Chicago’s vibrant public art is just one of the many things that make the city so magical. From Cloud Gate and Crown Fountain in Millennium Park to Art on theMART and Lakeview’s storied murals, otherworldly art installations bring life to nearly every neighborhood. Today, we’re spotlighting an organization that has filled the city with meaningful public art and provided a space to foster community engagement for 50 years, the Chicago Public Art Group.
History of the Chicago Public Art Group
The Chicago Public Art Group (CPAG) was founded in 1972 by William Walker and John Weber, inspired by the destruction of a mural Walker had completed in 1967 on the side of a tavern in Bronzeville. The 20-by-60-foot mural, known as The Wall of Respect, was created to protest Black erasure and honor 50 heroes in the Black community.
The wall featured a montage of portraits, including those of Aretha Franklin, Gwendolyn Brooks and Miles Davis. It featured seven sections that split the public figures: statespeople, athletes, rhythm and blues, religion, literature, theater and jazz. After its completion, the mural instantly became a mark of cultural pride and a popular tourist attraction on Chicago’s South Side. The mural was vandalized in 1971, but its spirit lives on through public art across the country and especially within the CPAG today.
After the mural’s destruction, Walker and Weber formed the CPAG to forge partnerships with artists and communities across Chicago to transform the urban landscape. From used walls and streets to urban structures, the organization used every tool they had access to amplify their voices.
And although each piece resides in a different neighborhood, they are all rooted in the same three core principles: everyone deserves to experience great art, every community deserves a voice and art-making, and public art encourages community investment. CPAG also continues to share the same values they’ve held for 50 years, uniting artists and organizations to produce art that reflects the beauty of the surrounding community.
For those interested in becoming involved with the organization, CPAG mentors, trains, inspires and supports children and adults across the city and provides everyone with the tools and confidence they need to bring their visions to life. Learn more about how you can get involved and discover more of CPAG’s inspiring art creations here!
With bustling art communities in both cities, Chicago and Scottsdale are regularly home to some of the most widely recognized exhibitions throughout the country. From a lush garden installation in Chicago to an interactive building exhibit in Scottsdale, both have plenty of thrilling shows to enjoy this autumn. For Optima residents looking to experience some of the most inspiring shows of the year, here are the ones you can’t miss:
Roughly 25 miles Southwest of Chicago, the Morton Arboretum is home to one of the area’s most stunning exhibitions of the year, Human+Nature. The outdoor art exhibition features eight unique sculptures that range from 15 to 26 feet tall. The artist, Daniel Popper, used hard-wearing materials like glass-fiber reinforced concrete to construct the sculptures to endure Chicago’s winter weather. While Popper used the arboretum and its mission as the inspiration for many of the sculptures, he encourages visitors to connect to the stunning surroundings and discover a meaning of their own. Human+Nature runs through May 2023, and you can reserve tickets here.
Through February 2023, Chicago’s Driehaus Museum off of the Magnificent Mile is home to Capturing Louis Sullivan: What Richard Nickel Saw. The exhibition captures the demolition of many of Sullivan’s buildings in Chicago in the 1960s and 70s through the lens of activist Richard Nickel. Ultimately, the exhibit celebrates Sullivan’s architectural legacy and the unwearying efforts many activists took to save it. Reserve tickets here.
The Chicago Botanic Garden is observing its 50th anniversary throughout 2022! Flourish: The Garden at 50 is an ongoing installation celebrating the connections between art and nature. Through September 25, 2022, the garden features artwork from both local and foreign artists. The event features pop-ups and performances, including a mariachi band on September 24 and 25 and various exhibitions looking towards its future. Find tickets to the celebration here.
Found in the heart of Mesa, the i.d.e.a. Museum’s latest exhibition, Imagine, Design, Build!, invites its guests into an environment rich in color and experience. The interactive exhibit features 40 works by 15 artists around the world, ranging from paintings to LED installations. With a focus on the science and art of design, visitors beyond the gallery have various interactive opportunities, like designing a building of their own! Find tickets here.
The Scottsdale Museum of Contemporary Art is also home to various thrilling exhibitions this fall. Ending on October 9, 2022, Brad Halhamer: Swap Meet showcases the work of Native American artist Brad Kahlhamer. From its sculptures to musical performances, the diverse exhibition explores the uncertainty of identity and the nomadic art practice.
Opening October 29, 2022, Phillip K. Smith III: Three Parallels is another exhibit coming to SMoCA as part of their Architecture + Art series. The site-specific installation presents itself as an interactive exhibit for visitors. Using vibrant colors, light shifts and large-scale mirrors, each step in the exhibition provides a new perception of the exhibit’s space. Tickets for both exhibitions at SMoCA can be found here.
