ROGERS PARK — At 80 degrees with a cloudless sky, even the weather seemed to offer its own version of this year's "Expressions of Light" theme at the Artists of the Wall Festival at Loyola Beach Sunday.
Now in its 22nd year, the festival brought together eight music acts and more than 130 amateur artists to paint their own takes on the theme along a 600-foot sea wall on the beach. Held every Father's Day weekend, the festival invites people from all over Rogers Park to come make their marks along the surface.
"This festival is by far my favorite thing we do here all year," said Mary Hopkins, the supervisor of Loyola Park. "It's such a great community event, and I just love seeing so many people eating and relaxing and having a great time."
Organized by the Loyola Park Advisory Council and sponsored by the Rogers Park Chamber of Commerce, the event sells 130 square plots along the wall to anyone with brushes and a desire to decorate. This year, organizers said, the spots filled "almost immediately."
"I'm in total awe of the amount of enthusiasm the community devotes to this festival... people seem to get more and more excited every year," said Anita Sims, treasurer and 19-year member of the Loyola Park Advisory Council. "It has gotten a little smaller over the years, but it's gotten better at the same time — we've toned down the vendors a bit and made the music more prominent, so now everyone can hear it as they look at the paintings."
Sims said the original idea for Artists of the Wall was born as a response to gangs, who tagged the sea wall faster than the park could repaint it. The designs last until the next May each year, when the wall is whitewashed to create another 130 blank canvases.
Just beyond the wall a jazz band grooved on a mainstage surrounded by beachgoers on lawn chairs. Saturday and Sunday each saw four acts perform, ranging from jazz and blues to drum ensembles and children's music.
"What we have here is basically the equivalent of a super international music festival, and it's 100 percent free to the public," said Loyola Park Advisory Council member and music coordinator Lucy Smith. "And we have it all right here at what I like to call our own little paradise."
Dozens of contributing artists added their own touches of beauty, all offering wildly different takes on this year's theme. Plots included comments on political corruption, an advertisement for a budding food co-op and a stylized portrait of Prince.
Most were the work of individual artists, but for Nina Kahn, her husband and two kids, it was a family project.
"We honestly didn't even have a plan or anything to go off of when we started, but we came up with the idea together and just started going with it," said Kahn, whose family has lived in Rogers Park for three years. "This got us all working and thinking and collaborating together to put in this big effort."
Kahn credited the design — a sunrise over flowers and a rainbow — and most of the illustrating to her two children, 13-year-old Samia and 10-year-old Faiyaz. She and her husband, she said, just added "finishing touches."
"It's really cool how many people have come by to look at it... like one guy from Paris was here to see the lake and he came and saw our painting," Samia said. "And it's cool to think how it'll still be here a year from now, so people will keep seeing it."
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