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Behind the wall: Street art in Chicago

A snapshot survey of the artists, gallerists, and fans in the city's bustling urban art scene


That street art persists in Chicago is a sort of miracle. This is a city with a two-decade-old ban on spray paint, a town in which the Department of Streets and Sanitation will spend nearly $5 million in 2014 to dispatch two-dozen crews every day to paint over or blast pressurized water at pieces. As of the middle of June, Streets and San had removed more than 60,000 works this year. On top of that, Mayor Emanuel is pushing a plan to double the graffiti fine, from $750 to at least $1,500.

Threats of sanctions and the relentless buffing program don't seem to deter the artists persistently throwing up new and interesting creations in a place where authorities and institutions greet the discipline with little but enmity, save a surprisingly strong Cultural Center show on the subject last fall. So resourceful are these artists that I recently caught a glimpse of a cluster of stickers placed inside a solar-powered trash can downtown. But the city's concerted efforts have helped nudge some activity from the sidewalks into a growing group of urban art galleries, where an artist can freely exhibit work—and, usually, get paid for it.

The reality of street art in Chicago is that no single community exists. Muralists, sticker fiends, wheat pasters, guerrilla sculptors, that guy who makes mountain vistas out of tile—the city encompasses such a range of distinct forms and cliques that any coverage of the artists, gallerists, and fans involved is inevitably reductive: someone is going to feel left out. So consider this a snapshot of the scene, the tip of the Sharpie marker. Jake Malooley

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