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Nat King Cole Mural Part of Man's Effort to Boost Bronzeville's Image

By Sam Cholke | August 12, 2014 7:59am
 Chris Devins wants to rebrand Bronzeville using its famous former residents, like Nat King Cole (r.).
Chris Devins wants to rebrand Bronzeville using its famous former residents, like Nat King Cole (r.).
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Courtesy of Chris Devins

HYDE PARK — A 12-foot-by-26-foot photo of Nat King Cole has gone up on the Brand Building as part of Chris Devins’ attempt to rebrand Bronzeville.

“When you ask people what Bronzeville has to offer, it’s a pretty cloudy vision,” Devins said.

He said he wants people to think arts, culture and the epicenter of the African-American experience when they think of Bronzeville.

To strengthen the connection, Devins is installing seven murals around the neighborhood of famous artists, musicians and writers from Bronzeville.

Devins, who now lives in Hyde Park and works as a researcher for the National Opinion Research Center, grew up in Bronzeville attending Holy Angels Catholic School, just blocks from where the first of his murals went up.

Nat King Cole is already up playing a piano on 4301 S. Martin Luther King Drive. Louis Armstrong will go up next to a chicken and waffles restaurant at 3955 S. King Drive in the next three weeks, followed shortly by author Lorraine Hansbury on top of the barber college at 365 E. 51st St.

“I’m not trying to go back and dwell on the past, but build on that foundation of the past,” Devins said.

He said strengthening the identity of the neighborhood would make it easier to convince developers to build on that history rather than tear it down when they want to come into Bronzeville.

He said he hopes the murals convince some of the younger people in the neighborhood to build on that history as well.

“Everybody’s up there taking pictures with Nat, so it’s working,” Devins said.

The idea first struck Devins in 2011 during his thesis project for his master's degree in urban planning at the University of Illinois-Chicago. He said he wanted something that would instantly impress the spirit of the place without the tackiness of a logo or the density of a painted mural.

“It supplements rather than competes with the colorful murals that are all over the place,” Devins said.

The photo murals are more akin to a billboard — simple and immediate, but also shallow.

“These murals are meant to be digested quickly as you’re driving by on a bus,” Devins said.

He said he’s trying to build on the investment that Gallery Guichard, the Bronzeville artist lofts and others have made in the neighborhood to build on the legacy of Nat King Cole and others to revive the neighborhood.

“We’ll see it when we get more people in the streets, more activity on the streets, artists coming and people coming more often and staying longer,” Devins said.

He said each of the murals will last about three years, and then he hopes to replace them with new images.

Devins, Ald. Pat Dowell (3rd), members of the Bronzeville Alliance and others will celebrate the first of the murals going up at 10 a.m. on Saturday at 4301 S. King Drive.

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