Commissioned murals are blossoming on building exteriors in every neighborhood throughout Chicago, but their meaning is perhaps deeper than anywhere else in the city's Ukrainian Village neighborhood.
In fact, the Chicago Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events notes out of the 404 registered in the Chicago Mural Registry, 22 are located in the Ukrainian Village Community.
Telling stories of culture and community through bright illustrations, artists are finding their canvases outside of secluded studios, and in the public eye.
"I think the communities are looking for it," says Chicago muralist, Sean Archer. "I think it means a lot to people, and you could see it as I painted."
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Archer recently was commissioned by the Ukrainian Village Veterinary Center to transform a street-facing, solid brown wall into his canvas.
"It's amazing," Archer recalled his experience creating the very public piece. "When you're stuck in the studio, and you're painting, it's a very cerebral thing. But when you're painting something that everybody's gonna see every day, people driving by on Chicago Avenue and walking by with their buddies, it's a very different thing."
His artwork can be easily viewed by pedestrians and commuters alike on the corner of Wolcott and Chicago Avenues in Ukrainian Village.
The artwork most recently created by Archer is a piece stretching the length of a veterinarian's office in the neighborhood.
Ukrainian Village Veterinary Center opened in early 2022 prior to the launch of Russian offensives in the country. From the start, owner Dr. Danylo Butenko wanted the plain wall outside of his new practice to be brought to life. He imagined artwork that would bring the community together, something along the lines of happy pets and children playing together.
When the war began, he changed course and contacted Archer.
"I had a very strong feeling about this design," Archer recalled. "I just decided instead of sketching it out, I was just gonna do it."
From those sketches, a one-story tall mural emerged, with bright hues of blue, yellow, orange, and red. A young Ukrainian woman donning tones of Chicago-blue with a poppy crown reminiscent of the red stars on the city's iconic flag.
Her hand stretches away from her body which is surrounded by folk symbol banners, to release a magical portal from her palm. The portal bursting with flowers each with significance to Ukrainian culture.
"The flowers themselves are all Ukrainian symbols," Archer explains. "The sunflowers, the poppies. There are Kalyan berries which are Viburnum are very common in Ukraine. And the marigolds are also Ukrainian."
The mural accomplishes Butenko's original hope: to bring the community together.
"A lot of [the patients] were very grateful that we put something on the wall, something colorful, something to basically be an example of the neighborhood," Butenko told NBC 5.
Archer recalled how during the two-week process, painting roughly eight hours each day, families would walk past and talk about the new elements that had been added.
Butenko reflected on the new look of his business saying, "every time I see it, it puts a smile on my face, gives hope, and feels good."
Just a half mile west of that mural stands another nod to Ukrainian culture, strength, and resilience. Artists SechoR & Conrad Edmonds have roots in the Ukrainian Village neighborhood and were proud to create a three-story tall work of art on a residential building at Oakley & Chicago Avenue.
Edmonds, who goes by the name "Face" when creating art, says he is familiar with the medium, but it was the technical part of the job that was a challenge.
"Taking it step by step, and really figuring out okay what's the ladder I need to climb to make this happen to finish it," he explained.
Growing up nearby in Ukrainian Village, Face said he had high expectations going into this project, and he is really proud of seeing what he and SechoR created every time he drives by.
"To be able to take that love of the arts and project it into something that can inspire and create hope for other people has been something that has just taken me back," Face told NBC5. "That my hands could just give the gift of just hoping and [the] belief that things will be alright for other people is just incredible. And I've never had that before."
SechoR says although he was born in Chicago, he was raised in Ukraine, adding that most of his family is still in the country.
"My mom, brother, sisters," he said. "It's like an emotional roller coaster."
The three-story artwork is hard to miss, darting up behind a hot dog stand, and in direct view from the parking lot of the Ukrainian Cultural Center Chicago. A blonde Ukrainian woman, created with a blend of spray paints and acrylics, stands tall behind the word "Ukraine" in street-art style text. Subtly hidden in that text are wheat stalks, a main export of the county, and a resource that was significantly destroyed by Russian fire.
Just days into the fighting in March during a story featuring the Hromovytsia Dance Ensemble, one member told NBC 5 that she wanted to make sure the conflict and people in Ukraine were not forgotten.
"This will definitely bring an eye to it," SechoR said in regards to that sentiment. "But we didn't want this mural to focus solely on what's happening right now. We just wanted to mark it in history. And like, as much as we want to leave like the war and everything that's happening behind, this mural was so that like we're pushing through it and everything's gonna be fine."
Entering a mural in the Chicago Mural Registry is not voluntary according to DCASE, so there are many more than the above-mentioned 404 art displays spread throughout the city. To find out how to put a mural into the directory, or to see a map of where all the registered murals are located, visit the Chicago Mural Registry page on the DCASE website (click here).