Work underway on AIDS mural in Austin

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West Side residents will work again this weekend on an AIDS awareness mural that’s part of a new memorial garden. The garden, at the northeast corner of Chicago and Mayfield avenues, will honor longtime activists Ed Bailey and Leola Spann.

Austin already has six community gardens and one memorial park, but Malcolm Crawford, executive director of the African American Business Networking Association, said there’s a need for more. He said Spann and Bailey, both now deceased, deserve to be honored for the work they did to improve Austin.

Compared to other Chicago neighborhoods, Crawford said, Austin has little art, and that needs to change; the memorial garden and mural will help remind people of the importance of art.

“We’re hoping that it will spark more positive activity in the community,” said Stacia Crawford, executive director of The Sankofa Cultural Arts and Business Center and Malcolm’s wife.

The purpose of the mural is “to provide visual interest, help beautify the neighborhood and give people a sense of ownership in this project,” she said.

The mural’s title, Austin Is Doing Something, shows “Austin is moving in a positive direction,” Stacia Crawford said.

“We took the letters from the word AIDS, and instead of it having a negative connotation, we wanted to bring about a positive connotation,” she said.

She said the mural has been a collaborative effort with the AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

Johnathon Briggs, the foundation’s vice president of communications, said the mural was inspired by last year’s city-wide campaign “With Me Comes a Cure.”

The idea for the mural came from members of the Austin community as well as other Chicago residents, he said. It was announced last May at an event held to commemorate HIV Vaccine Awareness Day.

Carla Carr, an artist, muralist and educator who designed the mural, said, “The idea for the AIDS mural was to express a sense of community, pride, family, history and provide awareness that there is a concern for HIV/AIDS.”

Austin resident Shirley A. Fields, who lives north of the mural location, said adults, and young adults specifically, “don’t take AIDS as serious, and the statistics are awful.”

“Personally, it’s important to me because I love all the youth in our community, and I feel like it’s making a statement and beautifying our community,” she said. “It’s a work of art as well as getting the message out.”

Crawford said at the front of the park, there will be two monuments – one of Spann, and the other of Bailey.

The memorial garden will promote Chicago’s green efforts by featuring fresh vegetables; and there will be benches showing an outline of Southern states, representing the relationship between blacks in the city and blacks in the South.

Mary Peery, president of the Austin Green Team and Spann’s sister, said having a garden cuts down on violence and drug traffic: “It beautifies the community and teach young people to value and appreciate where they live.”

Julie Samuels, community outreach coordinator for Openlands, said parks encourage people to interact with others and nature itself.

“It’s not just the social building empowerment that happens when people gather; it’s the very idea that a child’s brain doesn’t fully develop unless they are outside and spend time in a nature environment, being on the soil with green plants and the natural creatures that are there,” she said.

The city of Chicago owns the land where the memorial garden will go, but Margaret Wyner, program director of Neighborspace, expects the property will eventually be acquired by her group.

“We work very closely with the city making sure what the legal boundaries are, acquiring the property and going through the city’s legislative process,” she said.

Stacia Crawford hopes the mural and garden will help spur more development along Chicago Avenue.

“We hope to see Chicago Avenue as a black business district, where people in the community can keep their dollars in the community. We’re hoping that this can be a centerpiece and a focus for African-American businesses in Chicago,” she said.

The mural project will cost about $9,000, Briggs said. So far, $7,000 has been raised, and the group is expecting to raise the rest from Austin organizations, local residents and church ministries.

Sponsors include: the AIDS Foundation of Chicago, Citizens to Elect Deborah L. Graham, Congressman Danny K. Davis, Critical Massive, Friends of Don Harmon, Malcolm and Stacia Crawford, and the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases HIV Vaccine Research and Education Initiative.

On Saturday, April 24 and Sunday, April 25 from 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., volunteers will continue to work on the mural. For more information, contact Johnathon Briggs at 312-334-0922 or You can register to volunteer by filling out the volunteer sign-up form.

Click here to see what happened April 17th, the first day volunteers worked on the mural.

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