With all the talk about diversity in Forest Park, it was gratifying to see diversity put into action through a public arts project. I learned some valuable lessons too.

In mid-May, the brainchild of Sally Cody and her volunteer team’s year-long effort to paint the Circle Avenue Bridge, a project called Cover Our Rust (COR), became a reality. As one of the COR volunteers, I had the strong vantage point of watching all the behind-the-scenes work come together.

In the initial volunteer COR meeting, Sally cast her vision of painting Circle Avenue Bridge and provided a framework for the project. She challenged the COR volunteer group to think outside the box as we developed plans for a community-wide outreach, donation requests, assembling of artists, and working on logistics. With a common purpose of beautifying a portion of our village, we kicked off an art project that spanned I-290 and would eventually include over 100 artists, 30 volunteers, and raise over $5,000 to pay for the project.

It was inspiring to witness how a wide range of views could be shared and debated with the best ideas advanced to accomplish our mission. We wanted the artists to have freedom of expression but needed to work within set boundaries. “Guardrails” were established for paint colors, artist designs, and logistics.

On painting day, May 13, the magic coalesced around our common goal of Covering Our Rust, and the diversity could not be more evident. Youth groups, business leaders, residents, kids, grandmas, parents, lovers of cats or dogs, experienced artists, first-time artists, and people of various backgrounds and political persuasions all showed up to work their magic on Circle Bridge.

The end result stunned even the loftiest expectations. Gorgeous artwork, some simple and some complex, covered the once unattractive rusty concrete with vibrant colors, stunning images, and thought-provoking words — many of which referenced aspects of diversity in Forest Park. The smiles were as wide as the bridge expanse itself. Even WGN News got into the act — Forest Park made the Chicago newscast with a positive lifestyle story!

I thoroughly enjoyed the process and was struck by some important lessons I learned that could be applied to making diversity in Forest Park even stronger:

  •  Individuals have good intentions from the start and can work to be better
  •  A visionary and inclusive leader can cast a simple, yet transformational vision
  •  Diverse parties can come to the table to craft a plan together that accomplishes that vision
  •  No ideas are bad, but some are better than others in completing the mission 
  •  When everyone gets involved, everyone has ownership of the end result
  •  Communication needs to be frequent, clear, and actionable toward the vision
  •  Only focused effort on the objective, with a deadline, keeps the mission moving forward 
  •  Everyone celebrates a job well done
  •  Everyone benefits from the transformation 
  •  Forest Park gets noticed for its transformational work.

The joy that I felt at the end of painting day was widely shared. I was so proud of Sally, the volunteers, and all the artists. I was also proud to be a Forest Parker. It felt so good to see diversity in action.

Scott Watson is a member of the Forest Park Diversity Commission. Watson kicks off a new opinion feature in the Review. Once a month, a member of Forest Park’s Diversity Commission will author a column discussing a diversity issue in the community.