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Pilsen Public Art Installation Delayed by City Permit Issues

By Chloe Riley | August 7, 2013 8:30am
 Activate's public art installation was supposed to go up in Pilsen on July 25, but has been postponed due to issues with getting permits from the city.
Activate! Public Art in Pilsen
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PILSEN — An organization’s plan to transform the corner of Blue Island Avenue and Laflin Street into a pedestrian mural space has been put on hold by last-minute city permit issues, organizers said.

The design organization Activate! had been working with the city since last fall to create a public art installation across from Fran’s Beef at 2021 S. Blue Island Ave. 

Work on the project was scheduled to begin July 25. On July 26, a frustrated post went up on Activate’s blog:

“Yesterday, with less than 36 hours until installation, the Chicago Department of Transportation, who we’ve been working with diligently for over 8 months towards the installation of these designs, stunned us with some new requirements.”

According to Activate project manager Katherine Darnstadt, those new requirements included buying millions of dollars' worth of liability and workers' compensation insurance for the project’s volunteers.

With a budget of just $1,000, the organization had to scramble for last-minute donors to cover the additional costs, Darnstadt said.

“Should we as community organizers and volunteers be held to the same standards as someone putting up a high-rise? Our answer is no,” she said.

A representative from the Chicago Department of Transportation could not be reached for comment.

The Pilsen space is just one of four outdoor art projects slated to be installed around the city as part of Activate’s annual design contest, which started in 2010. The delay at the Pilsen site has also slowed progress at the Old Town and Garfield Park sites, according to Activate's website.

The Pilsen project would have wood benches painted with rotating murals installed in the middle of Laflin Street just south of South Blue Island Avenue.

Activate’s public art contest has been around since the group's inception. Past projects include installation of public art in the Bronzeville, Wrigleyville, Washington Park and Little Village neighborhoods.

The organization typically acquires its spaces though a partnership with neighborhood nonprofits. Darnstadt said this is the first time it has used city property for one of its projects.  

“We’re the guinea pigs,” she said. “We’re just saying that we’re doing projects where we don’t necessarily need a general contractor. Our project is $1,000. I can’t even find a general contractor in the city who will do that.”

While Ald. Danny Solis (25th) wouldn't comment on the delay, a Solis representative said that the completed project would benefit both residents and businesses in that area.

“Increased foot traffic from the new Activate site in the area surrounding 18th and Laflin could provide a number of benefits for the area, including more and improved commercial opportunities and increased access to public arts and open space,” Solis spokeswoman Stacy Raker said via email.

Darnstadt said new plans for the Pilsen project should be finalized next week, and the installation should still be completed before the end of the summer.