And the list doesn’t end here! So with autumn in full gear, grab friends and family to enjoy these two special cities in artfully exciting ways.
Chicago is home to a myriad of stunning public art experiences, where each complement their encompassing environment. In this spirit, the city’s largest work of public art, and the largest permanent digital art project in the world, Art on theMART, embraces its surroundings unlike any other installation in Chicago.
The now-beloved contemporary art project originated in September of 2018 as more than 30,000 fled to the Chicago Riverwalk to watch the historic Merchandise Mart building transform into a work of art. Following its launch, Art on theMart has hosted nightly projects created by countless artists, ranging from the current exhibitioner Nick Cave to the inaugural artist Jason Salavon.
Every evening, 34 projects – sprawled across the Riverwalk itself – help project multiple works of digital art across its 2.5-acre facade. TheMART takes advantage of the latest immersive art technology, using various mapping techniques to ensure every projection fits perfectly to the Art Deco details of theMart.
While all of the projections showcased at Art on theMART utilize the giant facade of theMart to showcase bright colors and complex imagery to catch the attention of viewers, the installations also comprise bespoke audio elements, creating an even more immersive experience.
Current exhibitions include explore by Jonas Denzel and Billiken by Shkynna Stewart and Wills Glasspiegel beginning at 9 p.m. and at 9:30, Ba Boom Boom Pa Pop Pop by Nick Cave, running concurrently with the Furthermore installation at the Museum of Contemporary Art Chicago. Only a 15-minute walk from Optima Signature, prime locations to witness the marvelous exhibition are found across the river from theMart on Chicago’s Riverwalk and West Wacker Drive.
Optima Communities wouldn’t be the same without the striking artwork that fills their public spaces, ensuring a playground of form and color around every corner. Recently, we sat down with artist Ellison Keomaka – who previously contributed to 7140 Optima Kierland and our other Arizona properties – to discuss the process and inspiration behind the 80 unique artworks that now call Optima Lakeview home.
What did the creative process look like when first conceiving and planning the artwork? How did the architecture and design of the building influence and inspire your piece?
When we first began talking about the project, I didn’t realize I was going to be creating artwork for the majority of the building, which was kind of a first for me. And after touring Optima Lakeview in 2021, I realized that I was going to be able to take advantage of its grand layout.
I set out to create a modular system where I could make everything unique. And yes, some paintings share the same colors, but each one is still different. I created the paintings in sets of, on average, seven pieces, separated by size and painted to adapt to any space. My ultimate goal was for building residents and visitors to see something new when walking the corridors and never see the same painting twice. So that was my aesthetic mission — to create an experience for the people in the building to have an indoor gallery where they can see all these different pieces come together.
We’ve learned that you’re often experimental, using anything from soil to fabric to add texture to your artwork – what materials did you use for these particular pieces, and why?
I used a significant amount of spray painting here. Street art has been a huge influence on my career and I wanted to incorporate that into my work. I find spray paint offers a very unique texture, so I used it liberally in these particular paintings. I also used pages from magazines, many of which were from the 50s and 60s. In a few of the works, I was able to incorporate original Chicago Cubs advertisements as a way to add a subtle historical element.
What role does color play in this work?
I worked with Optima’s signature use of bold, bright contrasting colors when creating much of the work. When I toured Optima Lakeview, I was able to see the colors of the atrium, specifically the vibrant red beams used throughout the skylights. And even though the building wasn’t completely finished, I knew exactly what color palette I wanted to incorporate.
I also tried to push the envelope with some of the colors. Some of the blues are off-blues or a little bit away from the primary color. And then there are the paintings that are yellow, red and blue – Primary 3 – that look simple but were actually very challenging for me in their own way because, as an artist, I always like to do more instead of trying to do less. There are also spray-painted pieces that include brownish blues, called Smores, which I originally called Earth Wind and Fire after the band from Chicago. They include this coffee brown with really bright blues mixed into it, which I thought was a fun way to bring warmth into the pieces while still maintaining a bold standard of color.
You’ve talked to us before about how working with music is a large part of your artistic practice. Did music have any role in your creative process for Optima Lakeview’s art?
