Public Art Installations Meet Green Stormwater Infrastructure

When Overton Elementary School, located in Chicago’s Washington Park neighborhood, was closed in 2013, the future use of the campus was unknown. Many of the 43 schools that were shuttered in 2013 are still vacant today despite early promises that the school campuses would be transformed into community amenities. Overton was purchased by Washington Park Development Group, helmed by Ghian Foreman in 2015, and he has worked in partnership with Borderless Studio, founded and managed by Paola Aguirre, and many other community partners to make good on the promise of transforming the shuttered school into a local amenity through a series of community-informed interventions (from art installations to an on-site basketball program).

Community Partners

CNT is grateful to Enterprise Community Partners, Elevated Chicago, and the Chicago Community Trust for funding this work.

CNT would also like to think every partner involved in supporting these projects (in)directly: OPEN Center for the Arts, Logan Square Neighborhood Association, LUCHA, Garfield Park Community Council, Washington Park Development Group, Rudd Resources, Arts + Public Life, Borderless Studio (Paola Aguirre), Haman Cross III, Scott Wills, Andrea Jablonski, site design group, ltd., Canopy Architecture, Greencorps Chicago, The Nature Conservancy, Midwest Groundcovers, and Midwest Trading.

Through CNT’s Climate and Cultural Resilience Program, we have had the privilege of working with Ghian, Paola, and several other incredible Chicago residents, artists, designers, landscapers, and community organizations at four sites, including Overton, within a ½ mile of a CTA train stop across the City. Our partners reflected on what it means to be resilient in a time of climate change and displacement of people and cultures from Chicago neighborhoods. The creative output of this reflection is a complementary public art installation and green stormwater infrastructure project – both tangible representations of what climate and cultural resilience means to those living and working near the sites. The following is a collection of photos of the work completed or underway at each site.

Climate and Cultural Resilience sites

Site 1: Former Overton Elementary Grounds
Site 2: LSNA Building
Site 3: Farmworks urban agriculture site
Site 4: OPEN Center for the Arts

Site 1: Former Overton Elementary Grounds

Discover it: near the 51st Green Line

Project components: ART - community map of Chicago’s Bronzeville Neighborhood (historically known as Chicago’s “Black Metropolis, Bronzeville had a thriving culture and economy through the 1950s). The first phase of the map showed community assets; the second phase added stormwater catchments (mini watersheds), colored by how much or little imperviousness exists in that catchment (i.e., how much or how little pavement covers each catchment area). STORMWATER – depave a portion of the school parking lot and install a community seating area and rain garden, to improve on site stormwater management.

The eastern parking lot of the Overton Campus, showing the area where the map of Bronzeville and bioswale will be installed.

Site Design developed a plant voting board for the rain garden and a community feedback board and to collect feedback on the types of plants and gathering space amenities folks wanted to see at the site.

The completed site -  to the left, the Bronzeville asset map with catchment areas visualized; to the right, the rain garden and community gathering spot.

Our partner, Greencorps Chicago, donated labor to this and another project, installing the rain garden at Overton. It was a symbiotic relationship – we received high quality installations and the Greencorps training cohort received applied experience in installing green stormwater infrastructure. The rain garden is planted with native prairie plants that are built to withstand Chicago’s rainy springs and falls, and hot, sometimes dry, summers.

Greencorps Chicago's rain garden at Overton.


Site 2: Logan Square Neighborhood Association Building (LSNA)

Discover it: near the Logan Square Blue Line

Project components: ART - monarch butterfly and caterpillar mosaic made with “found materials” (i.e., bottlecaps) in front foyer, highlighting the monarch as important symbol of resilience and migration in the Mexican American community; STORMWATER - stormwater planters and rain harvesting in the back of LSNA’s building.

An LSNA-led youth group meets to discuss the art project and begins to sort colored bottle-caps so that the Artist, Scott Wills, can begin mosaic assembly.

Creating the monarch caterpillar mosaic (left); The completed monarch larva (right).

The monarch butterfly and caterpillar mosaic installed in the foyer of LSNA’s building. The butterfly is about 4.5’ tall and 9’ wide, and both mosaics are backlit – making an impressive impression.

The back patio stormwater planters are in construction – they will have trellises shaped in the letters L.S.N.A. affixed to the back of each stormwater planter to create a green wall affect over time, and offer some back of the building branding.


Site 3: Farmworks urban agriculture site

Discover it: near the Kedzie Lake Green Line

Project components: ART - a shade sculpture at the back edge of the garden to provide a respite from the sun for farm employees and volunteers. STORMWATER - two bioswales, at the front and back of the garden (to capture sidewalk and adjacent parking lot runoff).

Site Design Group created a plant voting board to collect community feedback on the types of plants they would like to see growing in the bioswales.

The bioswales at Farmworks were installed by Greencorps Chicago – again donating labor and providing their training cohort another opportunity to install green stormwater infrastructure.

Artist Andrea Jablonski created a model of the shade sculpture and, at our fall open house, invited residents to vote on their favorite color panels.

The completed shade sculpture! The multi-colored panels are a nod to the similarly multi-colored plexiglass used at the Kedzie Lake Green Line Station.

Site 4: OPEN Center for the Arts

Discover it: near the California Pink Line

Project components: ART - community designed sculpture informed by symbols of water and resilience to be installed in the back patio; STORMWATER - Rehabbed back patio to improve on-site stormwater management and create more space for programming, artwork, and visitors.

OPEN held community art making events, at which they asked residents to reflect on the symbolism of water. OPEN’s Gallery is in South Lawndale, a predominately Latinx community; they engaged an artist from North Lawndale, a predominately Black community, using art to bridge the perceived divide between the two communities.

The winning drawing, produced by a young South Lawndale resident (top). A digital rendering of the winning drawing; the sculpture will be installed in OPEN’s patio, on top of an old cistern, presenting a powerful message of water as a life force (bottom left and right)

OPEN Center’s back patio before improvements.  The focus of the green stormwater intervention – the building gets some basement flooding due to improperly disconnected downspouts and old pavers. The intervention will make the space usable for community programming and visitors to the gallery.

The completed patio, with new permeable pavers and raised garden beds, in which native prairie plants will be installed.


CNT's Climate and Cultural Resilience program aims to see cultural equity manifest in community empowerment, quality of life improvements, and improved local decision-making around how land in communities and neighborhoods is used to the interests of those who live there. Investing in site-scale climate resilience measures at community organizations that provide an important and tailored service to residents is an investment in cultural staying power. By engaging these same residents in the design process for both the climate resilience strategy as well as a creative art project, climate resilient benefits become more accessible and interrelated with cultural resilience.

To learn more please contact Ryan Scherzinger.

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