct, which was then in the 35th ward. The viaduct has moved to the 30th ward when the new ward map went into effect earlier in 2012.

The mural was finished in June thanks to several hundred volunteer painters. But the beautification didn't stop there.

Before Lopez even arrived in Chicago, he saw photos of the site and that plot of land next to it, and encouraged participants to continue efforts to spruce up the neighborhood after the mural was done.

"He talked about a garden," said Victoria Duran, a volunteer who has taken up the garden torch. "He said he hoped the mural would be a jumping off point to other beautification in the neighborhood."

In the months since, Duran has headed up a committee working to lease the plot from Union Pacific and keep the planter boxes they installed looking nice.

The planter boxes were even visited by a mystery gardener who anonymously planted some flowers to help out.

"Someone just showed up and planted mystery plants," Friedman said. "When something really exciting is happening in a neighborhood it seems as if everyone wants to jump on and say 'How can I help?'"

The garden committee will spend the winter months working to secure a five-year lease with Union Pacific at a price of about $300 a year, and raise money for additional costs of maintaining the garden, including plants, soil, water and an insurance policy required under the lease agreement, all for around $1,000 a year.

By the spring, the committee hopes to be able to host a community plant day much like the community paint days held to complete the mural. Landscape designer Amy Srubas even plans to organize the garden's flowers into swaths of colors to match the swaths of color in the mural.

To raise money for the project, the garden committee is currently selling engraved bricks to be used in a garden pathway. For more information about the bricks or other ways to get involved, email Duran at aacommunitygarden@gmail.com.