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The South Loop Is About To Get A Mural-Filled Makeover

By Sophie Lucido Johnson in News on Apr 28, 2016 5:22PM

Hey South Loop: Get ready for a makeover. Columbia College is hosting a street art festival, and it's going to completely transform the Wabash Arts Corridor.

Dubbed the Wabash Arts Corridor Big Walls, the festival will bring in 18 artists from around the world to take the areas big walls—over 40,000 feet of them—from drab to fab over the course of two weeks. And lest you worry that the district might plan to return its new walls to their original dull blankness: These murals are here to stay.

The festival will take place from May 1 to 13. By the time it's over, the number of public art installations in the arts corridor will reach almost 40, giving Chicago one of the largest concentrations of public art installations in any city center nationwide, according to the organizers.

"This is an incredible cultural district that no one has ever recognized," Columbia's Vice President for Student Student Success Mark Kelly told Chicagoist. Kelly coined the term Wabash Arts Corridor as an idea to activate the street for Columbia's art students. "The Wabash Arts Corridor saw this transformation using street art and installations and media to bring the district to life, and then the idea itself would be a way to bring all of our neighbors together," he added.

Columbia College alumni and Chicago artists will be joined by artists from Brazil, South Africa, Argentina, the Netherlands and Italy. Among the Chicago-based cohort are well known graffiti artists such as Amuse 126, who's known for his elaborately colorful tags; Lady Lucx, who has transformed building sides nationwide into whimsical landscapes; and Czr Prz, whose intricate street art mixes the bravado of graffiti with the meticulousness of comic book art.

Most of the walls being put up for the Big Walls festival are not on Columbia's property. While the idea was born at the college, private entities in the community have also put their walls—some as tall as eight stories high—in the hands of street artists. Among the participants are the Roosevelt Hotel, the Helmut Jahn tower in the South Loop, and a new 40-story Kenwood Development building that will open up this summer.

"Street art is becoming a defining part of the urban landscape across the world, there's no question about it. ... the great pioneers in Chicago and street artists across the world remind us how bleak walls can look, and how with whimsy and magic and paint, they can be brought to life," Kelly said.

The festival has a stacked lineup of artist talks, demos, and music, and it all culminates in Columbia's annual Manifest Urban Arts Festival on May 13. At that festival, events and exhibits will involve the entire campus, and will include image projections, sculptural objects, site-specific installations, kinetic sculptures, and even a "sacred sonic bubble wrap walk experience," according to Kelly. The full schedule of programming for the week is available on the event's website.