I think it always does for me. For the first pieces I created, the YBG series, I remember listening to The Weeknd’s After Hours album. I had all of the pieces lined up and was dancing around, having so much fun with them. It was almost like a childlike experience where I didn’t have any rules and was very free with the motions. There was no rhyme or reason, and I let the shapes do their thing. I used an acrylic paint pen to pull some bold black sweeping lines. They reflected the freedom of movement I felt while listening to music. So again, the music made it pretty fun.
Four particularly special pieces live in Optima Lakeview’s lobby – the Mindscapes. How do those differ from the other pieces in Optima Lakeview and what makes them so unique?
The Mindscapes are a grand project I’ve been developing for the past couple of years. They’re each a visual time capsule that are just really fun to observe. They capture a dream state of imagination with abstract colors and shapes but then incorporate these very clear images of historical moments or memories. Everything found in them is relevant to Chicago, from old newspaper clippings about Lakeview restaurants and high schools to Cubs momentos. Each piece is totally unique, and they all include little hidden stories. Again, I wanted people to be able to walk around, stare at a painting for a little while and come back to see something they hadn’t seen before.
Anything else we should know about the creative process for this piece or the work itself?
A few of the pieces are inspired by landmarks in the neighborhood, specifically Red Totem, which is based on Kwanusila found in Lincoln Park. When I was doing my research on the community, I found the totem and liked the colors, which I then used in the painting. Others, like the Fun Love series, were more dynamic because they all had the white splatter that almost becomes energizing when you look at them. Those took the longest time for me to feel like they were complete, because of all the layers of paint that had to dry.
The 80 paintings that fill Optima Lakeview mirror the vibrant aesthetics that we strive to create in our communities. As with every piece of artwork that we display in our built environments, Ellison Kemoaka’s bold and inspiring work brings a unique story for residents as well as anyone who passes through the space to discover.
When people think of public art in Chicago, their minds often wander to Millennium Park, where iconic pieces like Crown Fountain and Cloud Gate live. However, throughout the city, art is discoverable in every neighborhood. Today, we’re exploring the community-art project: AMENDS. In addition to being an interactive project, the expansive goal of AMENDS is to lay the foundation for the eradication of racism.
Created by internationally-renowned artists Nick Cave and Bob Faust, AMENDS is a multifaceted project living at the Chicago creative space, Facility. The collaborators first envisioned the project after the death of George Floyd in 2020. The engaging experience encourages individuals to publicly share confessions and apologies that recognize how they may be independently responsible for the continued expansion of racism.
The adversarial action is simple but an extremely intimate and impassioned way to acknowledge where individuals make change and, with hope, where society can too. AMENDS consists of three dynamic phases, each expanding on the project over time.
The first phase,“Letters to the World Toward the Eradication of Racism,” is an assemblage of letters, quotes and notes brought to life by Chicago community leaders on the windows of Facility. The remarks contain various raw and emotional expressions that are on view to everyone in the public.
“Dirty Laundry,” the second phase of AMENDS, progresses at Carl Schurz Public High School across the street from Facility. “Dirty Laundry” challenges the public to address any roles they have played in advancing racism throughout their lives. The declarations of apology metamorphose into yellow ribbons that are tied to clotheslines, creating a public collection of community remorse.
Building upon the previous phases, “Called to Action” asks for participation on a much larger scale. In the form of a hashtag — #AMENDS — the final chapter encourages people across the world to voice their avowals and invite ensuing change for the near future. Bringing together artists, community leaders and everyday people, AMENDS serves as a beacon for Chicago and pushes to keep the city moving forward.
The power of public art is rooted in its ability to welcome beauty into communities. At the same time, it can be a driving force for inquiry, engagement and participation. The values inherent in public art are also core to the character of Optima, which we express through our commitment to incorporating thoughtful art programs into each community we build.
As part of our ongoing “Women in Architecture” series at Optima, we’re taking a look at another spearheading female figure: Amanda Williams. Similar to many of the women in this series, she is a pioneer in her field. Trained as an architect, Williams blurs the line between visual arts and modern architecture. Learn more about her remarkable life and work below.
The Life of Amanda Williams
Amanda Williams was born in 1974 in Evanston, Illinois. However, she grew up in Chicago’s Southside Gresham neighborhood. She graduated from Cornell University in 1997, where she studied architecture and was a member of one of the nation’s most prominent honor societies. After graduating, Williams moved to San Francisco and worked for a commercial architecture firm for six years before returning to her hometown to focus on her love of painting.
Back in Chicago, Williams discovered The Center Program. The Hyde Park Arts Center’s capstone program is a one-of-a-kind opportunity for groundbreaking artists. While in the program, fellow artist Trisha Van Eck challenged Williams to take her talents a step further and paint on a larger architectural scale. Her response led to some of her most recognized and celebrated work today.
