Written by Daniel Ronan, Site Projects & Public Engagement Coordinator, National Public Housing Museum
Muralist Hector Duarte in front of his Pilsen home and studio, with "Gulliver in Wonderland" mural.
“Morally, there needs to be a defense of public art,” says Hector Duarte, an accomplished Mexican-American muralist and painter sitting in his Chicago home and studio of fifteen years.
Pilsen, his neighborhood, has been squarely Latino since the mid-1960s, and has been a haven for exploring the mural as an artistic medium. With murals up and down the community’s main thoroughfare of 18th Street, it’s hard not to spot several towering masterpieces depicting cultural, political, and religious themes exquisitely painted over 150-year-old masonry.
Originally a German and Irish neighborhood, and later Czech, Pilsen’s vibrant street life -- now filled with taco joints, bodegas, and thrift stores -- masks a broader struggle. With higher-than-average crime, increased development, and changing demographics, many consider the neighborhood ripe for gentrification. Moving south and west in the city, many Latinos have planted new roots in Little Village, affectionately called “La Villita” by the locals.
Broader demographic and neighborhood changes place the future of historic mural art into question. Can Pilsen hold onto its legacy of mural art given the increased pressures of development, the ephemeral nature of artwork exposed to the elements, and a shift in thinking of younger generations away from the lasting relevance of mural art?... Read More →
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