Evanston Community Council, Xavier and ArtWorks partnership produces more than a mural

Public art is used in Evanston as an innovative tool to bring people together and build community, as evidenced by this summer’s ArtWorks mural project on Duck Creek Road. It’s the fourth public art collaboration between the Evanston Community Council (ECC) and Xavier University’s Eigel Center for Community-Engaged Learning.
“Through partnerships and collaboration, the murals have really focused on energizing our community,” ECC President Anzora Adkins says. “They help spread our mission, that we are dedicated the well-being of all residents and to the development of the community through education, business and spirituality. We are really pleased with our efforts and the partnership with ArtWorks and Xavier.”
Eigel Center Director Sean Rhiney says when he first met with the community council in 2011 to discuss possible collaborations, they agreed to focus on art.
“Access to art in the community is a powerful tool for engagement and is multi-generational,” Rhiney says, “so it works great when you have folks of all backgrounds and ages getting together.”
One of the first partnerships between ECC and the Eigel Center took place when Evanston participated in the Contemporary Arts Center’s 2011 Inside Out project. As one of the neighborhood sites, Adkins and Rhiney brought community members together with Xavier faculty and students.
The success of that project resulted in a collaboration between Evanston Academy, Walnut Hills High School and Xavier to design a pig for the 2012 Big Pig Gig. Each partnership built trust and relationships within the community, leading to an even larger project in 2013.
“Mrs. Adkins and I reached out to Keep Cincinnati Beautiful to talk about the redevelopment of the Flat Iron building in Five Points and the opportunity to create a mural there,” Rhiney says. “With funding from Safe Routes to Schools, we created a mural about education.”
“What is so beautiful about this partnership is that we engage the college students and involve people from our community,” Adkins says. “Evanston is the ‘educating community,’ where one can obtain an education from pre-K to a PhD. Public art has a teaching value, and the mural helps us tell the history of our community.”
Adkins and Rhiney began talking to ArtWorks last year about replacing an existing mural on Duck Creek Road at the Dana/Montgomery exit from I-71 north. The original mural, designed by local artist Jymi Bolden, was completed in 1992 and was showing its age. Adkins wanted a new mural that “paints a picture of what is actually going on in our community.”
As part of the design process, Rhiney says, “we did programs with some of the kids form Evanston Academy as well as community-based charettes with residents.”
Out of those sessions, Adkins says, came the themes for artist Jimi Jones to include in the mural: “Emphasis on the importance of family, education, spirituality and recreational activities.”
The location of the mural is a bit symbolic. The construction of I-71 in the 1970s resulted in the demolition of many Evanston homes and businesses and effectively divided the neighborhood in half.
“We focus on the positives,” Adkins says. “We’re looking toward the future and revitalizing our community. I hope the mural will draw some attention and that drivers will take that exit and really look at the mural.”
“We knew this was a very visible site,” Rhiney says. “We want the mural to be a piece that people could really engage in. There is a lot of detail that can only be appreciated when you get up close.”
As the mural nears completion, Evanston is still working to raise funds to support the project through an ArtWorks matching grant on the Power2Give website. The goal is to raise $5,000 by the end of the month, when the matching grant could bring the total to $10,000.
“The website helps us reach out to individual donors,” Rhiney says. “It helps us engage the community and give them ownership of the project.”
“We plan to have an official dedication of the mural,” Adkins says. “We hope that the artist and the ArtWorks apprentices who worked on the mural will be able to be there and really explain the process.”
Power2Give donors will also receive invitations to the event.
“It takes collaboration, partnership and of course money to do all these things that we would really like to see happen in our community,” Adkins says. “We encourage everyone that resides in the community who is able to do so, to get involved. Working together is very important. We have had our challenges, but we’re working toward making change.”

Read more articles by Julie Carpenter.

Julie Carpenter has a background in cultural heritage tourism, museums, and nonprofit organizations. She's the Executive Director of AIA Cincinnati.