Alicia Coria and two of her sons, Ivan Castro, 8, and Diego Castro, 10, never had a chance. As they crossed North Avenue at Kimball on an afternoon last October, an 87-year-old driver lost control of his car, ran a red light and slammed into the mother and her children, killing them all.
The accident shocked the entire city and particularly devastating for students and teachers at nearby Stowe Elementary School, where Ivan and Diego attended. To express their grief and affection for the family, students and others almost immediately assembled a community shrine of flowers and candles at the intersection and maintained it until earlier this year. But on May 14, that temporary memorial gave way to a more permanent remembrance of the two boys and their mother.
Under the tutelage of artists Mike Bancroft and Anthony Marcos Rea, Stowe third graders created and installed a portable mural depicting bilingual idioms, silhouettes of children, and the image of the mother holding her two children. The idioms say in Spanish and English, “Respect Signs,” as an admonition to motorists to obey traffic signals.
The community art project was spearheaded by Stowe Principal Dr. Charles Kyle, teachers Nellie Windsor and Juan Fernandez, and Bancroft and Rea, who are artists-in-residence at Stowe under a project of the School Engagement Initiative (SEI) that implements similar efforts in four other Humboldt Park schools. SEI places artists in classrooms to create cross-disciplinary arts projects that address the culture of the community and issues of community development.
The mural, a series of plastic silhouettes of students portrayed against a colorful background made with mylar tape, is affixed to two sides of a cyclone fence surrounding a vacant lot on the northeast corner of North and Kimball. It was officially unveiled on May 17, during a ceremony attended by students, artists, neighbors and local officials.
“People were distraught about the accident,” said Bancroft, who has worked at Stowe for the past year. “This project is helpful in showing students that art can happen through a context. They’re not just doing it for art’s sake.”
But students aren’t the only ones learning through the North Avenue mural project or others generated by SEI, said Jorge Félix, of the Institute of Puerto Rican Arts and Culture (IPRAC), which with the Chicago Arts Partnerships in Education (CAPE) administers SEI.
“In addition to the artists training the students, the program is about informing local artists who are new to the community what the culture is like here,” he said. “Art can change minds and it can educate.” And through SEI, that process is a two-way street.
SEI is funded by LISC/Chicago, the City of Chicago Cultural Outreach Program and The National Endowment for the Arts.