Labor of Peace, Love and Unity: Work begins on Project Underpass mural in DeKalb

DeKALB – Work is underway at the pedestrian underpass that connects Northern Illinois University and Prairie Park, but it’s not construction – it’s the creation of a unity mural, nicknamed “Project Underpass.”

HomeTown Association of Realtors collaborated with DeKalb 5th Ward Alderman Scott McAdams and DeKalb-based artist Aaron C. Robertson from Off the Tracks Gallery to create the mural. HomeTown received a $1,000 grant from the National Association of Realtors to address graffiti cleanup in the wake of recent racial injustice demonstrations after the death of George Floyd.

The NAR Community Rebuilding Grant will help pay for paint and supplies. The artists will volunteer their time and work. Contributing artists include the project’s director and founder, Aaron C. Robertson, project administrator Shannon Gallagher, Ivy Vargas and Jordan Jacob. The photographer is Jamie McKinley Boz and the videographer is Nathan Stein.

“We’re not getting paid for this. We’re doing this out of the goodness of our hearts as a labor of love,” Gallagher said.

Robertson said the main theme of the underpass mural is unity. The mural’s smaller second wall will feature an original quote by Robertson: “Come together as a community to form unity.”

The mural’s design has five sections: the words “peace,” “love” and “unity” and portraits of Civil Rights leaders Rosa Parks and Martin Luther King Jr. To prepare the underpass for the artwork, the walls were pressure washed, painted white and then painted black to remove and cover graffiti underneath.

The mural’s background will be spray-painted with a colorful polygon design. The words “peace” and “love” will be painted with acrylic paint and “unity” will be spray-painted in a bevel style. The word “love” will be grasped by a closed fist. The hand will have different shades of skin tones.

“We’ll use all shades of skin tones to represent the bonding and togetherness of the community,” Gallagher said. “We’re making this as apolitical as possible.”

“It’s not about Republican or Democrat,” Robertson said. “It’s something positive. It’s all about unity and coming together as a community.”

The artists will work on the weekends to create the mural over a period of about three weeks, or 50 hours. The project tentatively will be completed the first week of October, weather permitting.

When the work is finished, a mural-saver topcoat will be applied to protect against damage and fading.

“There’s not a lot of positive artwork in the community,” Gallagher said. “We wanted to encourage other artists to create positive artwork. We need more art in DeKalb and in the community as a whole.”

Wooden pallets and plywood are needed to make platforms for the artists to stand on as they paint.

To fundraise for additional supplies and the platforms, “Project Underpass” T-shirts are being sold. The shirts cost $20 and can be ordered by messaging BobbleheadTee on Facebook. The T-shirt design says “No to Racism, Yes to Unity” and lists the project’s sponsors and artists.

For information about “Project Underpass,” visit the group’s Facebook page.

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