Chicago River event, public art project aim to raise environmental awareness

The University of Illinois Chicago’s Freshwater Lab, artists from the Chicago Public Art Group and their partners will host River of Welcome/Rio de Bienvenida, an event where visitors can contribute ideas and designs for a climate and environmental justice public art project on the city’s South Side.

Canalport Riverwalk Park
The proposed art installation project at Canalport Riverwalk Park, which will require Chicago Park District approval, is led by UIC’s Freshwater Lab and artists from the Chicago Public Art Group.

The event, which is scheduled for Sept. 10, 2-4 p.m., will be held at the Canalport Riverwalk Park, 2900 S. Ashland Ave. Admission is free and open to the public. Advanced online registration is required.

In addition to offering a platform to share ideas for a new welcoming metal and mosaic sculpture at the park, River of Welcome/Rio de Bienvenida features family-friendly activities including aquatic ecosystem and urban river education with Shedd Aquarium; making and spreading seed bombs, which are native plant seeds and mushroom compost packed in clay, with Urban Rivers; hands-on art projects with the Chicago Public Art Group; screen printing with William Estrada of the Mobile Street Art Cart Project; and an organized park clean-up with Friends of the Chicago River.

In July, the Freshwater Lab and the Chicago Public Art Group were named co-recipients of a $70,000 grant from E(art)H Chicago (Earth Art Chicago), for the sculpture at the riverwalk, which is situated in an underutilized 5-acre park and connects several communities, including Pilsen and Bridgeport.

The project’s proposed art installation, which will require Chicago Park District approval, aims to bring attention to the environmental racism and lack of green space in neighborhoods near the juncture of the south branch of the Chicago River, the Sanitary and Ship Canal, and Bubbly Creek.

“We will create designs that symbolize their hopes and visions for a future with cleaner air and water and create access to green space. We see this collaborative art process as an opportunity to engage community members in conversations and design discussions around how to make the park more welcoming and accessible, through this gateway art piece and beyond this project,” said Cynthia Weiss, the project’s lead artist.

Weiss is teamed on the project with fellow Chicago Public Art Group artist Delilah Salgado, in partnership with Citlalli Trujillo ​and Rachel Havrelock, both from the Freshwater Lab at UIC.

Future elements of the project include a workshop where participants will be invited to reflect on water, the environment and current environmental threats in their communities; a series of design and art-making workshops to create components of the actual artwork, such as images or panels using mosaics; and a celebratory event along the river once the artwork is completed.

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