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Bloomingdale Organizers Seek Artists to Dress Up Walls

LOGAN SQUARE — The Bloomingdale administrators have put out the call for ideas on how to dress up six miles of walls on both sides of the planned three-mile linear park.

The effort is not without some controversy.

Dozens of murals painted on the 100-year-old railroad track walls over the years will have to be removed, organizers said, because beneath all that art is something more sinister — lead paint.

"Knowing that we need to remove the lead paint and then also repair the walls, we know that the murals are going to be lost in that process," said Beth White, Chicago office director for the Trust for Public Land.

White said the paint would be removed with the "strictest, safest protocols" and that doing so will leave miles of blank canvases for artists to put new artwork on.

She said a series of meetings will be held to solicit ideas for works for the park and to make plans as details — such as budgets — are ironed out.

A preliminary meeting held Tuesday night served as something of a preview of things to come in terms of possibilities, but also of the controversy the removal of existing murals may spark.

A 36-year-old Bucktown artist who goes by the name Rainbow Kitty contributed to mural artwork at the Churchill Field Dog Park in 2010. She questioned why organizers were touting community collaboration for future plans while dismantling community artwork already in place.

"That art is from the community, and it is local artists," she said. "We worked very hard on that, and I am very concerned about preserving the art created by people in the community."

Another muralist, however, said the nature of public art is impermanence.

"Murals are temporary, if you want something permanent you should work in bronze," said 42-year-old Evanston-based muralist Jeff Zimmermann. "I've painted murals where the whole building's gone down. Part of being a mural artist is knowing that they come and they go."

Caroline O'Boyle, a consultant for the Trust for Public Land, said a photographer would be hired to "systematically and methodically" document all the current artwork so it is not totally lost.

O'Boyle emphasized that murals are not the only route for future artwork on the walls, even saying that less permanent exhibits may be preferable.

She pointed to living walls — using various plant life to create designs on walls — light installations, sound installations and kinetic sculptures as just a few of the possibilities.

"I think what the challenge is for us is to figure out the right mix of these various possibilities," she said, adding that future meetings will get deeper into discussions about specific plans. "We just want to get it right. We want it to be exciting. We want to involve all the people in the community."

Some of those discussions may even result in new laws about how to deal with murals and public artwork, policy questions that are starting to be raised in other parts of the country.

"It is a push-pull," White said. "How do we not stifle creativity, but at the same time make a process that works?"

Future meetings haven't been scheduled, but organizers said once they are they would be posted on the Bloomingdale website.

The name of the park was recently changed from the Bloomingdale Trail to The Bloomingdale to reflect the series of entry parks in addition to the three-mile bike and jogging path.