A celebrated mural initiative has stalled in its third year due to withheld funds in City of Chicago accounts. The 25th Ward program commissioned international and local street artists to paint on public walls in Pilsen, Chinatown, Little Italy and Heart of Chicago.
Alderman Danny Solis of the 25th Ward initiated Art in Public Places (AiPP) in 2012 as a city beautification project. The program took an experimental turn when the alderman’s office attempted to use a city-allocated discretionary account (commonly termed “Menu money”) to pay for murals. The annual fund is typically reserved for ward-specific infrastructure fixes like potholes.
Five artists and public art curators have not been paid for more than one year. (The city normally takes five weeks to pay valid invoices.) The artists and curators are due nearly $20,000 combined for materials and travel expenses paid out of pocket. Thirty-three mural proposals in the ward are awaiting funding approval. The funds will not likely be disbursed this summer.
Last year, Newcity reported on AiPP’s project director Lauren Pacheco’s attempt to modify city policy and to direct Menu money to murals. Pacheco has based her crusade on what she considers to be a precedent: In 2011, Alderman Moore (49th Ward, including Rogers Park) spent $100,000 on twenty new murals from his Menu money allocation. He was successful because he introduced a democratic budgeting process—and his community voted, in part, for murals. Ald. Moore was the first legislator in the U.S. to open his budget to a citizen’s vote.
The City of Chicago’s spokesperson for the Office of Budget and Management did not return repeated requests for a comment on why the funds for the 25th Ward artists have been held up for over a year. Alderman Solis has had to fundraise privately to fulfill some of the artist debts.
Since 2012, the Art in Public Places initiative has helped produce sixty murals in the 25th Ward, including some iconic pieces from recent years, all viewable on their website. (Jason Foumberg)