Building Community Through Art: Juan Angel Chavez Shares the Transformation of an Abandoned Basketball Court into a Community Art Space in McKinley Park
Written by Olivia Cerza on July 10, 2019
Juan Angel Chavez is an avid sculptor, a skateboarder and a Chicago native who partnered with Pabst Blue Ribbon Easy’s program “Community Days” to revitalize a previously inactive community space on 35th and Marshfield in McKinley Park.
Can you tell us about Pabst Blue Ribbon Easy’s Community Days program and what drew you to it?
I threw out the idea of this abandoned basketball court in McKinley Park. As long as I’ve lived there, for 15 years or so, it has been abandoned. So I thought ‘why not’? And PBR thought it was a great idea to support it. But I also have my own personal reasons why I wanted to transform it. It’s an eyesore in the block and I had this idea that something could happen to the space. What can we do revitalize it? Let’s do a mural first. Let’s start with that and see where that takes us. Knowing that there are limitations within the city about what we can do and cannot do, let’s start with that and then move it on from there.
You’re a skateboarder. You are an artist. Both of them are great ways to connect with a community of young people. How did you find yourself drawn to those activities and why are those aspects of this project important to you?
Skateboarding has been a great outreach for me. Growing up in Chicago, I had a hard time fitting in. I had a hard time being part of the community because I was originally from Mexico. It created this distance between space and connections within space. Skateboarding allowed me to have that freedom of space. It allowed me to interpret materials differently and to interpret space differently. It’s truly a connection to space, but also to creativity, because we are transforming an ordinary object into an obstacle. That has also helped me to think creatively about the kinds of endeavors that I will get involved in with art, which is the essential element of creativity.
Were there themes that you wanted to touch on with this specific mural?
The themes on this mural are super passive, nothing too aggressive. It’s just plants and germination. Those are the shapes and forms that I’m creating. It’s a really simple design, which is kind of strange for me because I’m known for a very elaborate sculptures. It features shapes of germination, bringing in a kind of organic element. It’s essentially saying that this is the beginning of something.
What do you hope that the community will embrace this space with and keep it going with?
Within the community, a lot of people are interested in more greenery and gardening. For me, I’m really interested in the artistic element of it. So creating collaborations and partnerships with other artists, architects, or whoever wants to be involved in a creative way allows me to extend the life of the space. It creates a more vibrant exchange and experience when you come into this space.