Kerry James Marshall Monumental Mural Announced for the Chicago Cultural Center


Earlier this summer when I interviewed DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly, he told me a secret about a major public art announcement that would be revealed in the fall. Well, finally the secret is out: on Thursday Mayor Rahm Emanuel and the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) shared that internationally renowned artist and MacArthur Fellow Kerry James Marshall will create an epic, large-scale mural for the Chicago Cultural Center (78 E. Washington St.), honoring 20 women who have shaped the city’s vibrant arts and culture landscape. Work on the mural began the same day that the announcement was made, and it is expected to continue throughout next month. The Garland Court facade has previously been blank. 

When all is finished the 132-foot by 100-foot mural, which will be located outdoors and installed on the Cultural Center's west-facing Garland Court façade, between Washington and Randolph Streets, will be the largest artwork Kerry James Marshall has ever designed or created. The creation of the mural also coincides with the City's month-long Public Art Festival during Chicago’s Year of Public Art.

“Chicago is recognized across the country and around the world as an epicenter of innovative art, architecture and design,” said Mayor Rahm Emanuel. “Kerry James Marshall’s new mural on the iconic Chicago Cultural Center will be a strong addition to Chicago’s public art portfolio and a fitting commemoration of Chicago’s Year of Public Art.”

The Chicago Cultural Center is the first and most comprehensive free large-municipal cultural venue in the county. It is currently home to the Chicago Architecture Biennial, which runs through January 7, 2018.

“When I was asked to design a mural for narrow Garland Court, it was immediately clear to me that the site had to be ‘opened up’ in some way,” said Kerry James Marshall. “My solution was a park-like view with a bright sun and stand of trees to bring light and green space to the location while at the same time honoring the mission of the building as the hub of artistic activity in Chicago. My idea was to make of the trees a kind of Forest Rushmore acknowledging the contribution of 20 women who’ve worked to shape the cultural landscape of the city, past and present.”

The mural is funded by Murals of Acceptance, whose goal is to bring art to all people in a free public setting. 

“Kerry James Marshall is one of our nation’s most acclaimed and important artists—and this mural for “The People’s Palace” is a true gift to the people of Chicago,” said DCASE Commissioner Mark Kelly. “The City of Chicago was thrilled to celebrate Kerry at the Fifth Star Honors this summer – and two of the women represented in his mural are past Fifth Star honorees: Lois Weisberg and Sandra Cisneros.”

The 20 women represented in Kerry James Marshall’s mural are a who’s who of Chicago’s arts and culture community:

Suzanne Ghez, Director and Chief Curator for nearly 40 years, The Renaissance Society
Barbara Gaines, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Shakespeare Theater
Jacqueline Russell, Founder and Artistic Director, Chicago Children’s Theatre
Ruth Page, Dancer, Choreographer and Founder, Ruth Page Center for the Arts
Lois Weisberg, Longest-serving Commissioner of the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs
Maggie Daley, Longest-serving First Lady of the City of Chicago
Jackie Taylor, Founder and CEO, Black Ensemble Theater
Monica Haslip, Founder and Executive Director, Little Black Pearl
Abena Joan Brown, Founder, eta Creative Arts Foundation
Margaret Burroughs, Founder, DuSable Museum of African American History
Harriet Monroe, Founder, Poetry Magazine
Cheryl Lynn Bruce, Co-founder, Goodman Theatre / Dearborn Homes Youth Drama Workshop
Sandra Delgado, Founding Ensemble Member, Collaboraction
Jane Saks, Founding Director of the Ellen Stone Belic Institute and Project&
Barbara Jones-Hogu, Founding Member, AfriCobra
Gwendolyn Brooks, Literary Icon
Sandra Cisneros, Literary Icon
Achy Obejas, Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist
Oprah Winfrey, Cultural Icon
Joan Gray, Dancer and Longtime President of Muntu Dance Theatre of Chicago

Kerry James Marshall is an artist and MacArthur Fellow. A deeply accomplished artist, Marshall uses many types of mediums, including collage, drawings, murals and even comic books. His work is known for referencing African American culture and history, including the Civil Rights era and the Black Power movement. Painting in a Realist style, he depicts dark figures that celebrate black beauty and confront general racial stereotypes within contemporary American society. He has received solo exhibitions throughout Europe and North America and his work has been included in such prestigious international exhibitions as the 1997 Whitney Biennial, the 2003 Venice Biennial, the 2009 Gwangju Biennial, two Documentas (1997 and 2007) and the 1999 Carnegie International. Debuting at the Museum of Contemporary Art in Chicago in April 2016, Marshall’s retrospective Mastry spanned his 35-year career and included nearly 80 original pieces. On August 28, 2017, the City of Chicago presented Kerry James Marshall with the Fifth Star Honor Award for his many contributions to our city’s cultural landscape.

The design and vision created by Marshall will be executed by Chicago mural artist Jeff Zimmermann and his team from Jazim, Inc.

In addition to the work on Kerry James Marshall’s mural at the Chicago Cultural Center, the City of Chicago will present a month-long Public Art Festival throughout October featuring a series of neighborhood events highlighting the city’s public art collection located throughout the city. Programs will celebrate the completion of several new artworks as part of the 50x50 Neighborhood Arts Project, a citywide initiative that commissioned dozens of local artists to create new sculptures, murals and other public artworks in Chicago’s 50 wards,representing a $1.5 million investment in artist-led community projects. In June, the City of Chicago announced the selected local artists and the participating communities. Many of these works are in the early stages of production and will be dedicated during the festival.

The month-long Public Art Festival in October will culminate with a Public Art Symposium on October 26 and 27 at the Chicago Cultural Center (78 East Washington St.). The symposium will convene artists, scholars, community organizers and public agents to explore the intersecting values of their work in public art. The symposium coincides with the release of Chicago’s first Public Art Plan, a set of recommendations that will help shape the future of public art in Chicago.

The complete press release is available here