Throughout her practice, Williams uses vibrant color to draw attention to the complexities and intersections of race, place and value within cities. Her paintings, sculptures and installations are all created to examine how the mundane can be viewed through a new lens and question the state of urban space throughout the country.
In 2015, Williams debuted her most famous project, Color(ed) Theory at Chicago’s Architecture Biennial. The critically acclaimed exhibition, featured in The New York Times, examines race and space on Chicago’s South Side. With the help of family and friends, Williams repainted eight abandoned houses in the Englewood neighborhood between 2014 and 2016 as part of the exhibition. Each house was decorated with specific colors Williams found in products targeted towards Black consumers. Still standing today, the eight eye-opening houses continue to push for further discussions on the complexities of race and space Chicago and around the world.
Chicago is home to another one of William’s most well-known pieces. Located at The Arts Club of Chicago, Uppity Negress was a site-specific exterior installation created in 2017. The work investigates the claim of courtyards as either public or private areas and addresses the vast roles that gender and race play in urban accessibility.
While much of Williams’ work is located in or near Chicago, her aptitude for creation has led her across the United States. In early 2019, Williams was chosen alongside acclaimed artist Olalekan Jeyifous to design Brooklyn’s newest monument dedicated to Rep. Shirley Chisholm, part of a larger city-wide initiative known as She Built NYC. The monument is soon to be completed and will sit at the Parkside entrance to the neighborhood’s Prospect Park.
Alongside her transformative work, Williams has been a recipient of many architecture and art awards as well as achievements throughout her career:
Chicago’s 3Arts Award, 2014
United States Artists Fellow, 2018
New Generation Leader, Women in Architecture Awards, 2021
Obama Presidential Center Design Team
Williams has lectured at esteemed schools including Washington University, California College of the Arts, Illinois Institute of Technology and her alma mater. Today, she continues to forge a lane of her own and blend traditional visual art techniques with the complexity of architectural design.
One of the many reasons we love Lakeview — one of our newest Optima communities with the construction of Optima Lakeview — is its thriving, engaging art scene. From giant murals to local programs, there’s something for everyone in the Lakeview creative community.
Like many other Chicago neighborhoods, Lakeview’s streets are adorned with eclectic and energized murals and public art. Each piece has its own unique personality, many designed and executed by local artists. Guided by the 2011 Lakeview Area Master Plan, the Lakeview Chamber of Commerce, Special Service Area (SSA) 27 and Friends of Lakeview championed the installations to reflect the spirit of Lakeview and brighten up pedestrian routes. Contributing artists include JC Rivera, Louise “Ouizi” Jones, Lauren Asta, Antonio Beniquez, Anthony Lewellen, Mauricio Ramirez, Chad Kouri and more. We love how the colorful artwork creates such a vibrant, welcoming feel to the neighborhood.
Lakeview East Festival of the Arts
In a typical year, you can find art from more than 150 artists at this annual event and Lakeview tradition. The summer festival also features music performances and fare from local restaurants. In 2020, the festival was moved online and turned into a virtual showcase, which you can still check out. It’s a great way to discover your next favorite local artist and business owner.
If you’re feeling inspired to pick up a new hobby, Lakeview has plenty of ways to learn how to expand your own creativity. Park West Ceramics offers classes and workshops for those who aren’t afraid to get their hands dirty. For little artists, Kidcreate Studio offers classes, camps and art-themed parties for ages 18 months to 12 years. And for a fun night out (or in), Bottle & Bottega offers a classic sip-and-paint class, with at-home kits and virtual options.
Whether you’re an admirer of the arts or a budding artist, Lakeview is a unique contributor to Chicago’s expensive network of artists, photographers, sculptors and creative visionaries.
Our reverence for sculpture and for the cities in which we operate collide to create a deep appreciation for the public art of Chicago. And as we explore the craft in the city we love, we’re doing deep dives into famous public works from downtown to vibrant neighborhood pockets. This week, it’s all about Joan Miro’s Chicago.
History of Miro’s Chicago
This iconic sculpture by iconic artist Joan Miro was first titled The Sun, The Moon and One Star but is known now as Miro’s Chicago. Originally, Miro was commissioned by Brunswick Corporation in 1969 to design a sculpture, but the project halted when Brunswick withdrew funding. In 1979, Chicago’s first female mayor Jane Byrne reinvigorated the project, promising to fund the first half of the project if others would commit to funding the second half. Together, foundations, institutions and individuals rallied to commit that final stretch of funding, and Miro himself reduced the cost of construction by completely donating his design to the city. It’s only appropriate, then, that Miro’s Chicago is an iconic fixture in the city, as it was brought to fruition by collaborative and impassioned locals.
