Artist Brett Whitacre puts finishing touches on Art Encounter mural at Main and Custer on 2022.

Brett Whitacre is turning something drab and dull into something colorful and catchy.

Max Sansing is taking a wall we see every day but never really notice, and making it into something we can’t ignore

Artist Max Sansing’s mural at the Davis Street Metra station is a work-in-progress.

Whitacre and Sansing are two of the artists in this year’s Evanston Mural Arts Program, turning concrete into canvas, making public art out of public bland.

Whitacre’s mural is a painted band of colorful plants and flowers, on the retaining wall/walkway to the Metra station at Main and Custer Streets.

“Evanstonians have been so positive,” when they see what’s going on, Whitacre says.

People are “so happy not to see the big, nasty walls,” he adds.

The mural program is part of Art Encounter, a 45-year old not-for-profit, whose mission, says Executive Director Lea Pinsky, is “to bring art egagement to people of all ages and all backgrounds.”

Besides the two murals on train station walkway walls (Whitacre’s at Main Street, and Sansing’s at Davis Street), there is also a just-completed mural near the Trulee Evanston senior living apartment building, and another will get started soon near Curt’s Cafe, a combination restaurant and job training program on Central Street.

“Art is for everybody,” Pinsky says.

Mural on railroad retaining wall behind the Trulee apartment building.

And the murals, Pinsky notes, are community or neighborhood-driven, not imposed from some distant Art Central on high.

Downtown and Main/Dempster business groups paid for the murals in their parts of town, residents at the Trulee building had input in planning and painting that mural, and the City of Evanston is providing a grant for the Curt’s Cafe project.

Pinsky says all of the new murals should be finished within a few weeks, adding to the 21 already around town created for the mural program over the last five years.

Whitacre’s mural has a special personal meaning.

His wife’s grandmother, who lived in Evanston for 25 years, passed a way a couple of years ago.

She loved ginkgo trees.

And so Whitacre is incuding ginkgo leaves in his mural, which are, he notes, “for Lillian.”

Ginkgo leaves will be colored in on Brett Whitacre’s mural.

There are, of course, differences between outdoor murals and indoor portraits and drawings.

Naturally there’s the size, but there’s also the overall impression a mural creates.

“You are almost immersed inside the painting,” Art Encounter’s Pinsky says.

“There’s a transformative impact. You become part of the art itself,” she adds.

“It’s magical how large-scale public art can work.”

Jeff Hirsh joined the Evanston Now reporting team in 2020 after a 40-year award-winning career as a broadcast journalist in Cincinnati, Ohio.

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  1. How long before these ‘art pieces’ are written on, drawn on, etc. ? Don’t think they will be so beautiful then and the money, time and effort? It all seems to be too much. It would be better to do something a bit more simple and let my imagination take off…that seems to be art.

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