EDGEBROOK — The eastern portion of the path under the Metra tracks at LeHigh, Hiawatha and Kinzua avenues is no longer a crumbling, graffiti-covered disgrace after a mixed-media mosaic turned the eyesore into a landmark.
But the walls of the western part of the underpass are still bare, waiting for a team of artists and teen apprentices to return this summer and extend the painted and mosaic mural nearly the length of the 450-foot underpass linking Edgebrook, Wildwood and North Edgebrook.
Teens can apply until May 15 for one of 30 paid apprentice positions to spend seven weeks helping create the mural — dubbed the Neighborhood Connection Project. They will work under the direction of artists from the community and Green Star Movement, a nonprofit organization that has worked with schools and neighborhoods to create public art projects throughout the city, through its partnership with After School Matters.
"We're mimicking the train lines, which came from the east first, and then the west," said Jac Charlier, a member of the Edgebrook Community Association board of directors, who has been coordinating the three-year-long project.
Edgebrook is to the east of the underpass, while Wildwood and North Edgebrook are to the west.
Once the mural is complete next summer, it will be the largest public art project on the far Northwest Side, Charlier said.
While the teen and professional artists will work from Tuesdays through Fridays, nearby residents will be invited to come work on the mural on Saturdays, Charlier said.
"We want to open up the door to the community," Charlier said. "This can't be finished without the community."
Although organizers had hoped the mural would be completed this summer, After School Matters had its budget cut, which means the apprentices will be only able to work for seven weeks in July and August rather than eight, Charlier said.
It would be impossible to complete the mural in seven weeks, said Kamelia Hristeva, the founder and executive director of Green Star Movement.
"It would be too much to complete this summer," Hristeva said.
Instead, a celebration will be planned next summer to mark the connection of the two ends of the mural, much like the train tracks above it, Charlier said.
"We're going take this setback and turn it into a celebration and an opportunity," Charlier said.
After School Matters spokesman Michael Crowley did not respond to questions about the budget cut and the reduced schedule for the apprentices for the Neighborhood Connection Project, saying only in a statement that the city- and grant-funded group was looking forward to working on what he called an "extraordinary community beautification project" for a second year.
The next phase of the mural will cost $70,000 to create, with $41,000 coming from After School Matters, Charlier said. Another $10,000 in private donations are needed to complete the work scheduled for this summer, Charlier said.
The first phase of the mural cost $48,000, with $33,000 coming from After School Matters.
The mixed-media mosaic mural, which includes bits of tile and glass as well as sculptures, is designed to transport residents back in time through the area's history.
The portion of the mural that has already been completed depicts the Hiawatha Express train, which once traveled the Metra tracks above the underpass, with the Chicago skyline in the background. The other side of the 118-foot long and 10-foot high mural pays homage to the area's lush vegetation and wildlife.
The mural was unscathed by the harsh Chiberian winter, and is free of graffiti and vandalism, Charlier said.
The second phase of the mural will depict the 1943 opening of the underpass, which allows residents to cross the train tracks and avoid busy Devon Avenue, as well as more of the area's flora and fauna.
The mural will also honor the area's earliest settlers, members of the Potawatomi tribe of Native Americans.
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