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Woman Transforms 'Dingy' Diversey Overpass After Years Of Frustration

 A summer painting class from Northeastern Illinois University painted a mural on a Diversey viaduct.
Diversey Mural
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AVONDALE — A new mural on Diversey Avenue off the Kennedy Expressway was borne out of what inspires many a mural in Chicago — a dirty, ugly viaduct and a family that was tired of walking under it.

"I'd literally be walking around the neighborhood with my husband and my son, and we found ourselves going all the way around to California [Avenue] just because the viaduct was so unpleasant to walk under," Jenn May Rosen said.

The 37-year-old advertising producer has lived in the 2800 block of North Talman Avenue with her husband for four years, and the couple now have a 10-month-old son.

After those many walks under that gloomy viaduct and last year's addition of a bright, new mural on California Avenue at the Kennedy Expressway on-ramp, Rosen thought it was time to do something.

So in February she reached out to Ald. Richard Mell's (33rd) office and asked about putting another mural around the corner on Diversey.

She didn't stop with one call.

"I was a pain in the ass," she joked. "I called every week until they said we'd get one."

She finally got the word in April that a Northeastern Illinois University summer painting class would give her that mural.

Beginning in June, adjunct professor Chantala Kommanivanh and his advanced painting class began working on a design plan.

"We took three weeks to design a concept and three weeks to paint," Kommanivanh said.

The students then went out three days each week to paint while Kommanivanh supervised, finishing up last week. Rosen and some other neighbors even pitched in a little themselves.

"It turned out great," he said.

The title of the mural is "Eastern Europe meets Latin America" and depicts those two cultures coming together in that neighborhood.

Two women in the center — a play off Frida Kahlo's "The Two Fridas" — are wearing traditional folk dress of each culture.

"The community has become this mixture of both worlds," Kommanivanh said. "So what the women are doing is making this quilt together and making this new Chicago scene."

The summer mural program provides an alternative to a typical classroom-centered advanced painting course.

In its fourth year, the program had seen three previous murals painted — at Pulaski and Irving Park roads, near Pulaski Road and Peterson Avenue, and the mural Rosen had admired on California Avenue.

Rosen could not be happier with the new mural on Diversey.

As she stood on the corner of Diversey and Talman avenues on a recent afternoon, an elderly couple stopped to admire the mural themselves.

"I see that all the time now," Rosen said. "This was never a place that you would stop and look at before. It was just a dingy viaduct."