The Wabash Arts Corridor stretches across seven blocks of Chicago’s South Loop and encompasses the cultural institutions, schools and art spaces that make the city an arts hub. “The way we describe the corridor is ‘a living urban canvas,’ so we want to fill this street up and down from the river to Roosevelt with public art,” says Mark Kelly, Vice President of Student Success at Columbia College Chicago and visionary behind the Wabash Arts Corridor’s mission. “Art is not just for galleries and frames and museums, hung picture-perfect in someone’s home. Art needs to be centered in our lives and that’s what the Wabash Corridor is about.”
The Wabash Arts Corridor has featured the work of up-and-coming artists as well as urban art greats, such as Shepard Fairey, with a special emphasis on projects that promote local makers. Wabash has worked with Columbia College to showcase the work of alumna Heidi Unkefer and created a canvas for hometown heroes like Hebru Brantley, deemed by Chicago Magazine as “Chicago’s Hip Hop Art Star.”
“Public art has the power to elevate, enhance and beautify,” says Darryll Schiff. Schiff’s work, the first to utilize photography as its primary medium in the Corridor, debuted last week. “Unlike the other muralists, my photo mural has to be printed rather than painted on the wall. That’s a whole challenge in itself—to try to find someone that will print it with excellent quality—so it took a lot of research and talking to people.”
Before his return to fine art, Schiff worked for many years as a commercial photographer for celebrities and publications like Rolling Stone. His vision for a barren wall at 710 South Wabash was a large scale print of his photograph Descending to Heaven. With the help of a successful Kickstarter campaign, as well as an enthusiastic response from those in the South Loop neighborhood, the project was seen to fruition.
Coming in at 24 x 76 feet, Descending to Heaven is whirl of color, saturated light and layered movement. It reflects the pace of its urban environment and the joy of living in a vibrant, crowded city. The mural will be the first in the Wabash Arts Corridor to be lit at night. “It’s so different from anything that’s there right now,” says Heidi Unkefer of Schiff’s studio. “Besides it being photographic, it’s abstract, thought provoking and has a lot of movement to it.”
Descending to Heaven made its debut in the corridor on January 20th with a reception at the Elephant Room Gallery next door on January 28th. With upcoming plans for a street art festival in May, the Wabash Arts Corridor is continuing to pursue its mission of bringing art to the public. “That’s the thing about street art: it is living, not meant to be permanent. We have two great pieces that are about to disappear but that’s okay because street art is organic,” says Mark Kelly.
Be sure to check out Schiff’s work, as well as that of many other talented large scale mural artists between Van Buren and Roosevelt. Stay tuned for updates on the Big Walls festival and other new developments in the corridor.
Like this article? Check out this interview with the director of London’s Studio Leigh and other global art news.