Visiting Miro’s Chicago
The sculpture is tucked modestly away in a narrow plaza between the Cook County Administration Building and the Chicago Temple Building in Chicago’s downtown financial district. The plaza, known as Brunswick Plaza, is directly south of the Daley Center and nearly directly south of another iconic Chicago public art piece, the Chicago Picasso.
Miro’s Chicago, in its modest and peaceful crevice downtown, makes for a serene location for local workers to have lunch outside. The concrete, bronze and ceramic tile façade towers to almost 40 feet tall, and its curving figure has earned the nickname “Miss Chicago.” The large pedestal beneath the sculpture invites passerby to sit and marvel — either at the statue above, or the striking Chicago architecture even farther above. As a piece of public art, it does exactly what we at Optima know and love sculpture for: it elicits an emotional experience from its viewer, while activating the incredible architectural space around it.
As we continue to explore Chicago’s public art, we recognize and celebrate that sculpture comes in all shapes, forms and purposes. Today, we’re exploring an iconic Chicago fixture, oft-overlooked in the medium: Millennium Park’s Crown Fountain. Alongside being the perfect place to cool off on a hot summer day in the city — or to people watch — Crown Fountain is a fascinating and experimentally expressive work of sculptural art.
Designed by Spanish artist Jaume Plensa, Crown Fountain consists of two fifty-foot glass block towers at opposite ends of a shallow reflecting pool. The towers project video footage of faces, collected from 1,000 different Chicago residents, and spurt water from an outlet in the screen centered on the video projections’ mouths. The interactive sculpture is a reference to the traditional use of gargoyles, often used as the source of water projects in fountains, where the mythical creatures’ eruption of water symbolizes giving life. Overall, construction took six months and cost $17 million, adding Crown Fountain to Chicago’s collection of world-renowned public art in July of 2004.
The video footage of the faces projected was a collaborative project between the artist, the School of the Art Institute of Chicago (SAIC) and Columbia College Chicago (CCC). 75 ethnic, social and religious organizations were asked to nominate individuals for the project, and those individuals were then filmed by SAIC students using professional-grade equipment. Filming the footage was such an intensive process that it became an informal master’s course in public art. Overall, 1,051 subjects were filmed and 960 subjects’ footage is utilized for the sculpture.
Crown Fountain was inevitably one of Millennium Park’s most controversial installations. Many were worried that the height of the towers would interrupt the architecture of the public park. Yet the sculpture won its place in the public heart with its quirkiness and comfort, inviting all to laugh and play with it. Crown Fountain’s legacy, like the legacy of Chicago, is one that celebrates community, playfulness, art and innovation.
Sculptures are the ultimate exploration of materials and their expression. With Optima Co-Founder David Hovey Sr. having expanded the design reach of Optima to include sculpture, the medium is one that hits close to home for us. To indulge in our love for the craft, we’re exploring Chicago’s public sculpture art, piece-by-piece. First up is an iconic staple in Chicago: The Picasso.
The (Chicago) Picasso
The monumental, larger-than-life sculpture created by Pablo Picasso situated in downtown Chicago goes unnamed by the artist. However, the work is affectionately referred to as The Picasso and even The Chicago Picasso. The sculpture is now a globally-renowned landmark, standing 50 feet tall and weighing in at 162 short tons.
The Chicago Picasso was commissioned by the architects of The Richard J. Daley Center in 1963. Occupying the beloved Daley Plaza alongside the skin-and-bones International Style Modernist skyscraper, the sculpture stands out as a whimsical and abstract piece that invites plaza visitors to jump, climb and slide upon its smooth, COR-TEN steel surface. The interactive sculpture cost the modern day equivalent of $2.8 million, with three charitable foundations shouldering the cost. And although Picasso himself was offered $100,000, he refused the payment, insisting that he wanted to make the work as a gift.
Picasso’s inspiration remains a mystery, though some muse that the armadillo-esque figure is actually an abstracted portrait of the French woman, Sylvette David – now known as Lydia Corbette. The sculpture’s abstract nature was met with tough criticism initially. In a city where most sculptures were famous figures, some didn’t take kindly to the strange public art newcomer. But it was only a matter of time before The Chicago Picasso rightly became a revered piece of Chicago’s vibrant public art collection, brightening the Daley Plaza and the city with its presence.