THREATENED: Chicago 7 Nomination Amplifies Effort to Save All of Mankind Murals (Chicago 7 2024)

“Former Cabrini-Green residents, and lifelong friends, Marques “MeRk” Elliston and Dr. Cher’Don Reynolds, are spearheading a mission to revitalize, reclaim, and preserve the building most recently known as the Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church.

“The vision for the hopefully soon-to-be Cabrini Art House is to change the vacant building into a place of business, a creative hub and art gallery for artists, as well as a market with vending opportunities for local entrepreneurs. The duo also plans to restore the historical mural that lies underneath the now whitewashed outer walls. Already in the market for a new creative space, the local church was a no-brainer for Chicago native Elliston.

“Located at 617 W. Evergreen Ave, at the intersection of Clybourn Avenue and Larrabee Street, the building has been vacant for many years. The structure has started to show signs of deterioration, due to neglect, much like the history of the now demolished Cabrini-Green projects. ‘It hasn’t operated as a church in over 20 years at this point,’ Elliston said.

“Known as Chicago’s ‘Sistine Chapel,’ this is no ordinary church, but an influential piece of Chicago’s cultural landscape. A relic of what used to be a bustling Cabrini-Green community, this house of worship used to be home to Willam Walker’s legendary mural, ‘All of Mankind.’

“Created in 1972, this mural was a beautiful depiction of people of all races, holding hands in unity, as well as an ode to the Black family, and Black leaders. During the 60s, 70s, and 80s, Walker painted or contributed to many murals around Chicago, many of them featuring a theme based in unity and strength in community. Born in Birmingham, Alabama, Walker moved to Chicago early in life, attending the Columbus Gallery of Art in Chicago, now Columbia College. Walker was also one of the founders of the Organization for Black American Culture, a committee of Black creatives assembled during the Civil Rights era.

“Unfortunately, the demolition of Cabrini-Green, which started in 2000 and was completed in 2011, displaced thousands of low income residents. The whitewashing and destruction of the community’s murals shortly followed, in efforts to make the property ‘desirable for new ownership,’ Elliston told TheTRiiBE.

“To try and help with the process, Elliston and Reynolds have assembled what they described as a “dream team” of preservers. Organizations like the All Mankind Coalition, National Public Housing Museum, Art on Sedgwick and Bustling Spaces have all joined the cause, lending their support. “It’s gonna take even more than that to pull this off,” Elliston added.

“The project has gained traction, with the church recently being added to Preservation Chicago’s 2024 list of Chicago’s most endangered sites. In 2021, Preservation Chicago helped secure landmark status for the home of Emmett Till, a route which might prove to be useful for the Cabrini Art Project.” (Johnson, TheTRiiBE, 4/3/24)

Once surrounded by the towers of the Cabrini-Green Homes, the Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church (formerly San Marcello Mission Church) was a center of religious life for Italian immigrants and later Black families on the Near North Side beginning in 1901. In 1971, a progressive priest commissioned Chicago artist William Walker to adorn the church with a series of murals. The pieces, collectively titled All of Mankind, explored the beauty and struggle of Black America and envisioned a world united. The piece was widely regarded as one of Walker’s masterpieces and became a symbol of Cabrini-Green.

The church has remained standing even as Cabrini-Green was demolished by 2011, but Walker’s murals were completely whitewashed by 2016. However, it is believed that these works are salvageable. The Cabrini Art House Project and a coalition of community organizations including the art conservators and community residents has recently pursued the purchase and restoration of the church and its murals. They are seeking funding and city support to achieve this goal with the hopes that the site can become a center for the Cabrini-Green neighborhood and that Chicagoans can once again appreciate Walker’s landmark work in person.

Thanks to the efforts of the Cabrini Art House Project and this dedicated coalition, preservation and restoration of All of Mankind and Stranger’s Home Missionary Baptist Church is feasible—only a few missing pieces remain. Increased funding will be crucial to this effort. The coalition is seeking funds or grants that will facilitate the site’s acquisition and the murals’ assessment and restoration. The site touches on many important themes—Black history, mural art, and public housing foremost among them—that could certainly attract funding from preservation-, art-, and history-focused organizations.

However, collaboration with the City of Chicago will be necessary during this process. The involvement of various agencies, including CHA and the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events (DCASE) will be required to ensure redevelopment is provided every resource needed to succeed, including potential incorporation with future developments on adjacent CHA-owned land. Guided by this devoted coalition and with the aid of the city, the restoration of this church and its murals could become a moment of rebirth and resilience for a community heavily affected by demolition, disinvestment, and the traumas of urban renewal. (Preservation Chicago Chicago 7 Chapter)

Read the full story at TheTRiiBE

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