A wide shot of a ceramics studio, featuring students working with pottery wheels and other tools.

SAIC Hosts Event to Launch Conversation Leading up to 50th Anniversary of Chicago’s Wall of Respect

In April, SAIC hosted The Wall of Respect and People's Art Since 1967, a symposium that brought together a number of artists and alumni associated with an important cultural moment known as the Wall of Respect. The symposium reunited many of the Wall of Respect’s original artists and launched a two-year critical conversation that leads up to the mural’s 50th anniversary.

In the summer of 1967, at the height of the Civil Rights Movement, the visual artists of the Organization of Black American Culture (OBAC), together with muralist William Walker, painted a group mural on the side of a semi-abandoned, two-story building on the South Side of Chicago. Known as the Wall of Respect, the highly visible community artwork celebrated black heroes, served as a platform for performance and rallies, and engendered a sense of collective ownership within the neighborhood, inspiring community mural movements around the US and the world.

Leading up to the Wall of Respect's 50th anniversary in 2017, the symposium at SAIC invited the artists to revisit their creative political acts and to reflect on the Wall's legacy in a public conversation with other artists and educators. Through moderated roundtables, panels, and open discussions, the symposium addressed the Wall's contributions to the artistic and political movements of its time and its continuing relevance to current times. Many SAIC alumni, like Wadsworth Jarrell, Barbara Jones-Hogu, and Florence Hawkins, were directly involved in making the Wall of Respect, and a few participated in the symposium. Norman Parish III represented his late father and SAIC alum, Norman Parish, and he spoke about the monumental importance of this event and the recognition of his father. The Washington Post featured Parish in an op-ed piece, in which Parish notes the impact of SAIC remembering these artists and their work. SAIC President Walter Massey also notes the legacy of the mural artists, remarking, “their contributions to our culture have enabled our SAIC students to take risks in their work, to explore underrepresented ideas, and to pursue more daring, powerful, and ultimately, more meaningful projects.”

The event was organized by Drea Howenstein (Associate Professor of Art Education, Sculpture, and AIADO at SAIC) and Rebecca Zorach (Professor of Art History at University of Chicago). The symposium was funded by the Terra Foundation of American Art, hosted by the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and the South Side Community Art Center, and supported by the University of Chicago's Smart Museum and Center for the Study of Race, Politics, and Culture, DePaul University, and Guild Literary Complex, in partnership with cultural institutions working in solidarity to honor the original artists in the Wall of Respect 2017 celebration.

Image: Wall of Respect, 1967. Photo: Robert Sengstack