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"Whereas ..."

This week, installation on a new mural at Washington and Custer Streets began, in the business area known as the The Main-Dempster Mile. The mural, designed by Evanston artist/printmaker Ben Blount draws on language from the City of Evanston's June 2019 Resolution to End Structural Racism, which was unanimously passed by the City Council as a commitment toward achieving racial equity in Evanston. You can read that resolution here. "The Main-Dempster Mile is thrilled to host Ben Blount's first mural," Katherine Gotsick, executive director of the Main-Dempster Mile organization, who commissioned the mural, told me this morning. "We've been fans of Ben's for a long time, and we love this concept and design." Gotsick also thanked Art Encounter's Evanston Mural Arts Program for their support. "They've been critical in getting this project on its feet," she said.

I spoke to Ben about the mural to find out more. DE: What made you think about taking language from the Racial Equity resolution as a subject for the mural? BB: I wanted to do something that was about Evanston, with a local connection. I came across the resolution. I'm interested in race, it's the subject of a lot of my work, and I thought I could look over it and find some interesting thoughts and ideas to pull out of it. DE: What are the actual words that are going to be painted? BB: It says, "Whereas City of Evanston Embraces, Believes, Recognizes, Acknowledges, Declares, and Affirms." Resolutions are always a list of "Whereas ..." statements, so I combed through the resolution and took the verbs from those statements--words of action, words that asserting something, that are taking a stance, recognizing something or someone, acknowledging something, declaring, offering positive actions. DE: And how do you think that murals like this one, and, the Black Lives Matter murals that went up across the country after George Floyd's murder, help push racial justice forward? Some people criticized the Black Lives Matter murals her and around the country as performative. I don't believe that murals like these are performative, I think they're additive. But how do you think art plays a role? BB: We live in a place where how well you do in high school can be determined by your race, but we also live in a town where people will put a Black Lives Matter mural in front of the school. Hundreds of people in Evanston have Black Lives Matter signs in front of their homes. I would I like to live in a community that would put up a mural, artwork that talks about racism and racial inequality. I don't think the people that are putting these things up are performing. I've heard people say 'Oh people put a sign in their yard, and that's all they do.' But I think it says something if someone is driving through Evanston and they see murals, and they see signs. We're a town that does have courageous conversations in our schools. Of course there's a lot of work to be done but hopefully it creates an environment where we start with the conversations and thoughts about these things before we can actually change them. I think it's part of the larger effort to change things.

Ben Blount at his letter press.

DE: This is your first mural. How was making the mural different from how you do other work? BB: The first thing is obviously the scale is so different. When I'm working on the [printing] press, I'm working with pieces of wood type, pieces of metal type. I rearrange words and letters with my hands. So I started out sketching and doing things digitally--I still wanted to work typographically and not make it about images but about language. So part of it was scale. There are still constraints, the wall is a certain size so you have to make what you want to say fit on the wall in an artful way. So, I'd say it was a scale thing and working digitally versus with physical materials at least in the beginning. Also, to execute this I needed help. I could do the printing by myself but I needed help getting it on the wall, help getting it painted, figuring out the right materials to use. So it was much more of a team effort than my other work. DE: Did you enjoy the team effort? BB: Yeah, it was cool. I was able to figure out and sketch the idea and then talk to people about materials, making sure nothing was too complicated. This mural happens to be pretty straightforward. Ideas are very important to me, so having that original idea, taking language from a resolution that was unanimously passed by our City Council, making an Evanston-focused message but then working with people to figure out how to really execute it, it was fun. DE: Who's on the team? BB: Katherine Gotsick from Main-Dempster Mile approached me about it, so that was the impetus for the mural. Then Leah Pinsky and Dustin Harris from the Evanston Mural Arts Program -- they've been putting up murals around the city for probably 20 years -- they've been a big help as far as how to do this, using their equipment and their expertise, and helping out. Daniel Burnett, who's a local artist and muralist is really leading the charge as far as the painting and the executing of it. So that's the main Evanston team helping me to bring this together. They've been so supportive. I really could not have done it without their help. DE: What do you hope passers-by takeaway from the murals message? BB: I don't have a specific takeaway. It's just the subject 'City of Evanston' and the verbs. You don't necessarily look at it immediately know it's from the resolution. So it's open-ended and people can decide for themselves. Everything is affirming, and recognizing, and declaring. People can make their own interpretation. I think at some point we'll have some kind of plaque there that talks specifically about the resolution. Watch a short video of the installation. Follow Ben on Instagram. Fun Fact: Ben Blount has some of his work exhibited at The Metropolitan Museum of Art, New York!


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