Teens Transform Englewood Viaducts — And Opinions About The Area — Thanks To Park District Program

For 10 years, the park district’s TRACE program has given Chicago teens something positive to do with their summer.

ENGLEWOOD – An Englewood viaduct is a lot brighter this week thanks to the work of Chicago teens, who spent the summer creating large murals as part of a park district youth arts program.

The murals were the final summer project for the Chicago Park District’s Teens Re-Imagining Art, Community & Environment (TRACE ) initiative, a teen leadership program which promotes civic engagement and aims to develop creative, environmental and community-based cultural stewards through the arts.

Teens ages 14-19 are recruited to participate in TRACE from across the city.

The Englewood murals were painted on the walls of the viaduct under the future Englewood Line, unused train tracks which could be transformed into a nature trail near 58th and Halsted streets.

The matching murals depict the past and future of Englewood through the lens of TRACE participants with the assistance of local artists Just Flo and JoVanna Jackson.

Marcus Davis, who has worked as a senior program specialist for TRACE for two years, said the program aims to inspire teens in and get them more involved in the neighborhood. 

“We are training young folks on how to be a part of that cultural, political, community environment and I think it’s a really great thing for them to discover these opportunities that often times they are just not exposed to,” Davis said.

The park district works with community organizations, including Grow Greater Englewood, to get these projects across the finish line. 

Grow Greater Englewood is a grassroots organization focused on advocating for healthy food and developing green space in the neighborhood. 

“It’s truly amazing seeing the children of today really owning and having empowerment with the arts,” said Mecca Bey, lead engagement and operations specialist for Grow Greater Englewood said.

Anton Seals Jr., a co-founder of Grow Greater Englewood, said the mural project introduced kids to a neighborhood they may not have seen otherwise.

“I think [TRACE] allows for young people to have expression but not in just one modality so it allows them to find what their true gifts and talents are,” Seals said. “Working on a project like this, which is a portal to Englewood, is a good step.”

Englewood resident Dartonya Wright, 18, a TRACE participant, said she’s proud to be among the people working to improve the neighborhood. 

“My grandmother was one of the first black families on the block and she’s been afraid of her own neighborhood for a long time,” Wright said. “It wasn’t until I found TRACE that I found that Englewood isn’t this big, bad area.”

She credited the “TRACE culture” for creating a bond between everyone involved with the initiative. 

“This program is satisfying. I come here and I’m always inspired because I feel like I have a voice here and impact here,” Wright said.

More Chicago youth will have the opportunity to participate in TRACE projects in the near future thanks to a $35,000 Field Foundation grant, which will bring programming to the West Side.

They will also send five teens to New York City for a week-long fellowship to network and research with cultural professionals. Upon their return they will collaborate with professional mentors before having their work presented throughout Chicago.

Teens participating in TRACE at Austin Town Hall will partner with photographer/community organizer Vanessa Stokes to create an exhibit using the work of her father, photographer Darrell Creightney.