For neighbors and visitors to the South Side of Chicago’s Bronzeville neighborhood, a dramatic and significant art installation of photo murals at the Mariano’s grocery store is an attention getter.
Bronzeville is a historic and iconic Black neighborhood that has struggled through hard times. For communities like this, artist Chris Devins said, “Public art should be more than an interesting image.” The Chicago-based photo-muralist with a background in urban planning and a passion for showcasing black identity notes that the aim of his works is to not only uplift the people he celebrates, but help renew their declining neighborhoods.
The murals he created for the Mariano’s grocery store in Bronzeville were commissioned in 2016 by the retailer’s founder and then-CEO Bob Mariano. The 32-piece display features historic images of Bronzeville residents taken by photographer Russell Lee in 1941, as well as locally born Black celebrities.
Located in what was once a food desert, the South Side Mariano’s store not only provides residents with fresh, nutritious food, but has created 400 jobs and sparked additional redevelopment. Devins’ art — which adorns the store’s exterior wall and fence — forges a cultural link between the store and the neighborhood it serves, a process he calls “creative placemaking.”
“I’m not as interested in self-expression as I am in the intersection of local faces and places,” says Devins, who holds a masters in urban planning and policy. “My goal is to capture a neighborhood’s collective identity. When you do that successfully, people are drawn to it—and that in turn draws economic development.”
“Mariano’s is happy to serve the Bronzeville community and showcase the work of artist Chris Devins,” said Amanda Puck, director of strategic brand development. “ His photo murals outside the store celebrate the rich cultural history of the neighborhood. The artwork helps to builds a community gathering place showcasing the character and history of the site.”
A Chicago favorite, Mariano’s operates 44 food and grocery stores in the city and outlying area, and is renowned for its foodservice and fresh offerings.