Mapping Murals in Chicago

May 13, 2019 by Melissa Crowe

Mapping Murals in Chicago

Photo credit: Eric Fischer

Residents and tourists in Chicago can now easily find the location of the city's popular murals by exploring the city's newly launched Socrata-powered Mural Registry.

Each mural is given a unique identification number, and the map is browsable through several filters, including the artist's name, the ward or ZIP code where the mural is located, or its street address.


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"This registry will strengthen Chicago's legacy of public art and enable artists to share their work with the world," said Chicago Mayor Rahm Emanuel in a statement issued by the city.

At launch, in April 2019, 150 murals were listed. The map has potential to grow — a lot — as artists, property owners, and organizations fill the registration forms to add additional artwork to the map.

Mural registrty

No can pin down how many murals there are in Chicago, noted Mark Kelly, Commissioner of the Department of Cultural Affairs and Special Events, in a Sun-Times article.

"In a year we could have thousands [listed on the registry]. There is so much work out there. This database is going to capture that," said Kelly.

A Preservation Priority Turned Tourism Opportunity

Anyone on Instagram, is well aware of the popularity of murals. The artwork, which is often found outside or in public spaces, lends itself to photographs and selfies. They can even be tourist destinations and economic development drivers.

However, the line between vandalism and art, graffiti tags and creative expression is murky. What's Instagram gold to one person can read as an eyesore to another.

In 2018, several murals were painted over by the city's Department of Streets & Sanitation (DSS), including one mural that had been commissioned for the headquarters of the company Cards Against Humanity by French artist Blek le Rat.

In response, Chicago Ward 2 Alderman Brian Hopkins began to compile a list of murals, and realized that such a list could be interesting to residents and tourists, who were eager to view the murals.

"What started out as an attempt to assist Streets and San[itation] employees morphed into a cultural phenomenon," said Hopkins in a Sun-Times article.

In October 2018, along with Mayor Emanuel, Hopkins introduced an ordinance to the city council to create a mural registry.

The mural registry is not Chicago's only big move lately when it comes to sharing data with the public. The city also published data in April around ride-sharing apps such as Uber and Lyft, stretching back to November 2018. The datasets share information on drivers and their vehicles, as well as fare totals for trips. Publishing the data allows the public a view into this popular form of transportation.

With the registry live, artists have recourse if they want to ensure that their murals will not be painted over. And art-lovers can easily find destinations to visit (and photograph), too.

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