By Melissa Rohman
Public painting in Berwyn is changing as the amount of general and gang graffiti is decreasing and authorized public art is increasing.
Gang graffiti has decreased over the past five years because of the Berwyn Police Department’s proactive Tactical Unit and police work regarding gang activity in the city, according to Berwyn’s Acting Police Chief Michael Cimaglia.
Division Commander Joe Santangelo is in charge of graffiti removal; graffiti is searched and removed Monday through Friday and on the weekends, designated graffiti removers are called in. Most graffiti ] that has been found in the city is gang “tagging” with an identifying symbol or nickname to mark one or more specific areas.
“It’s generally reported in alleys on garages, however we have located it on street signs and playground equipment in parks,” Cimaglia said.
According to Santangelo, the city of Berwyn’s first line of reporting comes directly from the community.
“Our residents have several ways to report graffiti. We have a graffiti hotline, they can call the police department’s non-emergency number or they can go to the City of Berwyn web site and file a complaint online,” Santangelo said.
Santangelo explained that, on average, only one Community Service Officer is needed to remove graffiti and that they have not yet come across any graffiti that could not be removed.
“The Community Service Officers that are under my command are proactive,” Santangelo said. “We aggressively search and remove graffiti that is not yet reported and remove it immediately. Our Community Service Officers are well trained and the equipment that they use is extremely reliable.”
While the Berwyn Police Department is removing gang graffiti from the city, other people are putting up more pleasing works of art and expression.
On 16th St. and Clarence Ave., a large, colorful mural on a the south side of a brick building reads “WE ARE BERWYN” with two hands prying open the facade of the mural. In 2018, this building will officially become the North Berwyn’s Park District’s new Cultural Arts Center.
Specially selected Berwyn 8th graders, known as the “Best of Berwyn” students, decided on the design for the mural that graces the south side of the building. It was completed in August by the 8th graders with the hands-on help of Chicago native and professional muralist Traz Juarez.
“Art is a great way to express oneself for a young person’s mind,” said Joseph Vallez, executive director of the North Berwyn Park District.
Vallez explained that the North Berwyn Park District works closely with Berwyn School District 98 to do this $15,000 program every year. The building of the new Cultural Arts Center is supported by a $2.5 million Park and Recreational Facility Construction grant. The grant was awarded to the park district in 2014, however funds were released by the Illinois government officials two months ago, according to Vallez.
The new Cultural Arts Center will be a space for music, culinary arts, visual arts, theatre, studio art, and more, offering art programs and classes for Berwyn residents.
Vallez said that the North Berwyn Park District wants to do more public art projects like the mural and get senior citizens involved in projects, as well. In addition, hopes these efforts and the new Cultural Arts Center will attract more artists from Chicago and have them stay and reside in Berwyn.