I traveled to Liège, Belgium several years ago and met a lovely couchsurfer (Francoise) through my host. We hit it off and kept in touch through Facebook. Francoise makes frequent trips to Chicago; however, we had not been able to connect for some time. She is also an avid street art fan and enjoys my mural posts, which led her to ask me an important question.
First Time in the U.S.
The significant query was whether I would give a street art tour to 11 high school students from Barvaux-sur-Ourthe, along with herself and another teacher. Good thing I was at home because this girl was doing an extreme happy dance!
The students and second teacher (Valentine) have never traveled to the U.S., which made this all the more thrilling. Francoise’s purpose for the students to engage in a mural tour was to introduce them to styles of art they were not familiar with. She hoped that discovering and studying art firsthand would make them notice things later in life when they walk around a city.
How the School Exchange Began
Francoise began the exchange program with Cynthia Marker, one of the French teachers at Francis W. Parker School, back in 2011. Parker School is a private school serving students pre-kindergarten to 12th grade. I admire their mission — “Francis W. Parker School educates students to think and act with empathy, courage, and clarity as responsible citizens and leaders in a diverse democratic society and global community.”
Francoise and Cynthia decided to do this exchange between Chicago and Liège every two years with the main goal being to practice foreign language skills (French for Parker students and English for Belgian students). The Belgian students stay with generous families from the school who volunteer to host each student during their time in Chicago.
The students and teachers spent 10 days in Chicago with two full days in school, three weekdays to explore the city, and weekends with their host families to learn about the American way of life.
Let’s Get This Mural Tour Started
I became acquainted with the group at Parker School early on a bitter cold and snowy winter-like fall day. I tried hard to mask my overzealous demeanor as everyone trudged into the school at 8 am. I was happy to meet the lovely Cynthia Marker in person while learning a little about the school. I shared the day’s plan with everyone and we headed out to our first mode of transportation, the 22 Clark bus.
The next order of business was the blue line train where I couldn’t pass up a photo-op. The crew was more than willing to oblige and it turned out great. Francoise wanted to start at the Greetings from Chicago Mural in Logan Square. That suited me just fine since there are several pieces I wanted to take them to such as Quincy Jones by Cobre and a large burger flower by Kozmo. Logan Square is flourishing with astonishing murals by world-renowned artists.
Worth noting – we came upon a Dollar Store while walking back to the blue line. I told them this type of store offers all or most items at $1.00. They were curious and insisted on going in. Needless to say, most of them came out with a bag full of candy and sugar-laden drinks.
A Special Treat From Afrokilla
Francoise has seen me post countless photos of murals along the B_line; therefore, she wanted to check it out. It’s a breeze to take a group since the murals are all on one street. Shortly after our walk began, we came to a mural by one of my favorite artists known as Afrokilla. I had a special treat to give them by Afrokilla himself — a sticker for everyone. They were excited to receive this cool souvenir; thank you Afrokilla!
Hunters — Use the MASA App
I secured the stickers from Austin Hutchison, who created the MASA (Murals and Street Art) app. I highly recommend using the app when hunting for murals, as the app provides exact addresses for street art in Chicago and beyond. It was quite helpful to me while planning the tour. A big thanks to Austin for scoring the swag.
Moving on, some of the teens pointed and immediately noticed a couple of the murals were by artists they had just seen in Logan Square (Muebon and Pipsqueak). Francoise was elated, as this is what she was hoping for, and I determined my work here was done.
Oh, the Memories
I couldn’t have asked for a better group for my first mural tour and the experience makes me want to do more. My only wish is that I would have had extra time with these delights. Watching a group of people you just met engage in one of your greatest passions is priceless.