Rainbow brightens Madison Street

Mayor, business owner, volunteers create pride reminder

July 1st, 2020 7:04 PM

Artists painted rainbow colors on the median in front of Urban Pioneer Group from midnight until 2 a.m. on July 1. | Photo by Jill Wagner

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By Maria Maxham

Artists from the Chicago area converged on Madison Street just after midnight on the morning of July 1, taping off the median strip in front of Urban Pioneer Group and painting bright rainbow colors. A group of three classical violinists provided entertainment, playing contemporary songs, including "Royals" by Lorde, "Kiss from a Rose," by Seal, "Living on Prayer" by Bon Jovi.

"I think it's the first time I've heard Bon Jovi played on violins," said Mayor Rory Hoskins as he watched the artists pour paint into buckets and start taping the street.

The painting was done at midnight between Tuesday and Wednesday because traffic and crowds are light at that time, Hoskins said.

It was a project organized by Tom Kunkel of Urban Pioneer Group with the help of Trevor Toppen, savior of Val's halla record store in Oak Park, and artist Lorie Ranker, founder of the Pilsen Art House.

Kunkel was inspired by a June 15 call from his brother in Key West about crosswalks there being painted in rainbow colors after the Supreme Court decision that the language of the Civil Rights Act applies to sexual orientation and gender identity. He hoped to see something similar in Forest Park.

"I texted [Mayor Rory Hoskins] immediately and asked if we could do the same thing here," said Kunkel.

For technical reasons, such as the stamped concrete, painting the crosswalks was impossible. So Kunkel suggested painting the medians instead.

"I reached out to the mayor early that morning, and by 10 a.m. we'd made a plan," Kunkel said. June is also Pride Month, and Kunkel thought the timing was perfect. Weather and planning prohibited the art from being done sooner, but the team managed to get it done at the very end of the month, as the wee hours of June slid into July.

"We wanted a piece of art that allows people to remember pride past June," Kunkel said. "The rainbow will be a nice reminder that at all times, there are bigger things at play."

He reached out to friend Lorie Ranker from Pilsen Art House, and she immediately put out a call for artists. Dozens responded.

"People want to help," said Ranker.

Ahmed Burson was one of the artists who heard Ranker's call for volunteers to paint Madison Street. A visual artist, he said he immediately wanted to help. He showed up on Tuesday night with his wife Icy Burson, an abstract artist.

"It's fun to be involved," said Icy.

Elizabeth Chen, a music teacher in a public elementary school, came out with a friend who'd heard the call from Ranker.

"I love it," said Chen. "This is super cool. I love to see pride stuff all around."

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