Launched in 2017, the Evanston Mural Arts Program collaborates with talented local artists to create visual art around the city. They have produced close to 30 murals throughout Evanston.
Launched in 2017, the Evanston Mural Arts Program collaborates with talented local artists to create visual art around the city. They have produced close to 30 murals throughout Evanston.
Emma Thomas

‘Transforming spaces’

The Evanston Mural Arts Program collaborates with local artists to transform the streets of Evanston with art

Just two blocks east of ETHS on Church Street, standing tall against the urban backdrop, two large, vibrant murals capture the attention of passersby due to their dualling color schemes—one side ablaze with warm hues while the other is bathed in shades of blue. Created by Lea Pinsky and her husband Dustin Harris, the two murals titled ‘Live Your Dream’ and ‘Trust Your Heart’ were created with the intention to uplift the neighborhood. 

Pinksy is the co-founder of the Evanston Mural Arts Program, a public art initiative partnered with Evanston’s Art Encounter. The program focuses on creating community-engaged murals with great artists throughout Evanston, a place where Pinsky was surrounded by art growing up. 

Lea Pinsky’s mural ‘Live Your Dream’ is situated at Church and Darrow (Emma Thomas)

“My mother’s a very serious painter, so I was always deeply involved in visual art,” Pinsky says. 

After attending ETHS, where she met her husband, Dustin Harris, Pinsky went on to pursue theater in her 20s. She earned a Bachelor in Fine Arts at New York University and a Master’s of Arts at Northwestern University. 

“When I used to not get cast in shows, I’d always paint the sets. I loved large-scale transformative art, and that influenced my original interest in murals,” Pinsky says.

Realizing her love for vast art, Pinsky soon began painting murals on her own. Not long after, she and Harris ran The Mile of Murals, a mural arts program in Rogers Park for seven years. 

“We thought it was so powerful, bringing all those murals to Chicago, that we wanted to do something similar for Evanston,” Pinsky says. “There was so much opportunity to bring more public art to Evanston.” 

Lea Pinksy’s mural ‘Trust Your Heart’ situated on Darrow and Dodge (Emma Thomas)

Joanna Pinsky, Lea’s mother, is the founder of Art Encounter, a 45-year-old non-profit organization dedicated to making art accessible. Both Pinskys partnered up to create a new mural arts program. And with that, the Evanston Mural Arts Program was born. 

Launched in 2017, the program collaborates with talented local artists to create visual art around the city. They have produced close to 30 murals throughout Evanston. 

Molly Zakrajsek—who goes by Molly Z.— is an artist who often collaborates with the Evanston Mural Arts Program. Molly Z. grew up in a small town in Ohio and moved to Chicago in 2005 after attending Bowling Green State University. Molly Z. originally pursued graphic design and digital illustration but realized her passions lay elsewhere. 

“In advertising, you create something with a client, there are tons of revisions and eventually you land on this really awesome design. And then it’s on a shelf or in the world for six weeks, then it’s gone forever. I felt like I really loved that industry, but nothing was very permanent,” Molly Z says.

When the Shedd Aquarium commissioned Molly Z. to illustrate a large wall full of dolphins, otters and penguins, the trajectory of her art career was changed forever. 

“I loved the idea of creating something that had more permanence and that more people could enjoy,” Molly Z says. “The idea that there was an educational element to it that children could go through the exhibit where my work is and potentially want to become a biologist or zookeeper made me so happy. And so that’s when I thought, how can I do more of this?”

From there, Molly Z. began painting murals in various areas, many of them in Evanston. 

Through the Evanston Mural Arts Program, Molly Z. collaborated with ETHS students to paint a vibrant mural titled Fluent Foundations, located on the north side of the Grove Street viaduct at Elmwood Avenue. The group created colorful patterns intended to cover up damage to the wall that sits beneath the Metra Line. The swirly shapes and bright shades of blue, green, purple and orange aim to brighten up an otherwise drab space. 

“The students loved going out there for hours after school. They just couldn’t wait to get out there and just do the magic and get in the zone,” Molly Z says.

Lea Pinsky’s mural ‘Fluent Foundations’ was a collaborative piece with ETHS students (Emma Thomas)

Molly Z. also worked with the Evanston Mural Arts Program to paint a Grove Street Metra underpass and designed this mural outside of the Trulee Evanston senior residence, taking inspiration from the four seasons. The mural, titled ‘Live Inspired’, is one of abstract flower-like shapes in bright colors.

“We worked with multiple groups on the community art aspect of it. We worked with One River School, the Center for Independent Futures and Trulee Evanston,” Molly Z says. 

Although different, both the ‘Fluent Foundations’ and ‘Live Inspired’ murals achieved the same goal of working with the community to create something beautiful. 

“When painting ‘Fluent Foundations’, the students were highly skilled in the art and with ‘Live Inspired’ many collaborators had never painted before. But both murals helped to develop skills within the community and gave people a new art experience,” said Molly Z.

One of the other community-made murals in Evanston was done by Cheri Lee Charlton through the Evanston Mural Arts Program.

Charlton grew up south of Cleveland, Ohio and moved to Chicago in 2007. After arriving in Chicago, she worked as a freelance artist and became a full-time professor at Columbia College.

“I have been an art person my whole life. Both my grandmothers were artists, and they were always the ones that were doing art with me as a little kid,” Charlton says. 

After painting multiple murals around Chicago, the Evanston Mural Arts Program reached out to Charlton.

The mural, titled 100 Years of Evanston Girl Scouts, is located at the Lake Street underpass at Sherman Avenue. The block-long mural commemorates 100 years of Girl Scouts and its rich history.

“The mural is almost like a timeline. In the beginning, the Girl Scouts sit around a fire and each girl wears a uniform from a different decade,” Charlton says. “I included the famous cookies, many merit badges and the Girl Scout Motto on it too. There’s a ton of history crammed into it.”

Charlton said the collaboration with the Girl Scouts was gratifying.

“We brought in over 100 different Girl Scouts to help paint the wall,” said Charlton. “It was really fun because you could see the pride in their faces seeing the finished product.”

Cheri Lee Charlton collaborated with over 100 Girl Scouts to create ‘100 Years of Evanston Girl Scouts’, located at the Lake Street underpass on Sherman Avenue.

Pinsky said creating art in Evanston for Evanston is a joyful experience. 

“It’s a really vocally supportive community and I think that is something special about Evanston.”

“Murals have a transformative element,” added Molly Z.. “Public art transforms spaces that typically people try to get away from into aesthetically beautiful areas. I love that it represents how even the hard stuff in our lives, we can make beautiful,”



Leave a Comment
Donate to The Evanstonian
Our Goal

Your donation will support the student journalists of the Evanstonian. We are planning a big trip to the Journalism Educators Association conference in Philadelphia in November 2023, and any support will go towards making that trip a reality. Contributions will appear as a charge from SNOSite. Donations are NOT tax-deductible.

More to Discover
Donate to The Evanstonian
Our Goal

Comments (0)

All The Evanstonian Picks Reader Picks Sort: Newest

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *