Friday, August 22, 2008

History Lesson In The Alley

We happened to be taking a shortcut down the alley behind 4441 Malden when we came across the famous COURAJ Garage depicting its version of the history of Uptown.

There's the Tent City, where "the Union of the Homeless sawed off the chain on a new black wrought-iron fence [in 1988] and claimed a vacant lot [at 4425 Malden, just a few houses down from the garage's location]. They pitched tents to provide temporary shelter for some two dozen families who huddled in protest of a lack of affordable housing in Uptown." Our newly-minted alderman managed to get herself arrested there for refusing to leave the premises, and she and JPUSA joined forces in the Tent City. It's now CHA scattered-site housing.

Then there's the reference to the practice of landlords burning their own buildings for the insurance money in the 1970s: "No Arson For Profit." One reason Uptown was able to build so much new housing stock, both scattered-site and market rate, in the past 20 years is because there were so many empty lots left after all the landlord arsons of decades past.

But this one kind of confuses us. We're not sure if it's part of the original murals or something added by a "non-authorized artist." Maybe someone from COURAJ can explain what it means: "BUT WITH UNDERSTANDING COMES SHORTIES WITH FISTS DEMANDING NEW USE FOR UPTOWN VENUES."

And sadly, the gang graffiti on the mural is perfectly clear. Is COURAJ really endorsing "Gangster Disciple Killers" and "Conservative Vice Lord Killers"? If not, we wish they'd remove the tags from their property. Because residents who don't appreciate what the gangbangers bring to our community remove gang tags, rather than provide the gangbangers a billboard, right?


  1. How profound of COURAJ [sic] to take a tough stance against Arson for Profit! It would be amusing if they thought "Starbucks" and "$" in Uptown were equally as problematic in their eyes as arson for profit! If COURAJ's [sic] main concerns have developed from arson to Starbucks, they should be thanking people as they buy their coffee each morning.

  2. What an eyesore (IMHO). Glad I don't live across from that.

  3. Only a little bit of it appears to be vandalized- unless there is a definition I am not aware of.

  4. Call 311 and get graffitbusters to remove the Gang tagging portion. A mural is perfectly within one's rights, however, gang symbols, etc need to be removed.

  5. Living about 100 or so feet, south of this lovely mural, I can also say it is where the bulk of my 911 calls over the years, originate from.

    The only thing missing from the 'history mural', is
    Helen in a space ship, casting a spell on her beloved

    But I guess the fun mish-mash of colors, is better than
    the naked 1-color gang tags.

  6. i don't know who actually painted the original murals but i think they're excellent. i'm guessing they were done by some young people in the neighborhood, giving them a space to artistically express themselves, as they did very well.

    and from what i know about the tent city, it seems like it was a good, nonviolent tactic toward good ends.

    as someone affiliated with Couraj, when i first started posting on this blog, many people stated that they hoped i wouldn't "continue the divisive tactics of the past."

    well, i've tried not to, and i've tried to be respectful to people on this blog, but i wish others would try as well, including whoever posts pictures and articles to the main site. of course, you are free to post whatever you want but there seems to be a double standard about etiquette and criticisms of different demographics on this blog.

    but it's all good, it's an education for all of us about how divided this community is on certain issues. but i wish some of the young people in the neighborhood, who don't have as much internet access as many of us do, would have more of a chance to see what's posted here and contribute their ideas and respond to many criticisms of them.

    i don't actually know how or if COURAJ was involved in having the murals created but if COURAJ was involved, and as someone who is a member of COURAJ/Northside Action for Justice, i'd be glad to hear that, not that it really matters.

  7. Well, Ron, as the person who posted the photos and wrote the text, I'm sorry you thought they had a hidden agenda, criticized Uptown's young people, are divisive, and demonstrate a double standard. I wrote them as factually as I could.

    About Tent City -- the quoted material is from the Trib or Sun-Times. Perhaps you're reading it looking for bias on Uptown Update's part? Helen Shiller DID get arrested at the Tent City. She DID join up with JPUSA there (in fact, read the JPUSA website for confirmation - they brag about it). She DID used to live at the property in front of the garages, as do many of her more notable supporters right now.

    I was HERE for the freaking landlords-burning-their-own-buildings era, so I took that from my personal knowledge as an Uptown resident. I know that was before your time, but that's exactly why Uptown had so many empty lots for developers and the CHA to build on in the past 20 years. It was an ugly era, with the neighborhood so blighted and desolate that burning buildings for insurance money was seen as the only way out by many owners. Until recently, my own block had seven empty lots as "souvenirs" of that era, six of which now hold housing, both scattered-site and market rate.

    And, yes, Uptown Updater and I were (and are) confused by the blurb about "shorties with fists" and would welcome an explanation from someone involved with the mural. The color paint it's done in is so close to the background it's on that we questioned whether or not it was part of the original vision.

    And finally, the gang tags are offensive to community members who are against gangs. I had gang tags put on my garage not so long ago, and I stayed home from work that day to make sure they were promptly removed. The fact that they remain up on that garage mural is ... strange ... to me, to put it mildly. I would be the same goes for the vast majority of residents here.

    As far as your regret that local residents don't have internet access, well, this neighborhood is jam-packed with internet cafes. A few hours of internet access can be bought for the price of a pack of smokes. If that's too costly, there are two libraries in Uptown(three, if someone wants to take a hike over to Sulzer, a mile or so away) that offer free internet access. That's where I went when I was unemployed and couldn't afford online access in my home, so I know of which I speak.

    If someone can't get online in Uptown, they really don't want to very badly. That may be divisive, in your opinion, but in my opinion and experience, it's true.

  8. Personally, I like these murals and think they are important because they are from a painful part of Uptown's past that we seem to want to forget as soon as possible. As someone who loves social history (quick aside: just read "Sin in the Second City"---interesting, fun, quick read!), I am concerned that Chicago has a tendency to just wipe away its past. So much of Uptown's history from this period was in murals and such. I wonder how much of it will last?

    Ron thought that the garages were done by young people. I don't know the story but I tend to disagree. To me, this is a completely "on message" visual depiction of the Uptown activists' view of history.

    Regarding the last panel, it does seem to have been added later and is a call to the next generation to learn their history and take up the fight against displacement, economic violence and for affordable housing as told in the previous panels. In a way, I don't see the gang tags as "gang tags". They are specifically placed within the pyramids (a symbol of unity) rather than scrawled across other parts of the mural. This seems respectful and placed there either afterwards or during creation. Are all of the gangs in that pyramid "folks" or what? I don't take this as random gang tagging at all.

    Despite the fact that I think the entire mural is important, I think it is unfair to subject "the shorties" to such a linear view of history (i.e., history as class struggle) that merely ends up with a panel that says "Starbux" and "anotha family's roof bulldozed" because it allows for a subtle shift in characters to happen. You could say that the first few panels speak to global displacement of the poor (i.e., how the Puerto Ricans came to Chicago for example), for how displacement happened in Chicago (i.e., urban renewal programs run by Daley I) and by displacement due to landlords' greed. Yet when you get to the last panel who is the author saying is bulldozing "anotha family's roof"? You are left with this ambiguous idea that it is $$$$$$ or people who drink Starbucks---I really don't know. It is like this epic struggle of rich v. poor now lands on the shoulders of some person drinking a latte? Where are (or what has replaced) the plantations? the politicians? the landowners/capitalists?

    Ron, you have said that you'd like the kids in the neighborhood to either see what people are writing or to get into the discussion. I am a little leery about what such efforts might produce given how adults struggle with wrapping their heads around all of this stuff to create productive discussions. I understand that Uplift had the kids do mock Wilson Yards charettes with the kids taking on various viewpoints. Yet it took me a long time to understand how TIFs really work so I'd guess that wasn't really part of the exercise. Adults are tasked with simplifying stuff and filtering stuff for kids but what happens when the adults don't know themselves or if they go too far with the simplifications?

    This last panel really bothers me because it leaves so much up for grabs, is rooted in an X vs. Y kind of formula and doesn't offer much direction for where the shorties are supposed to shake their fists. Or does it?

  9. I back my car into that mural nearly every day. I do live across the alley from it. I'm not a fan of seeing it every day, but it's not hurting anyone. Just an expression of fear of being pushed out of the area by some.

  10. Anyone know what the first panel says?

  11. I wonder if anybody besides myself would be interested in doing a mural, or series of, about the future of Uptown?

    I studied mural painting in college, but I have no walls...or ...paint.....its just very hard to gin-up interest in art in Uptown.

    Public art should be more inclusive of everybody in the community, homeless, Starbucks customers.....everybody!! If it can't manage that there is always the realm of abstrct art.